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KE Leader Profile: Tom Richardson

Tom Richardson is something of a living legend in the KE world – a status well earnt by taking hundreds of KE travellers into some of the world’... Read more
KE Leader Profile: Tom Richardson

Tom Richardson is something of a living legend in the KE world – a status well earnt by taking hundreds of KE travellers into some of the world’s most stunning mountain ranges and delivering them all safely out the other side. We asked him a few questions about his life as a leader to find out more. 


How long have you led for KE?

Nearly 20 years. I joined in 2001.


How did it all begin?

It all began in 1979 when four of us decided to go to India and climb a peak in the Parbati Valley area near Manali, after we met a couple in a bar in the Alps who put us on to the idea. Later I climbed in Nepal and then 1987 we first visited Pakistan to try to make the first ascent of Tupopdan a 6000m peak, spotted by one of my mentors the late Al Rouse whilst he was climbing with Chris Bonington. This was the start of annual climbing and trekking trips across the world.

I first encountered KE in 1988 below Gondogoro Peak in Pakistan and then frequently met groups around the world. I liked their style and their ethos matched my own. The leaders became friends and we often met in KE haunts before and after trips. 

Where have you led for KE?

Many places, but my favourites include Nepal, India, Pakistan, Tibet, Mongolia, Uganda, Morocco, Ethiopia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China.


And which destination tops the list for you? 

Usually the last place I’ve led, but really Pakistan, Mongolia and Nepal top the list, although if I carry on I'll rewrite the list of everywhere again...

Which is your favourite trek to lead in Nepal?

All the ones I have led are wonderful, from the 3 passes route to Everest to the demanding traverse of the Khumbu. However always close to my heart will be Mera Peak. At 6400m, I've climbed it more than 20 times and love it. The views include six 8000m peaks and a dramatic high camp. I get great satisfaction from helping determined members reach the summit and return safely. It’s a challenge but one that can be achieved by non-mountaineers. It is a life changing experience for everyone.


Mount Khuiten in Mongolia is the world’s most remote peak. Does it feel it when you’re there?

It certainly does. I've been leading trips there since 2004 and it's still a massive adventure. Camels carry luggage to base camp, we camp high on the glacier and from the summit there are no signs of human life in any direction.

What would you say to anyone worried about going to Pakistan?

The people of Baltistan are some of the warmest and friendliest mountain people in the world. Our agent has been working with us since 1986, so we are more like family. The journey from Islamabad is usually by a large comfortable plane, right over Nanga Parbat. In all the years I've been visiting Pakistan (since 1987) I have not experienced any problems of security. Also, the popular treks are getting busier (so now’s the time to go!).


What’s been your most memorable moment when guiding?

It was on my first KE visit to Mongolia, working with Ade Summers. The weather was poor and so we sadly had to descend back to base without climbing Khuiten. A day later the weather cleared a bit in the afternoon. The following morning we were due to clear camp and leave. Over dinner I suggested to the group that if we left after dinner, we could make the summit by dawn next day. Two jumped at the chance. 

The four of us did just that and descended all the way back to Base Camp for a very late breakfast. We then packed camp and arrived at the Ger Camp just about 24 sleepless hours later, tired but buzzing with satisfaction.

What’s your favourite part of a trek?

Readers might expect me to say it's the summits, but honestly it is not. My favourite part is everyone arriving back safely having had a great time. That's what it's all about.


What would you do if you weren’t a trek leader?

Alongside working with KE I write and edit for outdoor magazines and journals, and spent time writing a book a few years back. But really the answer is that I would still go trekking exploring and climbing in the Greater Ranges and wild places of the world, although they are even better shared.

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