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Ed Jackson: How a quadriplegic former rugby player conquered a Himalayan mountain

His team had disappeared on the mountain for two days in early April, and the situation had become so desperate that prayer flags were unfurled in their honor at base camp.

“You reach a level of fatigue where you’re no longer thirsty or hungry because your body is just trying to survive,” Jackson recalled.

“It’s just focusing on maintaining your organs… At that point, you’re doing everything you can to survive. You get a little delusional sometimes.”

That night on the mountain wasn’t the first time Jackson had come dangerously close to death.

Five years ago, while still a professional rugby player, he dove into a shallow pool on a hot day and broke his neck.

“I was revived three times. You know, I died three times in the ambulance after my accident,” he says.

Once he regained consciousness, Jackson was left paralyzed below the shoulders and doctors told him he was likely facing life in a wheelchair, probably without the use of his arms. He was forced to stop playing rugby.

“So it looked pretty dark,” he says, “but I was very lucky and there was still enough of my spinal cord attached that I started to recover.”

Jackson left the hospital four months after his accident and started getting out of his wheelchair two months later.

Then, to mark the first anniversary of his accident, Jackson set his sights on climbing Mount Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain at 1,085 metres, although he was still using two crutches at the time.

“I got addicted to the mountains after that and was just looking for the next highest and the next highest. Four years later I find myself in the Himalayas.”

“The kind of most remote places you can imagine”

By reaching Himlung Himal, Jackson and Ben Halms — a former skydiver who had also suffered a serious spinal cord injury — aimed to set a new world record for the highest ascent by a person with a spinal cord injury, which previously stood at 6,500 m.

Located in a remote corner of Nepal, any attempt to climb the snow-capped peak of the mountain is complicated by the glacier flowing down its slopes.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, no one had climbed Himlung Himal for two and a half years.

Facing unfavorable snow conditions, Jackson and his team had to navigate difficult routes across the glacier, setting up camps as they went.

Ed Jackson: How a quadriplegic former rugby player conquered a Himalayan mountain

It was a three week hike in all – a week of hiking to base camp from the nearest road followed by two weeks on the mountain itself.

Far from any reliable food source, one day they “ate the remains of a yak that had been killed by a snow leopard the day before”.

In such conditions, far from the technologies and problems that clutter daily life, Jackson has forged a bond with his team, their Nepalese guides and the surrounding mountains.

“You feel so small among these giant things that your brain can’t really comprehend,” he says.

“When you’re in front of an 8,000 meter peak, you feel tiny, but in a strangely liberating way, because it also makes all your problems tiny, and it gives you a sense of belonging to the world.”


Jackson and his team were unable to set up the third camp, forcing them to embark on a mammoth 36-hour summit day with 1,200 meters of elevation to climb.

“We got to around 6,800m, which is a new record,” he says.

“But we had to turn around to get back and by the time we came back down the snow conditions had changed. Our guide fell into a crevasse.”

Trapped and surrounded by crevices, the group called for a helicopter rescue. However, as the evening darkened, it became too dangerous for a helicopter to take flight, leaving the group to “dig in” and survive that night on the mountain.

In the morning, a helicopter made its way through the mountain peaks and picked up the stranded group one by one to bring them back to base camp.

Aiming for the top of a mountain, Jackson suggests, is like the goals that drive everyday life, like aiming for a promotion, a new house or a new car – important for the journeys and experiences it provokes rather than its mere existence. sometimes overwhelming. .

“The magical things I remember were those nights in the camp laughing and singing with our Nepalese guides or sitting around a cooking fire, which was just a hole in the ground, eating leftovers from snow leopard,” he said.

Ed Jackson: How a quadriplegic former rugby player conquered a Himalayan mountain

“It’s things like this that we would never have experienced if we didn’t have this goal of reaching the top. But really, it’s not about reaching the top.”

“Go back to where we’re meant to be”

Finding that sense of perspective in the mountains has allowed Jackson to begin to recover from his traumatic accident in 2017.

“Just being outside in nature is incredibly healing,” he says, “I think silence, disconnecting from reality for a while, giving yourself the head space to think, just be and come back where we are supposed to be as human beings…was really important.”

The physical challenges of mountaineering also gave Jackson “something to aim for” as he sought to deal with the effects of his accident.

“I am classified as an incomplete quadriplegic,” he says.

“I have no good movement on one side of my body, no feeling on the other. And those are lifelong things that you have to stay on top of…or you’ll start going the other way. “

As Jackson discovered healing in the mountains, he realized that others could too. He started the charity Millimeters to Mountains (M2M) with his wife, Lois, and friend and former rugby player, Olly Barkley.

M2M takes recipients who have experienced physical or psychological trauma on challenges around the world, allowing them to access the healing power of nature.

Then it offers a three-year development program that funds life coaching, retraining, or therapy to further facilitate recovery.

Ed Jackson: How a quadriplegic former rugby player conquered a Himalayan mountain

By devoting himself to the charity, Jackson hopes to get “enough good” from his life-altering accident to turn it into a positive event, outweighing the lingering effects it has on his daily life, such than bladder and bowel problems, and fall on everything. the weather.

“And it’s materializing, which I have to pinch myself on because it all felt so dark for so long,” Jackson said.

“I’ve been to these places where I lost all hope and was desperate. And I thought there was no point in continuing my life because it wasn’t going anywhere and I had no left nothing.

“But I hope what I do, what we do with the charity and what our beneficiaries prove is that we can give anyone hope that they can change their life. , dark as it may seem at this time.”

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