Quadriplegic former rugby player climbs Thor Peak, carrying a Christmas tree

Ed Jackson summited the American mountain, almost three times the height of Ben Nevis, in time for Christmas Eve, raising funds for charity

Ed and Lois Jackson, Ross Stirling and guide Kurt Wedberg with their Christmas tree on the summit of Thor Peak
left to right: Ed and Lois Jackson, Ross Stirling and guide Kurt Wedberg with their Christmas tree on the summit of Thor Peak
(Image credit: Berghaus)

Until a terrible accident in Easter 2017, Ed Jackson from Bath was a rugby union professional, playing with Newport Gwent Dragons, but that all changed when he awoke in a hospital bed with spinal injuries after diving into the shallow end of a swimming pool. He found himself in ICU, with only limited movement in his right arm. Medical experts warned him he may never walk again, but yesterday he reached the 3,751-metre summit of Thor Peak in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Inyo County, California. 

Not only did Ed, now a partial quadriplegic, complete the arduous winter ascent independently, on his own two feet, but the party also carried a Christmas tree with them to the top. All while raising money for charity, including the foundation Ed founded, Millimetres 2 Mountains (M2M), which provides assistance through adventure to people facing mental health challenges as a result of encountering adversity in their lives. 

Last Christmas, Ed and his climbing partner Ross Stirling raised funds for M2M by carrying a Christmas tree up some of Britain’s highest mountains. This year they took their Peaking for Christmas challenge to a whole new level, by targeting far more technical summit of Mount Whitney, which at 4,421-metres (37,696ft) is the tallest peak in the Sierra Nevada range and the highest mountain in the contiguous United States (the 48 adjoining states, excluding Alaska and Hawaii). Watch a short film about their journey to the foot of the mountain here.

Mt Whitney

(Image credit: Berghaus)

In the end, however, heavy snow conditions forced a change of plan, and they topped out on the spectacular summit of Thor Peak instead.

“We’ve had a brutal, epic few days. I struggle to walk on level concrete at times, so to be able to summit a big mountain in winter is not something I really thought was possible, especially given that we had carried in all of our gear for four days camping while trudging through waste deep snow," said Ed. "Oh, and there was the small matter of Ross having to carry a five foot Christmas tree as well.

“Although snow conditions and time didn’t allow us to reach our ultimate goal of Mount Whitney, it was an amazing experience and I’m so pleased that I got to share it with Lois and Ross, who defies physics at times. I’m hugely grateful to our guides Kurt and Trevor for even entertaining this crazy idea, to Berghaus for making it possible with some amazing kit and the special adaptations for me, and to everyone who has donated to our fundraising. This will help Millimetres 2 Mountains support so many more people who are facing some of the issues that I have experienced since my accident.”

(Image credit: Berghaus)

On his Instagram account, where he posted images from the icy summit, Ed said: “There were many moments during this climb that reaching the top looked unlikely. Waist deep in snow, legs in spasm, vision blurring, every cell in my body willing me to give up. But you don’t. You keep going. Because you know that anything worth having in life you have to work for. More than that, it’s the work that gives it all meaning.”

Ed works closely with British outdoor brand Berghaus, which makes some of the best boots, backpacks and waterproof jackets available to outdoor adventurers. Berghaus have made bespoke adaptations to its high-performance kit that allow Ed to attempt ever more technical terrain, despite his profound spinal injuries, and for this specific challenge Ed and Ross used a specially altered Berghaus backpack to climb while carrying the Christmas tree.

“Last year’s challenge pushed me to my limit,” said Ed before setting off on Monday. “But 12 months on, I have learnt so much more about how high and hard I can climb, despite my quadriplegia… I am living proof that being active in the outdoors is still possible for someone with a spinal injury, and of the huge physical and mental health benefits of that. By raising funds through this challenge, we can help Millimetres 2 Mountains support so many more people who are facing similar issues."

Donations to Ed Jackson and Ross Stirling’s Peaking for Christmas fundraising can still be made at www.justgiving.com/campaign/peakingforchristmas.

Pat Kinsella
Freelance outdoor writer

Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat Kinsella has been writing about outdoor pursuits and adventure sports for two decades. In pursuit of stories he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked across the Norwegian Alps, run ultras across the roof of Mauritius and through the hills of the Himalayas, and set short-lived speed records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. A former editor of several Australian magazines he’s a longtime contributor to publications including Sidetracked, Outdoor, National Geographic Traveller, Trail Running, The Great Outdoors, Outdoor Fitness and Adventure Travel, and a regular writer for Lonely Planet (for whom he compiled, edited and co-wrote the Atlas of Adventure, a guide to outdoor pursuits around the globe). He’s authored guides to exploring the coastline and countryside of Devon and Dorset, and recently wrote a book about pub walks. Follow Pat's adventures on Strava and instagram.