Brush with death in Tasmania 'saved my life', says climber

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 February, 2009, 12:00am

Mountaineer Paul Pritchard looks quite good considering a boulder once landed on him. The English climbing legend was in town this week, speaking for the Royal Geographical Society at Olympic House on Monday and promoting his 2005 book The Longest Climb.

Now 41 and living in Tasmania, Pritchard started climbing at 16 and has scaled Himalayan mountains and the American Rockies. However, his life changed when a chunk of Australian rock nearly flattened him.

'I was climbing a 60-metre but 3-metre-wide rock in the Totem Pole at the edge of Tasmania with my girlfriend. It was in 1998,' he said. 'A huge rock fell on me from about 25 metres high and knocked me over. My entire body was just hanging by a piece of rope. I was upside-down, only a metre above the ocean.'

A rescue team arrived about 10 hours later. By then, he was 'near dead', with a hole in his skull and having lost half his blood. With about a year in hospital and another in a wheelchair, Pritchard thought he would never walk again, let alone climb. But by sheer determination, in 2005 he conquered Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, even though his right side is still mostly paralysed.

'I view my injuries as the longest expedition that I have ever been on. I think it saved my life, because I was doing bolder and more dangerous things. The accident might have disabled me, but it saved my life, making me understand about my own limitations.'