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The Paralympic Torch – Sparking New Interest in Climbing the Peaks?

Updated on August 24, 2012
Snowdon Summit in the mist
Snowdon Summit in the mist

Kindling a Flame at the Summit

It is ironic that mountaineer Chris Bonington, who has conquered Everest, numerous Himalayan peaks and accomplished many firsts in the climbing world took the Olympic Torch to the summit of Snowdon in Wales – by using the mountain railway to the top! The torch was paraded around the UK for several weeks prior to the start of the Olympics at the end of July giving an opportunity for most people to see it in a locality near to them. However Snowdon was the only one of the four main peaks in the British Isles where the torch ascended to the very top – Ben Nevis was ignored (which caused some unrest amongst the locals), as was Scafell Pike. Could one dare presume that was because there was no convenient mode of transport to the top?

Chris Bonington himself says that he has climbed Mount Snowdon many times, but had never before taken the easy way up.

Hosting the Olympics was supposed to make a nation with a high number of couch potatoes more interested in sport. But the torch route itself set no major challenges.

Contract this with the lighting of the Paralympic Flame.

The Olympic Flame was originally lit at Mount Olympus in Greece, and it came from there to the UK. The Paralympic Flame was to be lit in the UK itself, and where better than on the peaks of the four highest mountains in each of the countries – Snowdon in Wales, Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scafell Pike in England and Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland. This time there would be no taking the train – volunteers would battle the elements (particularly wet and foggy as it turned out on on the day for Ben Nevis and Snowdon) and make their way up by foot.

On the 22nd August 2012 four teams of Scouts climbed to the summit of each mountain and made a spark by striking a ferrocerium rod against a rough steel surface thus creating four individual flames. The flames will travel around each country until they come together at the spiritual home of the Paralympics, Stoke Mandeville Hospital, on the 28th August. They will then be joined together to form the Paralympic Torch which will then continue on its journey to London.

Lord Sebastian Coe, chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic games, joined a group of six scouts and walked up to the summit of Snowdon. Other groups of girls and boys and volunteers (including members of the Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team at Scafell Pike) were climbing and starting off the flames at the summits of the three other mountains.

Both disabled and non-disabled were among the walkers. Blind hillwalker Bernadette Sloan, accompanied by her guide Danny McSherry lit the Northern Ireland torch. Climber Kevin Sheilds accompanied the scouts up Ben Nevis and Karl Hinett, who was badly burned in a petrol bomb attack in Iraq which left him with multiple injuries climbed Scafell Pike.

The creation of the Paralympics Torch represents the effort and determination of people to succeed - whatever their ability or disability - which is representative of the thousands of people who climb these peaks each day. Some are serious climbers and fell walkers achieving times unthinkable for the average person. Others have been putting in practice to take part in the Three Peaks Challenge. Many are averagely fit holiday makers and tourists who, vacationing in the area, think perhaps I could get to the top? Others have more difficultly and need the help of crutches, friends or support groups. But whatever gives them that urge to try to get to the summit; to test themselves to the full – often seemingly getting to the top on willpower alone - their efforts are rewarded with a fantastic personal sense of satisfaction and achievement when they reach the top.

The lighting of the flames at the summits and seeing the scouts make the ascent should encourage people that they, too, can climb to the top of one Britain’s mountains.


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