Scout Adventures’ Paul Etheridge leads record-breaking climb up Europe’s highest mountain
Paul Etheridge manages the outdoor centre Great Tower for Scout Adventures in the Lake District, where he shows Scouts of all ages the ropes in exciting activities. He’s so passionate about his job that, even when on holiday, Paul likes to guide folks up mountains all over the world. Earlier this month, he was asked to lead an ascent of the mountain Elbrus, which sits between the Russia-Georgia border among the Caucasus Ridge; at 5,642 metres, Elbrus stands as Europe’s tallest mountain.
There was something special about this particular climb, as also on the expedition was 23-year-old Jack Garner. Jack is a Paralympic hopeful in tandem and triathlon; more exceptional still about Jack is that he trains for triathlons and climbs mountains without the use of his eyesight. By scaling Elbrus, Jack Garner has set a world record for being the first blind person ever to do so.
At only 11 years of age, Jack lost his eyesight over the course of a few months due to a genetic condition. Far from feeling disheartened by the hand life dealt him, Jack’s reaction was to make climbing Elbrus his mission. Twelve years later, after graduating with a first-class Masters in Mathematics, Jack completed his goal. The climb was no small feat for even an experienced mountaineer, taking the group eight days in very treacherous conditions, with wind speeds greater than 50mph and temperatures as low as -37C.
‘To comprehend what he has achieved, you can try closing your eyes when climbing – you’ll notice you freeze straight away, you become petrified,’ said Paul of Jack’s bravery. ‘There is a phenomenal amount of trust we needed between us, so he knows I’m leading him on the right track. When we were off trekking in the snow, he held onto my elbow or a loop at the bottom of my rucksack.’
Paul’s admiration for Jack runs deeper than just his physical feat; it spreads also to Jack’s faith in Paul.
‘Every step I walked, he walked.’ He goes onto describe how Jack took the whole experience in his stride. ‘This young man is so understated, so blasé about what he has achieved; he thinks nothing of it. Can you imagine doing something simple like going into your kit bag to find something, with your eyes closed?’
‘When we got to the summit, I said ‘Do you realise you are probably the first person who has ever done this?’’ Back on level ground, Paul followed up by checking with the people who know about this sort of thing – the Guinness Book of World Records – who confirmed that he was right: Jack Garner is a world record setting climber.
Some of the challenges Jack faced in order to set this record may seem to be of small difficulty, but try them with your eyes closed for a real idea of his accomplishment:
- Travelling from Scunthorpe to Gatwick on his own, with a 20kg kit bag, navigating the underground and various transport links
- Fitting, practicing and using double boots
- Fitting, practicing and using ice axe and crampons
- Practicing ice axe arrest
- Acclimatising to 3,000m, then 4,000m, then 4,500m, then to the summit (5,642m) before any team on the entire mountain, including the local Russian teams
- Negotiating walking around base camp, with ice, loose rocks, and so on
Scouts feeling inspired by Paul and Jack’s great achievement can look to Scout Adventures’ Cairngorms Winter Mountain Skills Course, which will take place this winter at Yr Hafod in the Cairngorms, and which will teach them all of the things required to try this challenge themselves one day. This five-day training course is the perfect test to see if Scouts have what it takes: it will be split into two levels, with the introductory course covering scrambling, winter navigation, crampons, ice axes; and the intermediary course covering a refresher of basic skills, rope work and belays, party leadership and winter climbing. Alternatively, if your young people can’t wait until then, a trip to Great Tower where Paul works in the Lake District could serve as a good taster. Paul exemplifies Scouting’s ability to provide skills for life, and his achievements are an inspiration to young people who want to gain similar skills.