AN INSPIRATIONAL Bolton born climber who was left paralysed by an accident during an extreme feat now says it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Paul Pritchard says in the 20 years since the catastrophe he has learned acceptance, determination and patience.

He was climbing the Totem Pole in Tasmania, Australia, on February 13, 1998 when a loose rock smashed against his head.

He had to spend the next seven hours alone on a ledge waiting for help to come.

He was eventually taken by helicopter to a hospital in Hobart where he was placed in an induced coma for five days and stayed in the hospital for six weeks.

He was flown back to the UK and was taken to a hospital on the Wirral.

The accident left him unable to walk and talk for some time and he is still unable to move his right side to this day.

But two years ago, the 50-year-old who grew up in Barrow Bridge and fostered his love of climbing in quarries in and around Bolton, managed to climb the Totem Pole again.

And today, as he has done every year since he moved to Tasmania in 2002, Mr Pritchard will visit the Totem Pole.

He has overcome many challenges to get to this point.

Mr Pritchard said: “In the months after the accident I got very depressed and I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do with myself.

“I couldn’t walk, I was in a wheelchair for a year. I couldn’t talk for most of that time. I couldn’t dress myself or feed myself.”

Through rehabilitation he eventually managed to get his mobility back and moved back to Tasmania.

Mr Pritchard said: “I think the rock hit me on the head in such a way that it didn’t damage the part of my brain that was responsible for motivation.

“I know a lot of people from my time in rehab and my time in the groups and from specialists that some people aren’t so lucky.”

When he climbed the Totem Pole in April, 2016 he used a rope climbing technique he had developed himself and achieved the feat with the help of a team.

Mr Pritchard said: “Nine people helped carry the equipment and and climbing gear and the camping gear. Without them I would not have been able to do it.

“I think everybody needs support in some way and I do believe that with support everybody is capable of quite amazing things.

“There is this ethos around doing it on your own and independence but nobody is totally independent, I really believe that.”

He now works for the Australian government going into schools and giving talks on disability, but still likes to go on adventures.

Last year, along with four other men with significant disabilities Mr Pritchard cycled a tandem tricycle from the lowest point in Australia at Lake Eyre which is below sea level to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko, 2,228 metres above sea level.

It was the first time the 2,100-kilometre journey had ever been completed and a documentary was made during the process.

Mr Pritchard, who has three children, said: “I took a while to accept what had happened to me.

“I always say my injury is the best thing that ever happened to me.

“A lot of people find that hard to believe. How can such a catastrophic injury be the best thing that has ever happened to you?

“It taught me acceptance, it taught me determination and patience. Everybody faces these challenges at one point in their life.”

Mr Pritchard has written three books about his experiences climbing and last returned to Bolton in 2016, when his mother, Jean Allen, turned 80.

He said: “I love Bolton and its people and it will always have a massive soft spot for Bolton, that is for sure.”