Climber who lost hands and feet to tackle tallest wall

Jamie Andrew, who practises at Ratho's climbing arena, below left, plans to conquer Excalibur in Holland. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Jamie Andrew, who practises at Ratho's climbing arena, below left, plans to conquer Excalibur in Holland. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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A BRAVE climber who lost his hands and feet to frostbite has vowed to conquer one of the world’s toughest challenges.

Jamie Andrew has set his sights on Excalibur – the tallest climbing wall on the planet – in Groningen, Holland.

The twisting 121ft structure curves a dramatic 36ft away from its base, and has already seen off Jamie’s best efforts. But the 43-year old, who uses prosthetic “climbing feet”, is now planning a return trip to the intimidating wall.

Jamie, who lives in Bruntsfield, said: “I was over in Switzerland recently and thought I might as well swing by Excalibur on the way home. The weather wasn’t very good that day, it had been raining and the holds were quite slick, so I only got about quarter of the way up. I wanted to do something difficult, but also something that was reasonably safe – I have kids now, and you have to put them first.

“As anyone who has climbed the wall will tell you, it can be quite scary – you do run a very real risk of falling – but the adrenalin rush is all part of the fun. I only fell once last time, so I’m hoping one more attempt will do the trick.”

Jamie lost his hands and feet after becoming trapped on the north face of Les Droites in the Alps in 1999 – an incident which claimed the life of his friend Jamie Fisher after the pair were caught up in a storm.

While he uses the stumps of his arms to manoeuvre his upper body, he wears prosthetic legs ground down in size and fitted with climbing rubber.

He said: “Climbing is what I’ve always loved doing the most and the accident didn’t change that. However, I had felt like my climbing had stagnated slightly because I hadn’t set myself any new challenges and also because my time is taken up more with family commitments.

“Obviously there are technical challenges – having no hands makes it rather difficult to clip and unclip the carabiner climbers use to secure themselves. I do design and adapt my own equipment and created a variation on a carabiner that I can clip and unclip with my stump.”

Jamie spends much of his time practising on the 82ft overhanging wall at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena in Ratho, where his efforts are being filmed by a documentary crew.

He has already raised more than £100,000 for charities such as the Red Cross and 500 Miles, an amputee charity he helped launch, and is considering seeking sponsorship to tackle Excalibur.

John Comiskey, chief executive of Edinburgh Leisure, which runs the Ratho centre, said: “Edinburgh Leisure and the staff at EICA are delighted to support Jamie in this exceptional climbing challenge.

“His determination to succeed is truly inspirational and we wish him all the best for the future – both in Edinburgh and anywhere else that his climbing takes him.”

TRAGIC ORDEAL WHICH CHANGED JAMIE’S LIFE

Jamie Andrew was 29 when he and Jamie Fisher, both experienced climbers, tackled the north face of Les Droites in the French Alps.

Although conditions were initially good, the friends became trapped by bad weather 12,000ft up and couldn’t be reached by rescue crews for five days, during which time they were at the mercy of 90mph winds and -30C temperatures.

Jamie Fisher died just hours before the rescue helicopter reached them.

Jamie Andrew, who had fallen victim to severe frostbite during his ordeal, had to have his hands and feet amputated almost immediately. After spending several months in rehabilitation, he began climbing again, and he is also a keen skier, snowboarder and marathon runner.

Last year he used a special prosthetic hand to carry the Olympic torch along Chesser Avenue and Slateford Road and also scaled the Olympic Stadium to hang a sign highlighting the beginning of the Paralympic Games which read: “Thanks for the warm up.”