Paraclimbers on the Eiger

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 07/09/2015
The paraclimbing team.
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In July, a team of British Paraclimbers climbed the Eiger by the West Flank Route to raise awareness about climbing with disabilities. John Churcher, who is blind with 3% vision and also requires hearing aids, describes the ascent.

John was joined by Alex Taylor who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and Jay Owen who is autistic. The team were assisted by Mark McGowan and Colin Gourley.

JC: The idea for the challenge came about through the climbout.co.uk #Climbout365 challenge. You set yourself 12 challenges or lifestyle changes to achieve that year, in aid of mental health.

One of my challenges was 'to climb a mountain'. My sight guide, Mark McGowan, said to me: "Do you want to do the Eiger?" I said "Yes". Mark asked Jay if he wanted to join us, and Alex asked Mark if she could also come. Mark then asked a good friend of his, Colin Gourlay, an experienced climber, to take part. We were also joined by Finalcrux films. 

I took up the challenge to prove to myself that I could do it, and also to show that people with disabilities are just as capable of having outdoor adventures.

The aim was to promote paraclimbing, but also to inspire other disabled people that they can have adventures, big or small. Also to change people's perceptions - just because you have a disability doesn't mean that you have to stay at home and not experience an outdoor lifestyle.

It was challenging to achieve support and funding at first, but eventually this proved very successful, and we are all really grateful. We were supported by Rab, Lowe Alpine, Bloc Eyewear, Life Systems, The Climbing Academy in Bristol and Glasgow, Tiso Outdoor, Terra Nova, Wild Country and Primus.

Every day I trained on a cross-trainer and exercise bike. When I could I went running with Mark. I also continued to train for climbing competitions as a member of the GB Paraclimbing Team. The Eiger team also had two training weekends. The first was the north ridge of Tryfan in North Wales. The second was Curved Ridge, Glencoe, in Scotland. We had the honour of staying in the Jacksonville Hut.

Physical challenges were being fit enough to cope with the altitude and keeping up with Mark, at the pace he was going, as I was always in contact with him.

Climbing has given me more of a social life. I am fitter and more active now than I was in my early twenties, and I want to promote the benefits of climbing to other disabled people.

It felt absolutely amazing to be standing on the summit of the Eiger. I took a selfie! I couldn't see the view, but I had achieved my goal. I was also happy to reach the train station at the end and know that it would then be counted as a successful ascent.

Most of the ascent was really hard for me as it was scrambling with loose rock everywhere rather than straight-forward climbing. However, this was no surprise, and was taken into account with longer times allowed for ascent and descent.

The scariest part was when, on one short section of the descent, my boots were not gripping very well, and my hands were cold, even with gloves, and could not grip. It was solved by a quick bit of short-roping.

I'd never done anything like climbing the Eiger before. I hoped to gain a sense of achievement for myself, and I have. Also the aim to promote paraclimbing to a wider audience is still ongoing. Hopefully the film will inspire people to have a go.

We celebrated later in the evening with pizza and a pint.

READ: More about the Eiger Paraclimb on the team blog.

WATCH: Defiance - The Eiger Paraclimb Official Trailer 2015 below.


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