Amputations left Jamie with a mountain to climb

Having his hands and feet amputated following a climbing accident hasn’t stopped Jamie Andrew from attempting to climb the Matterhorn.

Have you always been a climber?

I’ve been climbing since the age of 16. I first discovered my love for it on an outward bound course. I didn’t really expect to enjoy it, but it just grabbed me. Growing up in Bearsden there were quite a few places to climb. It didn’t take long to get to Glencoe or Arrochar.

How did you lose your limbs?

It was an accident in the French Alps in 1999. Myself and my climbing partner Jamie Fisher were climbing a mountain called Les Droites when we became trapped in a storm very close to the summit. The storm proved to be particularly vicious and long-lived, so much so that we were stuck there for five days. By the time we were rescued it was too late for Jamie, and very nearly too late for me.

How long did your supplies last?

We had emergency food to last for a day or so, but certainly not enough for fi ve days. We had a mountain stove for melting snow but were in such a precarious position and in such high winds that it was proving more or less impossible to get the stove going. Dehydration was our biggest difficulty.

Did you think you would make it back down?

We stayed positive for the whole of the time that we were battling for survival. There was never any talk of not making it down. You have to cling on to hope in order to survive. It was only on the fifth and final night that we both succumbed to hypothermia and frostbite and it became apparent that this ordeal was likely to end in tragedy.

How were you rescued?

The rescuers always knew where we were, but the winds and turbulence were so diffi cult that they couldn’t fly anywhere near us. On the last morning they managed to land a rescuer who was able to reach us on the ridge. Then the helicopter simply had to make one pass, straight over the mountain summit, twirling underneath it a 90 metre line with a hook on the end. As it flew past, the pilot managed to guide the helicopter so precisely that my rescuer on the ground was able to reach up with his hand and catch the hook as it swung past. He clipped it onto my harness and I was just yanked off the mountain. It was a very daring and spectacular rescue. My hands and feet were very badly frozen and the doctors had to amputate them around a week later in hospital in France.

What have been the biggest challenges that you have faced since the accident?

I had to learn how to live a completely new life. The greatest part of that learning curve took around a year, but it didn’t stop there. I’m still learning new things. It wasn’t the big things like getting back to work or climbing mountains, but it was how I would pick up a cup, get dressed, feed myself and going to the toilet. These were the things that meant the most to me.

Do you use prosthetic limbs?

I use prosthetic legs. I don’t use prosthetic hands but I do have tools for doing different jobs, such as an arm for driving, cooking and also more exciting things like ice axes for climbing.

What made you go back to climbing?

I decided quite soon after the accident that it was a flame of passion in me that hadn’t been extinguished. I started climbing Blackford Hill and Arthur’s Seat in my home town of Edinburgh.