Climbing has been an important part of my life before, during and after my military service. In 2007 a spanner was thrown in the works of my climbing life when a piece of shrapnel travelled through my left hand, destroying a knuckle and severing neural and tendon connections to two fingers. With hard work and support I was able to get back to climbing.
Over the past four years I have worked as a Mountain Leader serving the veteran community and it is through this work that I came to Climb2Recovery. Word of mouth and personal recommendations led me to Neil Heritage, the inspirational Climb2Recovery founder. Given my reputation in the community and my experience in the alps, he asked me to run the 2018 Alpine Program.
The culture at Climb2Recovery has impressed me from the start: veterans with all kinds of injuries and all kinds of needs, all sign up to a no whining, no wallowing philosophy. This is an organisation for positive people seeking to make the absolute most of what they have and what Climb2Recovery allows them to explore: personal challenge, physical and mental boundaries through the vehicle of climbing and alpinism.
The 2018 Alpine Program was the culmination of three intro-to-climbing and progression courses run in the UK since November last year. These courses allowed skills to be learned and bonds to be made that would serve us well as we came together as a team in the alps.
For me, bringing people to the alps for the first time was a real buzz; so too was the challenge of turning all of Neil’s planning and preparation into successfully delivery.
It was essential from the outset to establish the right culture: acting as a team, supporting one another in the pursuit of our goals and daring to fail. It was clear from Day One that the team had taken this on board and no opportunity would be wasted.
After a single day learning skills and rock climbing in Chamonix valley, we were into the high alps and it was here that the experiences became truly visceral and extreme. A highlight for me was guiding a friend on his first alpine route whilst being all the while under the watchful eye and guidance of a British Mountain Guide. For my friend – afraid of heights and loathing of exposure – this was an eye-popping experience. For me it was the greatest challenge in mountain leadership: coaching, coaxing and encouraging someone through what for them feels like the sum of all fears; something where the voice inside their head is saying “No” and yet somehow they keep stepping, keep moving and climb through it.
Climb2Recovery uses climbing because it induces stress in an environment where there is excellent support and participants have every facility to navigate the stressful situation and succeed in their goals, oftentimes surpassing what they thought possible. The concept is simple and sound: if this successful navigation of stress and anxiety can be achieved here in the alps, then the same can be achieved in our everyday lives.
To anyone in the Wounded, Injured and Sick (WIS) military community who feels excited by the idea of engaging with such challenges in a supporting and enriching environment then I recommend Climb2Recovery. For those lucky enough not to be on the WIS list, just get out there and get climbing!
Photos: Mark Brightwell