Author Interview: Paul Pritchard, The Mountain Path
- Tuesday 21 September 2021
Paul Pritchard is an award-winning author and one of the UK's most prolific and visionary climbers. Originally from Lancashire, Paul began climbing in his teens and developed a love for the sport. He then moved to North Wales and became part of an influential group of climbers of the eighties. A move to mountaineering was next for Paul as he completed some significant ascents around the world, including being the first to ascend the West Face of Mount Asgard on Baffin Island. Paul's life changed dramatically in 1998 when he was hit by a falling rock while climbing the Totem Pole, a sea stack off the coast of Tasmania. He was left with hemipelgia, paralysis down the right side of his body. Since his accident, Paul has continued to lead a challenging and adventurous life having cycled across Tibet on his trike, climbing Kilimanjaro and a return to lead rock climbing.
In this interview, Paul tells us about the importance of his accident and the immense journey of recovery, as well as plans for future climbs and gives advice for those wanting to get into climbing.
You can buy a copy of The Mountain Path HERE: https://www.v-publishing.co.uk/books/narratives/the-mountain-path/ with 20% off and free UK postage.
Paul climbing the Rainbow Slab © Bamboo Chicken Productions
How did you find the writing process for this book?
Quite hard to tell you the truth. I tried to do something different with this book. Most chapters start with an intense experience I had on the rock or on The Mountain and then I go into the philosophical thought that underpins those experiences. So, it’s a blend of memoir (stream of consciousness at times) and loose academic writing. It took a long time to find the right mix.
Are you planning to do any more climbs?
Yes of course. I still class myself as a climber – albeit a very poor one! These days I am more into testing myself on wilderness journeys and overland trike expeditions. Still, I am planning an expedition to climb the west face of Precipitous Bluff, a super remote mountain in Tasmania’s Southwest Wilderness area. It takes a lot of planning with a disability. This mountain will be an eight-day approach with one day wading up a lagoon. The route itself looks to be very similar to Tower Ridge on the Ben – maybe harder. Essentially, I have only half a body so the easier the better for me nowadays.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your accident and through your recovery?
Without the hardships that I've gone through, I don't think I would have learned some valuable lessons. The accident, and the twenty four-year recovery (and counting), taught me determination and patience by the bucketload. But more than this the accident taught me acceptance. How to let the future go without anticipation, without expecting it to be a certain way. I sure as hell did not expect my life to be changed forever when I got up the morning of the climb. It is important to draw a distinction between acceptance and resignation. Acceptance is active and resignation is passive.
Do you have any advice for people getting into climbing?
Just that climbing is easy and everyone knows instinctively how to climb. Don’t get bogged down with grades or whether the blue holds are harder than the red. I think having fun is a good place to start like you did as a kid in a tree or on a climbing frame.
Do you think there is enough access and support for people with disabilities wanting to get into climbing?
I think it is getting better. In the book I describe climbing at an ‘all-abilities’ cliff in Arco, Italy. This cliff had Braille at the base and some routes were very safe to lead. I think it was visionary though a lot more could be done. It would be great to see one of these in each country or region, where appropriate of course.
You’re currently based down under, but do you have any plans to return to Llanberis or your hometown of Bolton?
Australia is pretty tough on border restrictions due to Covid. When I’m allowed out of the country, I will visit the UK. I am hoping to do a belated book tour next year. Here in Australia, I am hoping to do a tour before the year is out.
Filming at Cape Hauy for the climb of the Totem Pole. © David Fraser
In the book you talk a lot about philosophy, how much of an interest did you have in philosophy before you started writing?
I think moving through the natural world and on rocks and mountains makes you inherently curious. Being curious about the world, asking why? is the first step. Anybody who has asked themselves this question is a philosopher. It’s just a grand word for being curious, I think. But there is a point at which, runout and beyond fear, you realise there is more to the world, this universe, than is immediately apparent. I think anyone can intellectualise this – “Oh yeah” they may say, “Waves can act as particles and particles can act as waves.” This is what Einstein called an, “optical delusion of consciousness.”
But, to instinctualise it through direct experience, to feel that you truly are one with the universe (as Joni Mitchell sang, ‘We are stardust), is what gives you real freedom. And we can all do this by simply being present. Well, it’s quite difficult to be present – but it’s possible.
What are your top five climbing locations?
I don’t really think like that any more. But the places that are important to me would be Tapovan in the Garhwal Himalaya – the most beautiful place in the world; Torres Del Paine – where I climbed my first bigwall; Wilton Quarry, Bolton – I was born on top of Wilton; South Stack at Gogarth; I had my first out of body experience there; and Tasmania’s Totem Pole – where I was re-born.
Do you have plans for any more books after this one?
Yes definitely. I am already writing!