Paul Pritchard has established his first new route in 21 years since his accident on the Totem Pole off the coast of Tasmania in 1998. Paul is a highly accomplished climber and mountaineer with first ascents on the Torre Central del Paine and the West Face of Mount Asgard to his name before the accident changed the course of his life. While beginning an ascent of the iconic sea-stack, Paul's rope dislodged a block, which impacted his head and resulted in hemiplegia - paralysis of one side of the body - as well as speech and memory difficulties.
Having settled in Hobart, Tasmania, Paul continues to make an annual pilgrimage to the site of his accident and has sailed on a raft along the Franklin River, climbed the Totem Pole again, ridden a trike across Tibet and cycled from the lowest to the highest elevation in Australia.
Paul's latest project was establishing a new route for the first time since before his accident. He told UKC: "I bought a house on the beach 100m away from a 3km unclimbed sea-cliff. Hobart does not have many climbs that are easy enough for me - all the crags are too steep for a climber with only half a functioning body."
One particular section of the Alum Cliffs, however, was sufficiently inclined for Paul to be able to climb.
"It's very easy for those with two arms, but nowadays I don't climb for difficulty - just walking down the street is difficult."
The last climb Paul established was an E4 called 93,000,000 Miles (E4 5c) on Yellow Wall at Gogarth 21 years ago. He wanted to make a connection between the two routes. Paul explained:
"So I named my new route on The Alum Cliffs '1-AU.' 93,000,000 Miles is 1 astronomical unit and I now live in Australia and it is my first new climb in my present body. Also, AU is the symbol for gold on the periodic table."
Commenting on the significance of his new route, Paul told UKC:
"It was very important for me to achieve a new climb. Creation is what makes life real for me. I always lived for creating new routes in the past whether it be at Gogarth, El Cap or Baffin Island. So this is just an extension of that."
However, the morning of the ascent started badly. 'I fell as soon as I got out of bed,' wrote Paul. 'Then after coffee I fell two more times on the shoreline - once onto my face. The day didn't seem to be going my way.'
Paul used a stick to 'hobble' to the base of the climb. 'I started the climb very badly and fell onto the first bolt. I lowered to the ground, shut my eyes, calmed myself down and climbed it in a oner, but my leg often went spastic and pin-straight up until the 3rd bolt were I became relaxed from the movement. Climbing is good for relaxation of spastic muscles.'
Not only was this Paul's first new route in a long time, but it was also his first new route climbed with his son. He told UKC:
"Once at the belay I looked over my shoulder and saw two seals frolicking around. My boy, Eli, followed the climb, so it was the first new route we have done together."