Paul Pritchard

Paul was one of Britain’s leading climbers and mountaineers in the 1980s and 1990s, known for his hard and daring first ascents. He has a legacy of routes all over the world, from the Himalaya to Baffin Island, Patagonia to the UK, and has won numerous prizes for his literary works, Deep Play, The Totem Pole and The Longest Climb

Paul grew up in Lancashire and started climbing at the age of 16. Within a few years he was developing some of the hardest routes in the country, including Perimeter Walk (E7 6b), Strawberry Kiss (E7 6b), Soot Monkey (E6 6c) and Pretentious Gallery (E5 6b) at Wilton One in Lancashire, and playing an important role in the early exploration of crags, including Malham.

In 1986, at the beginning of the Slate boom and the Gogarth revival, 19-year-old Paul moved to Llanberis in North Wales and made early repeats of the new slate test pieces, including the terrifyingly bold Raped by Affection (E7 6c), with its first bolt at 22 metres, and the daring and technical Dawes of Perception (E7 6c). He also added some of his own slate routes, such as I Ran The Bath (E7 6b), Bathtime (E5 6a), Wishing Well (E6 6b) and Cure For A Sick Mind (E6 6b).

However, it was on the sea cliffs of Gogarth that Paul was most active. On these infamous and committing Anglesey cliffs Paul established an incredible number of new routes, including The Enchanted Broccoli Garden (E7 6b), Schittlegruber (E6 6b), Come To Mother (E7 6a, although this route no longer exists), Heart of Gold Direct (E6 6a), Salem (E5 6a), Unrideable Donkey (E7 6b) and Super Calabrese, a three-pitch E8 6b still considered to be one of the most serious climbs in the UK.

Paul Pritchard CC 3.0
Paul Pritchard CC 3.0

In the Llanberis Pass first ascents included the bold and burly Surgical Lust (E7 6b) and King Wad (E6 6b) on the Scimitar Ridge. The first free ascent of The Scoop (E7 6b) and Knuckle Sandwich (E7 6b), both in Strone Ulladale, Scotland, also stand out during these years. Paul also spent a lot of time in Europe experimenting with sport climbing and then six months climbing in the deserts of the southwest U.S.

In 1990 Paul began mountaineering and pursued some of the most challenging lines around the world, including first ascents on the Torre Central del Paine in Patagonia and the West Face of Mount Asgard on Baffin Island. 

In December 1991, Paul, along with Noel Crane, Sean Smithe and Simon Yates, established a new route on the 1200m East Face of Central Tower in the Torre de Paine, Patagonia, El Regalo de Mwoma (VI, 5.10, A4). In the months that followed Paul established several new routes in Patagonia with Phillip Lloyd, including the 600m El Caballo de Diablo (5.12a) on the North Tower— the first alpine-style free climb in the Paine—and Planet Earth to Pisco Control (5.12a) on Paine Chico, both of which pointed to the future of difficult alpine routes. Paul continued to climb in South America for eight months after this, establishing new routes in Argentina, big wall routes in the Brazilian forests and undertaking solos of 6000m peaks in Bolivia.

In 1993 Paul made an attempt on East face of Cerro Torre, Argentina, and made the first ascent of Corn Wall on North Tower of Paine. He also established new routes in Karnataka, India, and made an unsuccessful bid to summit the Meru Sharks Fin in Gangotri, reaching 6300m. 

The following year he focussed his attention on North America, making the first ascent of Adrift (5.10 A4) on El Capitan, in Yosemite, and then the first ascent of Hyperborea (A4) on the West face of Mount Asgard, Baffin Island. In 1995, with Adam Wainright, Paul climbed the Trango Tower, in the Karakorum, Pakistan, via the Slovenian Route in alpine style. 

In 1996 Paul established what would be, although unbeknownst to him, his last new routes at Gogarth, most notably Sign of The Sun Dog (E5 6b) and 93,000,000 Miles (E4 5c). In 1997 Paul made the first ascent of The Wall of Dykes, an all-free climb in the Ak-Su Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

Also in 1997 Paul published his first book, Deep Play, recounting the 'dole climber' scene and the time he lived in Llanberis pursuing wild adventures on Gogarth's sea-cliffs and developing the Dinorwig slate quarries. The book was awarded the prestigious Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature that year and Paul used the prize money to continue his climbing around the world.

Paul on his route 1-AU, at the Alum Cliffs near his home in Tasmania © Pete Walsh
Paul on his route 1-AU, at the Alum Cliffs near his home in Tasmania © Pete Walsh

After climbing on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo and the Blue Mountains of Australia, Paul found himself in Tasmania. It was on the iconic Totem Pole sea stack in February 1998 that a freak accident occurred that changed Paul’s life forever. Paul was struck by a falling boulder as he abseiled to the base of the Totem Pole and suffered head injuries so severe that doctors feared he would never walk or speak again. Paul spent over a year in hospital and was left suffering from hemiplegia, which affects feeling and movement on his right side and his speech and memory. 

Paul’s brain injury and the year spent locked in his body and a rehab centre formed the basis of his award-winning book Totem Pole, which was published in 1999 and was awarded both the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature and the Banff Mountain Book Festival Grand Prize that same year. 

Since his accident Paul has continued to live an adventurous life, despite his disability. In 2000 Paul spent time trekking in the Utah desert and in Tasmania, and attempted to climb Jebel Troubkal in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. The following year he climbed Point Lenana on Mount Kenya to raise money for the brain injury charity Headway and then in 2002 spent 18 days traversing the Eastern Arthur Range and attempted to climb Federation Peak in Tasmania. In 2004 he made a successful ascent of the Western Breach Route on Kilimanjaro with an all-disabled team. The following year he published his third book, The Longest Climb, which again was awarded the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature.

In April 2016, 18 years after his accident, Paul returned to the Totem Pole and climbed the sea stack with Steve Monks, who made the first free ascent of the stack with Simon Mentz in 1995. Steve led the route and Paul followed using a jumar system and hauling his full weight using just one arm and one leg: “On the day I counted 126 one armers (well, with a bit of help from my leg)," said Paul. This achievement was the focus of the film Doing it Scared, which premiered at the 2016 Banff Mountain Film Festival.

A real landmark for Paul was in 2009 when he led his first route since the accident eleven years prior and in August 2018 Paul established his first new route in 21 years, 1-AU on the Alum Cliffs, close to his home in Hobart, Tasmania.

I found the perfect climb,” wrote Paul in his DMM article about the new route. “Challenging enough and not too difficult as to be injurious to my one functioning shoulder. Although to be honest I’ve found no climb to be boring one handed.”

The climb I made is very easy for those with two arms,” he continues  “but nowadays I don’t climb for difficulty—walking down the street is difficult enough. But it felt good to be back new routing again after all this time.”

You can read up on Paul’s latest adventures on his blog.