This is a piece I wrote for Climbing's Players section in 1995 or so
When Paul Pritchard was a young lad, he jumped down a six story stairwell at his school on an impulse, and later awoke in the hospital with no broken bones. The experience was a precursor to how he would nurture his bold instincts on the rocks.
Born in 1967, Paul began climbing at age 16. He soon moved to North Wales, home of the fearsome crag Gogarth, the sea cliff famous for its boltless, bold climbs on chossy quartzite. At the age of 18, he established Super Calabrese on Gogarth, a three pitch British E8, 6b. Paul led each of its three pitches, which would be given the modest grade of 5.12b here in the States, yet the E8 rating hints at the whole story. Little of the gear "protecting" the 30 foot runouts on the route would have held a fall, and one of the belays, a small RP and a knifeblade pounded in a loose flake, would likely have pulled if Paul had fallen anywhere on the dangerous 5.12b second pitch above. Today, 8 years later, Super Calabrese is still considered the most serious route in Britain, and certainly one of the most difficult unprotected climbs of the world.
In the years that followed, Paul interspersed his bold climbs with other types of climbing: sport climbs, mixed routes in the French Alps (as is the British tradition, honing himself in Chamonix), and Scottish ice climbs. Focusing on sport climbing in 1988 and 1989, he red pointed numerous 8a's in Europe, and during a trip to the US, repeated When Legends Die (5.13b), and flashed Torts of Horsham (5.12d) at Heuco Tanks.
Like all full-time British climbers, Paul got by working a few months a year washing windows, and other times collecting the ever-present and munificent British dole. In 1990, Paul planned to join the British 1990 Bhargirathi III Expedition, and procured a grant for expenses, courtesy the government (BMC and Foundation for Sport and Art) and the British Mt. Everest Foundation. In Britian, over $120,000 a year is given to expeditions, and in Paul's own words, "getting grants is as simple as filing out a paper and sending it in".
The expedition returned from India with no success, but Paul came back with a new focus for his climbing: big rock routes in alpine settings.
In December1991, Paul joined up with Noel Crane, Sean Smithe and Simon Yates and established a new route on the 1200 meter East Face of Central Tower in the Torre de Paine, Patagonia. At grade VI, 5.10, A4, the route's name, EL REGALO DE MWOMA, translates from the Patagonian native Tehuelche Indian language, "A Gift from God". The route generated some controversy, because a Spanish team had left gear and fixed ropes on the first 300 meters for three years, and had more or less "claimed" the route, even, as the story goes, forging a documentary film for Spanish television during which they faked the summit scene on a nearby walk-up snow tower. On climbing the first 300 meters to the Spanish team's high point, Paul and his team found evidence of a mass siege ascent, including backpacks full of rotting wet head lamp batteries, and tons of rope and gear slung about. The rangers of the Torre de Paine park have frowned upon this type of activity, so as a public service, Paul and his crew merrily jettisoned the barrels of gear down the route (to eventually make their way to a more discreet location). For about a month they then worked on the route, fixing ropes in between spells of bad weather, and eventually had 900 meter of rope fixed, poised for the final 300 meter sprint to the summit. Bad weather set in, and they returned to Campamento Torres, a small climber housing development project in the wilds of Patagonia, and chilled out in the bad weather.
The team then went to the disco in the nearby Puerto Natales, drank numerous bottles of Pisco, the vile Patagonian equivalent of absinthe, and repsyched for the route.
The team feared the worst: that the weather would be crap for weeks, as it usually is in Patagonia, and wouldn't clear until after their food and money ran out. Besides, fixed ropes only last about a week in Patagonia storms before they become completely shredded by the high winds. About this time, the Spanish team arrived to finish their claim. When they found out what happened to their gear, a multi-day fight ensued, broken only by spells of the Spanish team's attempts to get poised for the route. The weather cleared, and in a 27 hour push, Paul and Noel made it to the summit, and back to the top of their fixed ropes. The next day, they pulled all their ropes and gear off the mountain, and headed out of camp victoriously past the still shell-shocked and angry Spanish team.
In the months following the expedition, Paul sold all his gear in succession to fund more climbing in South America. With Phillip Lloyd, the pair established two 15 pitch 5.12a in the Torre de Paine park, both climbed on sight in 24 hour pushes. The two routes, El Caballo de Diablo (The Horse of the Devil) on the North Tower, and Planet Earth to Pisco Control on Paine Chico, are true testaments to the future of difficult alpine wall routes in the mountains. In March, Paul then sold much of his gear and climbed for a month at the paradise crag of Baralloche (sp?) in Argentina, on sighting many 5.12a's. He continued north to Brazil, stopping to climb a 20 pitch 5.12a wall route in the Brazilian jungle, complete with 25 meter runouts on difficult rock. There he sold the last of his rock gear and continued to Bolivia to solo several 6000 meter peaks. Three times on his 8 month journey since leaving Britain he was down to $10, and finding a buyer for his gear in the nick of time. In Bolivia, he sold the last of his gear (ice-axe, crampons, sleeping bag,and clothes) to scrape together the $600 airfare for a flight to Ireland.
Paul worked on his solvency for a few months, washing windows and building climbing walls, climbed every day, and planned a series of expeditions. In January 1993, Paul returned to Patagonia, and after an unsuccessful attempt on Cerro Torre, teamed up with Celia Bull and climbed another new route on the North Tower, along with several other shorter new routes in the area. Within five days of returning from Patagonia, he established two new E6, 6b's (5.12R) at Gogarth. Then one rainy day, he and Glenn Robbins rappelled to the base of Gogarth for an ascent of Games Climbers Play, the unseconded difficult and dangerous route put up by the legendary Pat Littlejohn in 1979, and to this day hasn't seen a second ascent. 100 feet up the first pitch, Paul fell while attempting a sea-slimed mantle shelf move. He ripped the entire pitch, fell onto an ocean boulder shattering his ankle, then fell backwards another 15 feet head first down a hole in the boulders, in which he ripped both shoulders, fractured his scull, and became wedged upside down underwater. It took Glenn several minutes to untie and dislodge Paul who was now drowning in the raging ocean currents. Paul recalls going in and out of consciousness as he caught glimpses of Glenn either resuscitating him or fruitlessly trying to find a way to solo out. Amazingly, a hiker out in the rain happened to look over the edge of Gogarth and catch Glenn's frantic cries for help and a helicopter was soon procured.
Whether or not the accident has tempered Paul's boldness remains to be seen. Despite the doctor's assurance that he couldn't climb for 18 months, 4 months later Paul was climbing 5.12b sport routes with wrecked shoulders, and in August, 1993 returned to India with Johnny Dawes and Phillip Lloyd, to attempt the fearsome East Face of the middle summit of Meru, one of Mug Stump's dream climbs. After 8 days of climbing 31 pitches of 5.12a rock and difficult mixed climbing capsule style, with only 10 more pitches to easy ground, Johnny dropped one of his plastic boots, necessitating retreat for the team. Their high point of 6300 meters compounded Paul's still waterlogged lungs from his near drowning, and a grim lung infection ensued. Not one to be put off by a few bodily handicaps, Paul and Phillip then attempted Shivling, and later traveled to Southern India to climb on granite domes.
At 26, Paul shows no sign of slackening his climbs in the mountains. In May of this year, paul and Steve Quinlan are off the Baffin Island to attempt a new route on Mt. Asgard. Paul's laid back attitude and talent for extreme rock is the perfect combination for the rigors of expedition climbing.
By John Middendorf
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