Inspirational Stories: Meet The Man Crawling The Three Peaks
In April 2022, double amputee Paul Ellis became the first person to successfully crawl the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, supported by Cotswold Outdoor. This was the second of his three peaks, having crawled up Snowdon back in August 2021 in just 13 hours. Paul plans to crawl Scafell Pike to round off the challenge to help raise funds and awareness for AmpCamp Kids’ amputee holiday fund. So far, Paul and his team have raised over £35,000, but they don’t plan to stop there.
Learn more about what it’s taken for Paul to achieve these incredible challenges, how to donate to AmpCamp Kids and how he plans to tackle the final instalment of his Three Peaks crawling challenge.
What motivated you to test yourself by crawling mountains?
I had been walking with a group for a while and was looking to use the mountains as somewhere to take on an extra special challenge. I jested I could crawl Snowdon, and when I put it to the group, they said I had to give it a go. Crawling Snowdon gave me an immense sense of achievement on a beautiful August bank holiday in 2021. Since then, I’ve made it my goal to complete all three of the UK’s highest peaks on hands and knees.
What challenges do you face in the outdoors as an amputee?
Naturally, it’s more physically demanding for an amputee to enjoy some outdoor pursuits. It can also be harder in colder conditions as circulation can be an issue for some amputees. Some of my friends really suffer with circulation issues and have to stop every so often to rest and flex the stump to get the blood pumping again. For me, I need to stop every so often to lubricate my stumps, so I always keep Vaseline close by in my rucksack.
As well as Snowdon, you crawled the UK's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, in April. What was the toughest part?
The toughest thing was probably the mental challenge. I’ve learned and become accustomed to pushing my body to extremes and having to work through pain barriers, but I think around halfway, it started becoming more of a mental fight. The team really had to get behind me and give me a pep talk around the three quarters point as I had slowed a lot and looked physically drained. The other most challenging factor was not having enough daylight hours!
If you had the chance to crawl it again, is there anything you'd do differently?
Probably not much. I might go for later in the year to benefit from the longer days, but then I would have had to trade that for a snowy summit photo, so that’s a tough choice. We were extremely fortunate with the weather on Ben Nevis, and I’ve now crawled on one of the hottest days of summer and one of the mildest of spring.
How many people were part of your team and how did this support help?
I had a team of between 15 and 20 people and two dogs with me. Led by Keir Nicholson, with his 11-year-old son Miles, we had a great selection of team players. Some only came to the halfway point to deliver reserves, but the summit photo shows you the best team and support crew I could have asked for. Special mentions should go to Debbie McQuatt, another fellow double amputee, and Dan Hartshorn (an arm amputee, who we learnt is actually the best at rolling up sleeping bags).
The crawl included an overnight camp. What kit did you need?
We arrived back at the half way point and Cotswold Outdoor basecamp at 10 p.m. after starting out at 5 a.m. So, I was extremely relieved and comforted that the team had set up our basecamp, all kindly sponsored by Cotswold Outdoor. The Vango Cairngorm tents had all been assembled with ease, roll mats laid out and covered with Rab sleeping bags, and additional pillows made for a cosy and comfortable night’s sleep.
Cotswold Outdoor also kindly made sure my whole team were fed and hydrated. Dinner was meatballs and pasta, and the hot chocolate pudding really hit the spot and put a smile on all of our faces. A full English breakfast was also laid on in the morning, and dinner pouches, which were the perfect size and weight to carry, were provided. In fact, Cotswold Outdoor provided all the cooking equipment and utensils, and honestly, it wouldn't have been possible to have this level of comfort without this support, so thanks again.
What adventure are you lining up next?
Next, I’m going for something flatter- crawling a 5k in Nottingham at the “Run with Rich” event in June. Seven-time Paralympic champion Richard Whitehead has challenged me to crawl it rather than run or walk it. Then going into August, I’m climbing Scafell and Scafell Pike to complete my trilogy and claim two mountains in one crawl.
What advice would you give others taking on difficult outdoor challenges?
Dream big: you can achieve anything you put your mind to. This was my ‘project possible’, and I have shown people you can do it. Always make sure you have the right supporters in your corner because sometimes there can be no margin for error in these challenges. One last thing: don’t talk, do it.
What more do you think outdoor organisations and retailers can do to make the outdoors more accessible for all?
I think the first step retailers and organisations need to take, is using amputees to advertise kit; we’re no different from anybody else, and people need to see amputees modelling clothing and equipment, especially in those dramatic mountain shots. We also need more organisations in the community encouraging the kind of walking we do in the AmpCamp mountain climbers group.
What does AmpCamp Kids, your chosen charity, do?
Ampcamp Kids is a non-profit organisation founded by my friend and fellow amputee, Ben Lovell. The project involves sending six amputee children and their families away on an all-inclusive holiday in a private villa with no fear of any stigma attached to being an amputee. It brings me joy to know that my fundraising has paid for four of these camps to take place and helped improve the lives of 24 children, and provided some much-needed respite and support to 48 parents. Each camp costs £13k, so I'm really proud of what we’ve managed to achieve so far and look forward to doing more.
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