Quadruple amputee Jamie Andrew steps up to Everest challenge
It took 45,000 steps and four days to complete his latest mountain challenge – although this time Scottish climber and quadruple amputee Jamie Andrew did not leave his home.
The 51-year-old took on the ambitious bid to virtually reach the summit of Mt Everest by ascending stairs at his terraced Edinburgh house.
He walked up and down the 6.7-metre staircase, as well as doing steps on his garden decking, for almost seven hours day after day in April to achieve the equivalent height of the world’s tallest mountain at 8,848 metres.
Jamie reveals that he was determined to find a way to “make the most of a difficult situation” during the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown.
He said: “The challenge was partly to stay sane and also a great motivation for being active through the lockdown period. Climbing the height of Everest seemed like the obvious goal for me.”
21 years since climb accident
This year is the 21st anniversary of the climbing tragedy in the French Alps when Jamie lost both his hands and feet to severe frostbite.
His University of Edinburgh friend Jamie Fisher died of hypothermia after the pair became stranded on a 4000-metre high ridge on the mountain Les Droites during a storm that had raged for five days.
Speaking from a hospital bed in January 1999, just days after a dramatic helicopter rescue, Jamie said he did not know if he would climb again, although he vowed to remain as active as he could.
Remarkably, within a few months, he was able to walk using prosthetic legs and had re-learned everyday tasks such as dressing, washing and feeding himself. By August, he was able to run a few metres thanks to carbon fibre and titanium limbs.
Life to the full
Over the following two decades, Jamie, who is married to Anna and has three teenage children, has enjoyed a full range of outdoor pursuits, including swimming, running, cycling, skiing, paragliding, sailing, mountaineering – and still his biggest passion, rock climbing.
He has achieved some impressive feats, too, while raising tens of thousands of pounds for various charities.
Only 17 months after the accident, Jamie climbed Britain’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis. It was a mountain that he had walked, run and climbed on many times before.
In the summer of 2000, he wrote: “Since my world was so rudely turned on its head… everything in my life has taken on an altered significance.
“The mundane has become a challenge. The tedious has become new and exciting. Easy has become difficult and difficult has become impossible (almost). And the tourist track up Ben Nevis has become an aspiration.”
With the support of friends and family, Jamie walked for 5.5 hours over four miles to reach the 1,345m peak.
He said: “I enjoyed the experience although it was tough and slow. This was the freedom that I’d had taken from me and had to fight so hard to enjoy once more.”
The following May, Jamie returned to the French Alps to climb the Cosmiques Arete, a 300m-long knife-edge of snowy rocks and ice, which finishes on the 3,842m summit of the Aiguille du Midi, high above the town of Chamonix.
In 2002, he made an attempt on Mont Blanc – the highest in the Alps at 4,808m above sea level – but turned back 300m from the top as the weather worsened.
The same year, Jamie ran the London Marathon and, in 2004, he reached the 5,895m summit of Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.
He has also completed an Ironman distance event, comprising a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and a 26.2-mile marathon on foot in Scotland. During the same decade, Jamie wrote an award-winning book, Life and Limb.
One of his biggest – and most recent – outdoors achievements was to climb the Matterhorn. At 4,478m tall, it is one of the highest mountains in Europe.
“The Matterhorn has long been a big goal of mine,” said Jamie. “It took five years to achieve but all the preparation meant the climbing was like a dream when I eventually got there in 2016. It really was pure joy.”
He reveals that each major challenge has had its own set of obstacles and difficulties to overcome.
Jamie, whose main occupation now is motivational speaking, said: “The Matterhorn was the most difficult mountain I have undertaken in terms of preparation, training and planning, since I lost my hands and feet.
“But the Ironman, which I called Titanium Man, was harder physically. It was a huge feat of endurance for me, especially the swim in open water.
“Writing the book was also a long process, although I am not sure that my typing with two stumps was much slower than my previous typing with two fingers. It was the mental challenges that came with going back over the accident that was hard then.
“And in the earlier says, there was the mental difficulties of returning to the mountains of the Alps, especially close to Chamonix where I last climbed with Jamie Fisher.
“But, in part, it was because of him and the memory of him that have made me so determined to enjoy as many outdoors activities and challenges as I can.”
‘I knew I was lucky to be alive’
Jamie recalls the first days after the Alps tragedy as he lay in a hospital bed. He said: “Doctors were faced with two options: Amputate or let me die. But without hands or feet, it looked then like I might never walk again. The future seemed pretty grim.
“Yet once they had been amputated I was determined to get back on my feet again. I realised how lucky I was to be alive, no matter how bad my injuries, because my climbing partner and close friend wasn’t so lucky.
“So I decided that I wouldn’t give up. I was going to make the most of the rest of my life, whatever my disabilities, for my sake and for Jamie’s.”
Thus, even when confined to his home and local area during lockdown 2020, Jamie aimed high – to the world’s tallest mountain.
He said: “Like so many other people it is mentally tough to be cooped up indoors, unable to freely go where you would normally, and especially to the hills and mountains that I love.
“But I have learned that it is important to see positives in every situation. What happened to me and the years of overcoming obstacles, even small ones, have shown me you need to make the most of what faces you.
“So, I thought about the height of Everest, I thought about my stairs and I worked out what I might be able to achieve. I wanted something to push my physical limits – and also to something that people would respond to by donating to my chosen charity, this time it is NHS Charities Together.”
Stepping up to lockdown challenge
To add to the challenge, Jamie abseiled from a second floor window at his home and finished by climbing a step ladder on to the roof.
With characteristic good humour, he said: “Of course, it was physically tiring and my stumps ended up a bit sore. I had to wear a sock over one arm due to friction burn from the bannister.
“Day two and three were the hardest because of the accumulation of ascent but by day four I felt better strangely. Sometimes it helps me if I am more active because it keeps the blood circulating in the stump areas.
“Mentally it was a bit tedious with the same set of stairs – and exactly the same paint chips to look at – each time I went up and down.
“But the fundraising kept me motivated – and finally at the end I could put my feet up knowing I had done some good. Well, actually, I simply took my feet off!”
Did you know?
Jamie is a patron of Disability Snowsports UK and another inspiring charity, Ordinary to Extraordinary.
In 2012, he climbed the Olympic Stadium of the London 2012 games as part of Channel 4’s Meet the Superhumans campaign to launch the Paralympic Games.
See his website Jamie Andrew.