Adaptive Grand Slam

Cumbria Challenge

Mel Nicholls By Mel Nicholls

Mission Possible. Paralympian and GetOutside Champion Mel Nicholls took on the Adaptive Grand Slam Cumbria challenge. Proof that anything's possible when it comes to getting outside with a disability.

Midwinter, the epic backdrop of the Lake District National Park, one mountain challenge, and a team of adventure-seekers, some new some seasoned, all ready to take on their weekend’s challenge. The mountain, and their own.

The fact that each member of this team is disabled, is part of the challenge they seek.

Supported by mountain guides including ultra-fell runners, international disaster responders, medics and military veterans, and headed up by AGS founder Martin Hewitt - former para regiment, the Adaptive Grand Slam Foundation Cumbria Challenge began at 8am Saturday morning on the shores of Lake Windermere and from Ambleside YHA where we’d rested and fuelled. Ready to take on Fairfield Horseshoe, deep in the heart of the National Park.

The Adaptive Grand Slam was created by Martin Hewitt, himself injured in action, to support a growing community of injured military and disabled civilians through mountaineering. A former British Army Officer, Martin is part of a team of disabled adventurers on a mission to be the first disabled team in history to complete the notorious Grand Slam; summiting the highest peaks on each of the seven continents and walking unsupported to the geographical North and South poles.

Away from the Grand Slam project, The AGS Foundation was set up to support, select, train and develop disabled teams to tackle expeditions and challenges, supported by professional leaders. Ranging from UK-based community weekends to welcome new potential participants and introduce the foundation, to overseas challenges and selection and training expeditions.

This January, the AGS Cumbria Challenge brought together members of past expedition teams and welcomed in new recruits, each with a story, and each with a mountain-sized focus, looking ahead surrounded by teammates and friends.

The Cumbria Challenge group
AGS group at the midway point

I first heard about AGS back in 2016. At the time, the team were training for Mt Aconcagua, the highest peak in south America. Before my strokes, my love for the mountains I thought, knew no bounds. I had plans, not on any Everest scale, although I did hold her on somewhat of a dream list. But it was in 2008 when I suffered my last stroke that took my mobility that I knew my mountain was to be a much longer climb.

I was back in touch with Martin and the AGS foundation in 2018 when I’d received an email about a community weekend in Herefordshire. That weekend, with the support of Martin and AGS, getting outside showed me a new level of possible, and the start of my own mountain journey. You can read more about my ten year mountain challenge here.

Martin and Jake from AGS

Back in Cumbria I felt prepared and ready, and it was great to meet new members and share stories...

AGS founder Martin Hewitt sustained his injury in 2007 whilst serving in Afghanistan. Whilst leading his men in combat he received gunshot wounds to his chest, resulting in paralysis to his right arm. In 2019, Martin successfully summited Mt Everest, as part of the seven summits project.

Team member Jake Gardiner and former RAF regiment gunner, was injured on operation in Afghanistan in 2013 when as a result of impact, he was catapulted out of the top of an armoured vehicle, resulting in complex injuries to his arm and injuries to his legs and back. Jake is a mountain leader, mountaineer and ultra-runner.

I first met teammate Sam Baynes on the Herefordshire community weekend. She welcomed me into the team and was a huge support on Gran Paradiso back in 2018 Sam lived for the mountains. In 2016, as a physio in an Austrian ski resort, Sam had spent New Year’s Eve with friends sledging. Her evening took a turn for the worse when her sledge went off the side of the mountain, falling 50 meters. Sam was in a coma and sustained a brain injury as well as vertebral damage causing nerve damage and paralysis of her arm. Sam still lives for the mountains.

Emma Harrison was new to the team when she arrived at Ambleside YHA. By the time she left, she’d conquered far more than she imagined and had left her imprint within AGS and adaptive adventure.

Emma was living in Burma when in 2014 she contracted Dengue Fever, a viral infection spread by mosquitoes. She was flown back to the UK and placed in the London Hospital of Tropical Diseases for treatment where her condition deteriorated. Emma developed Transverse Myelitis which left her paralysed. Emma’s rehab is not limited to hospital wards and four walls, taking on adaptive activities and outdoor sports in her pursuit to possible. She walks with specially adapted leg splints and orthotics, enabling her to continue to get outside and climb her mountains.

These are just a few examples and stories of the team.

Injuries and disability is not the focus, mountain spirits and finding a way to get outside is.

Using adaptive equipment for some of us and working as a team, Fairfield Horseshoe completed. A fantastic weekend of incredible views, personal challenges, challenging terrain, team camaraderie and a love of the outdoors beyond barriers had by all.

The AGS Cumbria Challenge took a continual 22km loop starting and finishing at Ambleside YHA. Fairfield’s summit sits at 873m, with views over to Helvellyn and Striding Edge arête, with Grisedale Tarn to the North West. All on OS Explorer OL5.

Find out more about the awe-inspiring work of the Adaptive Grand Slam team.

Published 05/02/2020

Mel Nicholls By Mel Nicholls


Endurance wheelchair racer and paracyclist on her road to Tokyo 2020.