A couple of weeks ago Paul Pritchard returned the Totem Pole, the scene of his horrific accident in 1998, and climbed the route with his good friend Steve Monks and a bunch of helpers. For those that don’t know the story, 18 years ago Paul was abseiling down the Totem Pole when his rope dislodged a loose block that struck him in the head, splitting open his skull. Luckily, Paul’s partner, Celia Bull, was there to save his life and raise the alarm, and he survived the accident, which has left him hemiplegic (no use of his right arm and limited use of right leg), epileptic and aphasic (word finding difficulties). Despite these disabilities, Paul was able to abseil into the Totem Pole, belay Steve up the route and then jumar back up behind him, before returning to the mainland via the Tyrolean traverse.
Paul, who lives in Tassie, has put together a photo essay of the day for us.
Sergeant Paul Steane’s photograph of Neale Smith abseiling down to execute the rescue. Neale had to go across the Tyrollean traverse and abseil down to me. He thought he was recovering a body judging by the amount of blood on the ledge. I am visible on the ledge and so is the Nubeena lifeboat tinny.
There are no pictures from the accident, only the aftermath. This is my head a few of days after what seemed at the time a ‘life as we know it’ ending catastrophe.
Celia Bull. I owe her my life. Photo: Paul Pritchard
Fast fwd 18 years… Some of the 11-strong team assembled for the climb. This photo was taken at Cape Hauy on the evening before the climb. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to each and every one of these people for helping me realise my dream.
L-R Top: Melinda Oogjes, Vonner Keller, Steve Monks, Matt Newton.
L-R Bottom: Andy Cianchi, Paul Pritchard, Zoe Wilkinson, John Middendorf.
Me and Steve just before the climb. Photo Vonner Keller
Steve Monks and I have a special bond over the Totem Pole. He rapped the climb the day after the rescue and cleaned the Pole of our ropes and kit. On this climb he was glad the huge pool of blood had washed off (I lost half my blood on that ledge). Here Steve belays me up his own route, Deep Play. He named it for my first book and I am approximately in the position I was hit 18 years ago.
Celia rappelled down to me, got me upright in slings, strapped her helmet on me, and spent the next 3 hours hauling me up to that ledge. When almost at the ledge I stroked the rock scar and realised first hand just how big that rock was. The scar is clearly visible above Steve’s top runner. Photo: Vonner Keller.
Steve setting off on the unique top pitch. The rappel rope is trailed all the way and thus used as the Tyrollean on reaching the summit. Photo: Vonner Keller.
Steve setting off on the unique top pitch. The rappel rope is trailed all the way and thus used as the Tyrolean on reaching the summit. Photo: Vonner Keller.
I had spent a long time perfecting my one-arm rope ascending technique in the lead-up to this climb, and I performed 126 one-armers (with some help from my leg!). Photo: Vonner Keller
Clambering onto the summit and kissing the feet of my great leader! Photo: Zoe Wilkinson
Paul Pritchard. Photo: Vonner Keller
A film is being made of Paul’s climb, you can help make it happen by supporting the crowd-funding campaign to raise funds for it. You can find more info here.