A small team of British Paraclimbers are tackling the West Flank Route to the summit of The Eiger in Switzerland in July along with Finalcrux Films who will be recording the climb. The team's objective is to safely assist two members of the BMC GB Paraclimbing Team, John Churcher (Visually Impaired) & Alex Taylor (Multiple Sclerosis).
The Eiger Paraclimb 2015 is inspired by a will to raise awareness of Paraclimbing on an international stage alongside supporting the climbout365 challenge for awareness of mental health. It is hoped that John and Alex's ascent of this most iconic of mountains will inspire others and especially younger disabled people to try and improve their lives through adventure and increase awareness of the capability of Paraclimbers globally.
We caught up with Mark McGowan, the coach of the team hoping to climb the Eiger this summer.
1. What is your role within the GB Paraclimbing Team?
I am currently the Team Coach, which involves working with the athletes as a group and individually with members who come down to Wales where I operate Reach Climbing Coach in Snowdonia. The role has brought me closer to working with individuals in both a physical and psychological capacity to get the best from their bodies in a climbing environment and specifically, in competition. Working with the GB Paraclimbing Team and others has made me confront my own lack of understanding and initial fear at looking and working closely with marginalised groups and individuals.
2. Who makes up the Eiger Paraclimbing Team?
○ Paraclimbing Team
■ John Churcher (climbing)
■ Alex Taylor (climbing)
■ Colin Gourlay (climbing)
■ Mark McGowan (climbing)
■ Jamie Owen (assisting at base camp)
○ Film Crew
■ Euan Ryan (Finalcrux Films)
■ Willis Morris (Finalcrux Films)
○ UK Support
■ Jake Mcmanus (climbout.co.uk) .
What will the Eiger Paraclimb involve?
John has 3% tunnel vision and also wears two hearing aids. Alex has Multiple Sclerosis which will be a separate challenge both in terms of balance due to weakness on her left side, coordination, and heat induced physical and mental fatigue. The Paraclimber's disabilities in this mountain environment, although challenging, will require a very technical approach to elements of the climb which would not normally be part of a standard ascent. For example, John will be exposed to double sensory impairment. This not only means that he will need to be guided and sight called every step to summit the Eiger, but other processes employed by the team to make sure that John is considered at every point of the climb, even how he is woken in the mornings bivouacked on the face without hearing and 3% vision. The same for Alex in how her MS affects her endurance and balance at altitude. It is likely that it will take us 3 days with 2 bivouacs on a route that would normally be done in a day or so.
4. How did the idea come about?
I was looking at the climbout.co.uk website trying to come up with challenges to help bring awareness to mental health and I just though it up really. I then asked John Churcher (who I sight guide for in paraclimbing competitions) if he fancied it and he said yes. Alex showed an interest and agreed to join us, then Jamie, Colin and Finalcrux Films followed.
5. Is there any specific training which the climbers and team are undertaking?
Yes, we are all beginning to work harder on our basic aerobic fitness and endurance (which is obviously crucial in the alps) via differing methods, for instance John is using a running treadmill in his house every day as his impaired vision makes it a little dangerous to go running in the streets of Birmingham! We have also set team training days in the mountains of Wales then up to Scotland for some more technical work in rope techniques specific to our paraclimbers' needs.
6. What challenges will the team expect to face?
The biggest challenges are likely to stem from fatigue with Alex and her MS condition and judging the time it will take to sight call John all the way up to the summit and back. There are risks that exist on any alpine climb as my previous experience on the Eiger’s North Face taught me.
7. What do the climbers and yourself hope to gain from the experience?
"... My life is getting richer and more fulfilling by being part of the marginalised groups lives in the climbing community (through Paraclimbing) and I expect to be a metaphorical millionaire by continuing on this journey. I hope that the Eiger Paraclimb will not only change the lives of the participating climbers, but also have resonance right across the globe as to what is possible when a group of friends challenge both themselves within their sport but more importantly, challenge society to think differently about the possibilities of the human spirit, disabled or not…” (Mark McGowan)
“... By doing the Eiger Paraclimb 2015 I hope to show that having a disability does not have to restrict what activities and aspirations you can accomplish." (John Churcher)
“... It's two fold - being part of the paraclimbing community has rekindled a love and a belief that although the MS has progressed I can still climb even if it's in a completely different form. It's being on the mountain with others who have their own challenges, working as a team to help each other to hopefully succeed. Secondly it's raising the awareness of MS which is often a hidden disability and showing just what can be achieved. Everyone has their own challenges and it's all about encouraging others to take that step with the uncertainty it can bring." (Alex Taylor)
8. Where can people go to support the cause?
We have a funding page here.
Good luck to the team for the Paraclimb!