Amputee William Pike conquers Antarctic mountain

Amputee William Pike conquers Antarctic mountain
William Pike (Simon Lucas/ supplied)

Lying in a hospital bed a decade ago with a freshly amputated leg, William Pike made a decision - to get his life back on track. But climbing an Antarctic mountain certainly wasn't a part of that plan.

This year he was one of four young explorers selected by the Antarctic Heritage Trust to climb a peak named after explorer Robert Falcon Scott. Their goal was to preserve the spirit of exploration and share their own story of adventure to inspire others. Isobel Ewing was part of the AHT Inspiring Explorers expedition that climbed Mt Scott.

The hardest part of mountaineering for amputee William Pike is when the sun comes out.

Climbing with a prosthetic limb has its benefits, he doesn't get calf burn in his right leg, but it's the heat that slows him down.

When he starts sweating, the problems start.

"My leg's fantastic but what I need to do to prevent any rubs or blisters I need to stop," Mr Pike says.

"So every 20 minutes or so I take my leg off, sit down, dry any sweat off my stump and put it back on again."

Reaching the summit of Mt Scott on the Antarctic Peninsula a week ago was a huge milestone for him.

This year marks a decade since rocks and ice crushed his legs during the 2007 Mt Ruapehu eruption, resulting in his right one being amputated.

"I promised myself I would get myself back on track," Mr Pike says.

"It would've been easy to say I lost my leg, I can't be bothered."

He says he always thought he might be able to get back into the outdoors he loved  climbing, tramping and scuba diving, but not to the previous extent.

"To go on an 18 hour epic adventure in Antarctica up a mountain didn't seem possible."

William Pike before onboard the Akademik Ioffe before the climb. (Antarctic Heritage Trust)
William Pike before onboard the Akademik Ioffe before the climb. (Antarctic Heritage Trust)

The expedition was led by the Antarctic Heritage Trust, which has a partnership with polar cruise company One Ocean Expeditions, allowing transport from Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula aboard the ship.

The AHT team sailed from Ushuaia in Southern Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula, an 800km journey.
The AHT team sailed from Ushuaia in Southern Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula, an 800km journey.

The trip's aim was to bring young people on an adventure, preserving the spirit of exploration of the likes of Scott and Shackleton, and use the experience to inspire New Zealanders to explore.

Mr Pike says the attempt at Mt Scott was a little different to the climbing he's done back home.

"As a mountaineer, you normally start in the bush in New Zealand, but for us it was out of this ginormous ship, into a rubber boat, we had gumboots on.

"We drove through this ice up to a cliff face, put harnesses and boots on then jumped onto an icy rock shelf and started the climb.

"It was phenomenal, like nothing I've ever experienced before in my life."

The team made a precarious landing before beginning the climb. (Antarctic Heritage Trust)
The team made a precarious landing before beginning the climb. (Antarctic Heritage Trust)

After the initial steep climb from the water, the team began navigating the glacier that led up to the base of Mt Scott.

"We came up this huge slope and got straight into full-on crevasse country. Full-on experience, cool though."

The team crosses an “ice bridge” with 30m deep crevasses on either side. (Simon Lucas)
The team crosses an “ice bridge” with 30m deep crevasses on either side. (Simon Lucas)

After eleven hours of climbing punctuated by 20-minute stops for his leg, Mr Pike stepped onto the summit.

"I was blown away with the view. It was the most spectacular I've ever seen.

"I took a moment to reflect on my life in last ten years, the fact I didn't think I'd be up a mountain like this was very special.

"I'm proud of where I've come from. I've had to work damn hard, there was a lot of fitness and training to keep up with you buggers."

He made countless trips to and from what he calls "the leg shop" in Auckland to make sure the leg was right for the climb.

And he says if he weren't passionate about it he wouldn't be up there.

"For me the climb wasn't comfortable, but I'm so passionate I'll make it work."

Mr Pike is an inspirational speaker and runs the William Pike Challenge Award that gets kids into the outdoors and connecting with their community.

He hopes this latest achievement will push his messages further.

"I almost felt too lucky. A bit of a tinny bugger. What makes you feel OK about it is being able to share it back."

"My messages are that we need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and teamwork. We had such a great crew, when the going got tough we'd help each other out."

William Pike at the summit (Simon Lucas)
William Pike at the summit (Simon Lucas)

He adds that a key point is making adventure relatable.

"This was an epic climb, but it wasn't Mt Everest," he says.

"I want to encourage all people to go on an adventure in their backyard, to make good friends, keep fit and explore what we have in New Zealand.

After the team reached the summit at 8pm there was a grueling descent mostly in darkness back to the shoreline.

Navigating the glacier by headtorch on the descent back to shore. (Simon Lucas)
Navigating the glacier by headtorch on the descent back to shore. (Simon Lucas)

That didn't dampen Mr Pike's spirits.

"The plan wasn't to stay on the ice but secretly I was hoping we could have a night out in Antarctica.

"For me camping in Antarctica was a dream come true.

"Sitting in a sleeping bag fully dressed with my harness on, destroyed physically and mentally and gazing up into the stars at 3am as ship sized icebergs crashed and groaned past 100m in front of me.

"What capped it off was munching on a bag of potato chips."

He says he slept solidly for two hours and woke up totally disorientated before remembering he was lying on a cliff face above icy water.

"For some people that's obviously a worst nightmare but it was the perfect end to a perfect adventure."

Mr Pike's matter-of-fact attitude normalises his disability in a way that is charmingly kiwi.

En route home from the expedition, the AHT team had a day in Buenos Aires and visited the sometimes-dodgy La Boca neighbourhood.

"When I stop to take my leg off you guys have to gather round so no one flogs it," he says, completely deadpan.

Newshub.

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