Phil Mitchell is 21 years old, from Liverpool and a full time student at the University of Central Lancaster. A member of the GB Paraclimbing Team, Phil has been climbing for nearly three years and has competed on the international paraclimbing circuit at events throughout Europe.
I met Phil briefly at the Kendal Mountain Festival in 2014 and his sense of humour and strength of character immediately jumped out, long before I spoke to him or even noticed his disability - he was stood at the bar near to me laughing and joking about having only one leg in a self-deprecating manner. Intrigued to find out more about Phil and his climbing, I asked him a few questions regarding his outlook on the sport and his life in general.
What is your disability and how does it affect your daily life and climbing?
I have one leg and have done all my life so I couldn’t really say how it affects me because I don't know any different. When it comes to climbing, slabs and things that need intricate foot work is a nightmare other than that it doesn’t really affect me, though having a few beers can lead to an interesting walk home…
How did you discover climbing?
I got taken down to the local wall in Liverpool around three years ago and I just really enjoyed it so kept going, before I knew it I was climbing four times a week and have never stopped.
What does climbing give you that other sports might not? Do you think the climbing world is particularly accepting of disabled climbers?
Climbing gives me the opportunity for adventure and travel, I love to travel and always have done and climbing gives me another reason to go out and look for the next adventure. I think the climbing world is accepting of everyone, disabled or not, I have never been treated any differently than anyone else whilst climbing.
Tell me about your competition climbing - best results, most memorable competitions?
I have only been competition climbing this past year so I don’t really have that much experience yet, but I suppose placing 6th in the world at the World Championships in Spain was pretty cool. I placed second in a bouldering competition in France which was a lot more fun but I’m biased because I much prefer bouldering!
Do you think Paraclimbing is receiving adequate coverage in the media as a discipline?
I think sometimes the media coverage can fall a bit short for paraclimbing at times but with saying that there isn’t much happening in paraclimbing, other than the competitions and the constant growth of the sport. That’s why I am trying to push the more outdoor and adventurous aspects of the discipline. I think people can relate to outdoor climbing a bit more because it’s something they would have seen or even tried compared to a competition, yet outdoor climbing is not something that’s considered when talking about paraclimbing.
How do you perceive the direction of competitive paraclimbing?
I think it will continue to grow as more competitors are getting involved and it is achieving raised awareness, although there are strange rules involved such as mandatory top ropes for bouldering which I feel separates it from the sport even further. It is just starting out and there is a lot more work that still needs to be done. There are silly things that annoy me slightly such as having prosthetics in amputee categories - it seems strange to be competing against someone with four points of contact compared to three!
How do you train?
A lot - I work closely with my coach Phill Blue, he helps me to train and has been incredibly supportive. He gets really involved with my climbing and will go as far as trying to mimic my climbing style by forcing himself to climb just using one leg just to get into my mindset and help develop new techniques with me. I spend hours and hours every week in the climbing wall getting strong with various friends. But then again I also try to get out on real rock to learn the more technical skills that are outdoor specific.
You mentioned climbing outdoors too, something which people may not associate with paraclimbing. What attracts you to outdoor climbing?
I see indoor climbing as essentially training for me where I am able to focus on strength and technique which can later be applied to outdoor boulders. I spend most of my time trying to get as many hours outside as possible, every now and then these trips will be put into short videos by George Sewell. This can show that paraclimbers can be climbing real boulders and routes like everyone else does instead of being confined to the safety of indoor climbing. I just find outdoor climbing to be more enjoyable than indoor climbing.
What have been the highlights of your climbing so far?
Completing classics like the Green Traverse and its eliminate at Stanage - a problem that many climbers go to try - gives me a great sense of achievement to have the problem ticked off. Sending harder problems with my close friend and fellow paraclimber Dave Bowes is a definite highlight, we always climb hard together. Plus going on crazy trips like up to Skye, a trip where everything went wrong, or spending winter weekends in the Peak in knee deep snow or last minute weekends to the Llanberis is all great fun for me, I love it.
Where are your favourite climbing locations?
My favourite places to climb are, well, anywhere that’s got dry rock! I do really enjoy classic and popular areas such as Stanage Plantation where you can always find someone to have a chat and work a problem with. But then there is the isolation and eeriness of the Isle of Skye which has a scary beauty to it, despite having to carry a crash pad for three hours across the hills which was a pain.
Where would your dream climbing location be to go in the future?
I really want to get to Rocklands in South Africa because it just looks amazing and wild, a real adventure. Somewhere closer to home - I really want to go to Magic Wood this year, the problems look like my style of climbing and it would be interesting to see how hard I could climb there.
What do you see yourself aiming for in the future more competition success or more bouldering/climbing expeditions outside?
I really want to just push my climbing as hard as I can, I haven’t reached my hardest grade yet and I’m really excited to see how hard I can/will be able to climb. On top of that I just want to keep exploring and travelling to as many climbing locations as I can, and to keep searching for the right lines for me. I think competitions have a place in my climbing life and I’ll be continuing with them but they aren’t my primary focus at the moment, who knows, things might change.
How do you want to be seen as a climber?
I want to be seen as a good climber, disabled or not.
Phil is sponsored by ProBalm
Watch a video of Phil's trip to Skye (where "everything went wrong") below:
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