Building My Climbing Dreams For Myself

Technology is a wonderful thing. I use it to compensate for my broken eyes. Having a program that can speak to me is a god-send, almost like magic. Technology allows me to access what most people take for granted, the ability to read. It’s strange, that in all my years of climbing I’ve never really interacted directly with a fundamental part of the outdoor climbing ecosystem, the guidebooks. They’re a cornerstone of the way of life , not only a practical means of finding your way, but a link to the history of the routes and often a astute and witty commentary on this strange sport and culture that is climbing.

A photo of Jesse with a big smile on his face.
A wonderful thing – big smiles all round!

Niall Grimes is right when he describes them as “a book of spells”, another form of magic to counterpoint the technical wizardry that is the text-to-speech programs I use.

The Magic of Climbing Guidebooks

Fitting then that I recently found a way to use this wizardry to unlock that book of spells. I found that with some ingenuity (and a small amount of sighted help), I can use my screen reading software to “read” the Rockfax App. I’m more than 20 years into my climbing life and I have only just taken the introductory step of reading the guidebook and dreaming of routes that I hope to someday climb. I have truly relished this freedom.

A photo of Molly and Jesse's book shelf which has many many climbing guide books on. For climbing all over the world including Romania, Spain, Italy, Norway, Oman, Malta, USA...the list goes on.
Our bookshelves are full of climbing guidebooks, but I’ve never been able to read any.

Finding routes for the wishlist had always been an enigma for me, my only way of finding new routes was to garner suggestions from other climbers and while some had kindly given great suggestions in truth , the list had been getting rather short lately. No longer. The past week has had me set my sights on a great selection of climbs throughout the UK. From Pembroke and Cloggy to Scarfell and Skye, the routes I’ve picked are well-spread and varied, ok perhaps not as varied as they might be, not many slabs made the list haha. I was picking routes for a blindman after all. I’m excited to get on these and see if they feel to me as I have imagined them, but more importantly I’m extremely happy that I’ve found a way to finally access a climbing codex and be able to build my climbing dreams for myself.

A photo of Jesse and Molly with the helmets and headsets on, sitting at the base of a crag. They both have big smiles on their faces.
Lots more climbing adventures await…

Top of my list is this: “The line follows the huge corner all the way but on an angle of rock normally reserved for E5s. Start below the corner and climb up to the sloping ledge. Climb the right wall to an overhang. Move around this and continue to another bulge with a line of holds leading out right. Ignore these holds and pull over the daunting bulge above on some of the biggest holds in the universe. Continue straight up the crack and right-leaning groove above to ledges. Climb the crack above to the top, then stand back and beat your chest triumphantly!” It sounds suitably epic and right up my street.

Using the technology skeleton key has reinforced that famous line “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Deus Ex Machina

My new high point and getting in ‘the zone’

My high point of 2020, check out the video:

A short film by Alastair Lee of me climbing Forked Lightning Crack

It’s safe to say this year hasn’t turned out the way I thought it would back in January! After a good winter of training, the year started well and I was able to squeeze in a trip to Norway at the beginning of March. Then of course everything changed. Corona, lockdown – my trips were cancelled, the walls were closed, competitions cancelled.

A picture of Jesse ice climbing on a huge frozen waterfall in Norway. He is leading up with the rope below him, and swinging his axe into the ice. The ice has formed in hanging chandeliers which looks quite spectacular.
Ice Climbing in Hemsedal, Norway March 2020

It’s often really hard in situations like this to stay positive, but I try and focus on the things that I can affect and not what I can’t. I couldn’t train at the climbing wall, but I could train in my garage. So I decided to work on my weaknesses through lockdown. My max finger strength is a relative weakness for me. And throughout the early part of the pandemic I really focused on this. I put in the effort and saw big gains which translated to my outside climbing as soon as lockdown was eased.

A picture of Jesse training in his garage on a homemade campus board.
Adapting my training in the garage over lockdown

Luckily I live with my climbing partner! So once the restrictions eased and climbing outside was back on the menu, Molly and I could happily climb outside together as a household bubble. With climbing walls still shut and no competitions in the calendar, we focused on climbing outside at our local crags in the Peak District and we’ve had a cracking summer on the grit.

A picture of Jesse rock climbing. He is wearing a blue t-shirt, a white helmet and has a harness full of gear dangling around his waist. He is hanging on to a small side pull hold with his left hand, with two feet in a horizontal break. His right hand is dipping in his chalk bag.
Left Unconquerable E1 5b at Stanage Plantation in the Peak District

This culminated in something special, a new high point for me, I led my first E2! To put this into context this is harder than the Old Man of Hoy and that wasn’t easy. Forked Lightning Crack is only 25 meters tall, but it overhangs for it’s entire length. All the moves are physically challenging and there are no places to rest to place gear. It requires total commitment both physically and mentally.

The mental aspect of this route was a big one for me. It was harder than anything I’d ever climbed before. When I was younger and had a tiny bit of sight, I had led E1, then I had lost what little sight I had. This knocked my confidence and I’d taken a break from leading. Through hard work, I’d pushed my climbing back up to that level culminating in the Old Man of Hoy last year. But I’d never climbed harder.

A picture of Jesse climbing Forked Lightning Crack in Yorkshire. Jesse is wearing shorts (not a good choice for a gritstone crack...). He is sideways on to the rock in a layback position. His two hands are pulling sideways in a vertical crack and his feet are on the right hand side of the crack, pushing his body to the left. It looks like a very strenuous position. The rope is below him and several pieces of gear have been placed in cracks and clipped to the rope.
Forked Lightning Crack E2 5c, Heptonstall, Yorkshire

It was really difficult for me at the base of Forked Lightning Crack knowing that this was going to be the hardest thing I’d ever attempted. I’d not been to this crag before, I had no previous memory to fall back on and had no idea of my surroundings or what it looked like. All I had was the verbal descriptions from Molly.

Try and imagine you’re me. You’re at the base of the crag, you’ve had the route description read to you, you know this route overhangs all the way, you know it’s going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever tried and that sighted climbers are intimidated by this route. On the first ascent, Don Whillans famously had 2(!) calming fags before setting off. The mark of a serious route, few of his ascents required this ritual. You’ve never seen the route, you’ve never seen the crag. How do you prepare, how do you plan? What will the holds feel like? How do you psych yourself up to pull on?

Molly leads me up to the base of the climb and puts my hands on the starting holds. I remember thinking, she said it was steep, I didn’t realise she meant this steep! I had to reset mentally, not let that put me off. I thought about all the preparation I’d done, the trust I have in Molly, built on the thousands of climbs we’d done together. A conversation with a friend when he’d reminded me that there is never a perfect time to attempt a route and if you save them forever you’ll never get them done. I pulled on. I think that was the hardest bit. Having the bravery to try.

A picture of Molly and Jesse both standing at the base of the crag.  There are 2 ropes that have been flaked ready to go on the ground behind them. Molly has her hand on Jesse's left arm and is directing him to the starting holds.
Molly showing me the starting holds and describing the features of the rock

Once I was on the wall it was like a switch had been flicked, I had crossed the rubicon, there was no going back now. Just full commitment, and I just had to go for it. I think the thing that I was most proud of was that I relaxed and let my body take over. It’s physical climbing but it seemed to flow easily, on the top section, my arms weren’t even tired. I got my hands on the top ledge and thought about trying to extricate myself in style, but decided the safety of the good old belly flop onto the final ledge was the safest option. For me that moment of reaching the top was pretty big, I’d done it. Despite all the challenges, the preparation had not been ideal, corona virus had turned the world upside down. All my plans had gone sideways. I’d found it hard to commit mentally at the base of the route, but I summoned the courage to try. The only disappointment was that my massive green cam went for another unused adventure!

A picture of Jesse sat on a rock at the base of the crag wearing a bright red jacket. He has both fists clenched and his arms in the air and a huge grim on his face. He looks extremely pleased to have successfully climbed the route.
Chuffed. Back at the base of the crag having successfully climbed the route on my first attempt

On reflection, I don’t remember all of the route or all of the moves, my head must have been in that space that is purely focusing on the task at hand. Molly and I usually discuss climbs afterwards and she sometimes checks whether her wittering away in my ear is distracting and interrupts my flow. You may think it would, but interestingly it doesn’t. To be honest I’m not sure how the rest of you cope with all the visual distractions! Molly explains that for her, when she’s leading, she focusses on the holds, the next moves and tries to block out all the noise. I guess for me it’s the opposite, I have no visual input and focus purely on sound. In fact, I sometimes encourage Molly to keep talking when I’m in a hard section…where am I going, what’s next? Even if she can’t see the next hold or what to do next, as often she is stood in close to the base of the crag belaying me (and she’s not climbed the route before), she always comes up with some useful words or encouragements on the spot and never panics.

A picture of Molly and Jesse at the base of the crag with grass and shrubs in the background. Molly is holding the guidebook and is looking up at the route.  Jesse is looking towards Molly and listening intently to the verbal descriptions.
A still from Alastair Lee’s film, Molly describing the route to me from the ground – to jam or to layback..?

Rising to the challenge of this route was a bright spot in a challenging year. I’m excited to see what 2021 has in store and hopeful that the delayed adventures will soon be possible. If 2021 includes a couple of routes as good as this one it will be a good year.

Jamfest 2020 – Operation Screaming Fist

For the last few years the Climbers Club have run an annual ‘Jamfest’ weekend – a celebration of the finest crack climbing in the eastern peak district. I’ve been gutted that each year this has clashed with my competitions and consequently I’ve not been able to take part. However, with the outbreak of COVID-19, all the competitions were cancelled, but so was the Jamming meet. Until…it was decided to hold the jamming meet virtually, this was my chance! So, the list of Jamming routes and their associated points (for quality/quantity of jamming) was released with slightly altered ‘rules’. Finally…something we could get excited for!

So what’s the deal? Well, the aim is to accumulate as many points as possible from one day’s worth of climbing with your team. Points are awarded for the routes climbed and additional points are awarded for different crags visited too. My team consisted of Molly and I.

Picture of Molly and Jesse walking to the first crag at first light.
Molly and I in the early hours of Sunday Morning – Jamfest 2020

Now…I do realise that I’m not known for my speedy approaches or fast climbing, which makes speed-based challenges like this a bit tricky! If you can imagine blindfolding yourself or your climbing partner for a day, it adds an extra dimension to proceedings for both parties. Obviously don’t do this, we’ve had lots of practice! Molly and I are well known for our teamwork, planning and just not giving up. So we set about coming up with an optimised plan of attack for the order of crags to hit and which routes to try, we codenamed our plan  “Operation Screaming Fist”, respect to you if you get the reference!

As well as a solid plan, copious supplies of pork pies and home-made cookies, we also had a secret weapon in our armoury which could be deployed if required, my blue badge! Parking in the Peak District can be difficult at times and the well distributed network of disabled bays are often empty, waiting for me.

With our decidedly optimistic plan made and a severely sub-optimal weather forecast, the alarm was set for a totally ridiculous hour in the morning, which meant we could make a dawn start.

We left the car at 4.30am on Sunday morning and set off hand-in-hand for our first route at Burbage North. It was extremely windy with light flurries of rain…we were questioning our sanity one route in! Molly was struggling with numb hands, so I led the first couple of routes. This must be the first time I’ve finished a climbing route before 5am! The highlight of Burbage was Mutiny Crack, what a great little climb. We decided to carry on despite the worsening weather, we didn’t want that early start to be in vain!

A picture of Jesse climbing Mutiny crack at Burbage North
Me tackling the bulges on Mutiny Crack, Burbage North

We hot footed over to Stanage Apparent North next to tick off the single route on the list there, before heading on to Stanage Popular. It was definitely not popular, there was no one else there! We climbed some of the classics including the ‘classic rock’ route April Crack, what a joy to climb. A couple of our friends had walked up from Hathersage to see how we were getting on…I think they too were questioning our sanity! It started to rain quite heavily, but I still finished Ellis’s Eliminate, unperturbed, with Molly seconding in very damp conditions. 7 routes later we carried on to Plantation.

A picture of Jesse climbing Central Trinity at Stanage in his warm blue jacket
Leading my way up Central Trinity, Stanage Popular

Molly led Wall End Flake Crack and was nearly blown off the top…the 43mph gusting winds were really starting to cause havoc, but we continued, not letting it impede our quest. Next up was Fern Crack, my lead. The sun made a brief appearance which was very pleasant. I got to the top no problems but had inadvertently smeared a crucial hold with sheep poo (that I’d stood in before starting the route…oops). Molly went for the layback option on the initial crack and covered her left hand in the poo that I’d left behind, to the amusement of our friends! Serves her right for laybacking, it’s the Jamfest don’t you know! Hopefully the rain washed if off later in the day.

A picture of Molly sat at the top of the crag and Jesse climbing the route  on second.
Wall End Flake Crack, Molly flew to the top of this, nearly literally!

We returned to the car, before heading on to Higgar Tor, which contrary to Molly’s belief definitely is not sheltered! But we had to do the File, probably one of the most well-known jamming routes in Eastern grit and it didn’t disappoint. I led the File and the Rats Tail, the latter being a tricky little number!

A picture of Jesse, in his windproof red jacket climbing The File at Higgar Tor
An ultra classic, The File, Higgar Tor

Next up were the quarried grit gems of Millstone and Lawrencefield. We were starting to flag a little now, 15 routes ticked at this point, just battling the wind was quite exhausting. A welcome scotch egg and brownie provided a bit of a boost and the fact that Bond Street is one of my favourite routes of all time and this was up next! We had to deploy the secret weapon to get the last spot in the Surprise view car park before I led Bond Street.

Our pre-planning worked a treat here, we knew the descents from the top of the crag were awkward (if you’re blind) and also that the belay at the top of Bond Street was a stake, which I find next to impossible to locate! So, we walked in around from the bottom and stashed our bags at the base of Chiming Cracks (which was the next route after Bond Street). I led up to the ledge near the top of Bond Street and set an intermediate belay. Molly followed and then led on through to the top stake, to which I scampered up after her. I held onto Molly’s rope rucksack and followed closely behind her, we descended down the right descent path and dropped out back at the base of Chiming Cracks. Molly led this, I followed and then Molly lowered me back down before dropping the ropes, so I could coil and pack up while she walked round. Smooth teamwork.

A picture of Jesse high up on the rock face at Millstone
Making good progress up Bond Street, Millstone

To this point we’d not seen anyone else climbing, it had been a very quiet day on the crags…and then we hit Lawrencefield, clearly the sheltered crag of choice! There were quite a few parties of other climbers here, including a pair on Great Harry, which forced the only rest of the day, it was very welcome. We were also spotted by a couple of friends, a well-timed socially distanced catch up! Great Harry was Molly’s favourite route of the day so was worth the wait.

Baslow, Curbar and Froggatt rounded the day off nicely. We didn’t quite manage to climb all the routes we’d hoped to at Froggatt, but heavier rain had set in and it was starting to get dark. We completed our day climbing Heather Wall with our rucksacks on and made the weary walk back to Curbar Gap in our waterproofs. We got back to the car about 10.30pm.

A picture of Molly and Jesse with their waterproof jackets on with hoods up, looking very tired, as it starts to get dark.
A rainy Sunday evening, a celebratory brownie after completing 25 jamming routes in a day!

What a day! Sometimes the worst days are the best days. Not sure I’ll be doing that again anytime soon…but it was a fantastic challenge! We’d managed to do all the routes clean with no dogging and no soloing either! We tallied up our score the following day:

  • 25 routes (94 jamming points)
  • 10 crags (50 crag points)
  • 144 total points

Results just in, seems like the adverse weather put quite a few people off and we managed to claim victory with a new record score!!

Getting down off the Old Man of Hoy

My ascent up the Old Man of Hoy is quite well documented but what I get asked a lot is how I got down! Indeed, a good question. It’s not covered extensively in Alastair Lee’s film ‘Climbing Blind’ for several reasons – it was really late, it was dark, we were all tired and hungry and had a ferry to catch early the next morning! Descents are where most accidents happen, so full concentration was needed as it wasn’t straightforward. So here goes…

A picture of Jesse and Molly, with one arm around each other and the other arm in the air on top of the old man of hoy. Alastair is in shot, filming our celebration.
A fantastic feeling…on top of the Old Man of Hoy. [Photo: Alastair Lee]
As the weather dictated our start time and despite making good progress up the stack it was 10:10pm when we reached the top. With it being so far North, there was still some light left, but the sun was setting. I only wish that I had a little more time on top to take in the accomplishment, it was quite a moment. A puffin joined us on the summit as the sun was setting and I had the full 360 degree panorama described to me, it sounds stunning! Molly then whipped out my white cane that she’d carried in her backpack the whole way up, “are you going to use this to find your way down?!” Normal service had resumed. We did need to get a shift on, although the darkness didn’t bother me, it would have had a big effect on the rest of the crew and of course Molly’s ability to sight guide me.

So to get back down you have to abseil. In some ways it’s quite straightforward and in others not so much… I generally prefer abseiling to having to scramble down around the side of the cliff, but on the Old Man of Hoy scrambling down wasn’t an option. Abseiling from The Old Man was reasonably tricky. Our climbing ropes are 60m long. You have 2 ropes so you can tie them together and descend a full 60m in one go, but you then have to attach to an anchor, pull your ropes down after you and start again. As The Old Man is 137m tall you have to make 3 separate abseils to make it back down to the beach below. Fortunately, as Alastair and his rigger Mark were with us, we had 2 pairs of ropes that helped to keep things moving.

A picture showing the old man of hoy with the sea in the background. Red arrows have been drawn at 3 points on the sea stack to show where the abseil points are.
Three abseils were required to get down from the top of the Old Man of Hoy.

Molly and I used our ropes for the first abseil, all 4 of us descended and as Molly and I pulled our ropes through, Alastair and Mark used their ropes to descend to the anchor at the top of the Coffin pitch. We then used Molly and I’s ropes again for the 3rd abseil, a monster 60m all the way to the beach. Darkness had fallen by this point and as this section is overhanging the last abseil was in free space and total darkness for its entirety. I remember as I set off I had a slight rotation so found myself spiraling down the rope listening to the crashing waves below. I remember thinking “I hope someone is going to tell me when I’m close to the ground. I don’t fancy lowering myself straight onto my arse”…

A picture of Jesse on the last free hanging abseil to get down to the base of the sea stack. The sun is setting and he and the stack are silhouetted in the foreground. It is very nearly dark.
The last abseil off the Old Man of Hoy

By the time we had all completed the abseils and were on the beach at the base of the stack it had just gone midnight. Time to scramble back up that dodgy little path with the death falls, oh goodie. I wouldn’t say it was pleasant but going up is a lot easier than going down. We reached the headland at about 01:00. Time for a quick celebratory dram of whiskey and some much needed hot food from the camera guys, which was greatly appreciated before the walk back to the bothy. I think I finally made it to my tent at 02:45 as the mid-summer Scottish sun was threatening to rise again. Not just a benightment but a bedayment, that’s only happened to me a couple of times before! But there is no rest for the wicked as our ferry home left at around 07:00 that morning (Wednesday) so we were back on it a few short hours later.

A picture taken from onboard the ferry to Hoy. The back of the ferry is visible with sea, islands and mountains in the background.
From Hoy it’s 2 ferries to get back to Scrabster on the North coast of the Scottish mainland.

Somehow Molly found the energy to drive us all the way back to her parent’s house in Cheshire stopping only for food. Not pork pies this time, Haggis Pakora…yes apparently it is a thing in Scotland. It was tasty! So a swift stopover in Cheshire and then completed the rest of the journey back home the next day. The tiredness was now starting to kick in.

A picture of Jesse sitting in an Indian restaurant, eating haggis pakora's with his fingers.
Jesse enjoying Haggis Pakora’s

Back in the office on Friday and competing in a competition in London on the Saturday… I won my category but I’m not sure climbing sea stacks at the opposite end of the country can really be recommended as ideal competition preparation! What an amazing week it had been though!

A picture of Jesse competing in an indoor climbing competition. He is climbing a very overhanging roof, making a long reach out to a blue volcano style hold, with his heel resting on a volume.
Competing at the Para Blokfest at The Castle Climbing Centre, London

Climbing Blind

Some epic news to share with everyone…and 2 important dates for your diary!!

Wednesday 20th May at 21:00 Climbing Blind will be aired on BBC4

Thursday 21st May from 05:00 Climbing Blind (the full-length director’s cut & 40 minutes worth of extras) will be available to buy.

Get your pre-order in now:


from Posing Productions

with Bonus Features – not to be missed!!

The full-length director’s cut of the multi-award-winning documentary covering the incredible story of the first blind lead of the Old Man of Hoy.

Jesse Dufton was born with 20% central vision. At four years of age Jesse was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa: a rare genetic disease that breaks down the retinas’ cells. At aged 20 Jesse could no longer read, by the time he was 30 his vision was reduced to just light perception with around 1 or 2% field of view. As a life long climber, Jesse flies in the face of adversity training for world cup events and leading traditional rock climbs with his sight guide and fiancee Molly. As his sight degenerates his climbing continues to make remarkable progress. Despite his devastating condition Jesse only takes on bigger challenges by attempting to be the first blind person to make a ‘non-sight’ lead of the iconic Old Man of Hoy sea stack in Scotland.

This engrossing documentary will make you laugh and cry as it delivers not just a truly gripping climbing story but a tale of human endeavor and attitude the world can take inspiration from. Includes cameo appearances from professional climbers Neil Gresham, Leo Houlding and Pete Whittaker.

Directed & produced by Alastair Lee in association with Montane
Main Feature – 70mins

Extras – 40mins Includes:

  • ‘The Big Deal’ featuring Frances Bensley,
  • Climbing Blind Director’s Commentary,
  • a Drone Story,
  • Blind Bouldering Out-takes,
  • Original Trailer
  • plus unseen clips that didn’t make the cut

A picture of the Climbing Blind Poster advertising the film. There is a picture of the old man of hoy in the background with Climbing Blind in white text in the middle. The 8 international awards are also listed, above the sponsors of the film.


Freeklime Access Programme

Last month, I got a message out of the blue on Instagram from a guy called Chris who was in the process of launching a new dedicated bouldering centre in Huddersfield, ‘Freeklime’. Intriguing…why was he contacting me? It turns out, having been inspired by my Old Man of Hoy ascent, he wanted to make his new bouldering centre inclusive and accessible and wanted to pick my brains on how he could make it ace for visually impaired people.

I thought this was fantastic! I had never been asked about this before and was more than happy to get involved. It really got me thinking on how to make a climbing wall as friendly as possible for blind and visually impaired people, from navigating around the centre, to the setting of routes, the colour contrast of holds against the wall and sight guiding. The launch event was on Thursday, I spent the day up at Freeklime and BBC Look North were there to document the occasion.

“Freeklime, Huddersfield’s only dedicated bouldering centre, has today announced the Freeklime Access programme: a series of classes designed to make bouldering more accessible for those with either physical impairments or learning difficulties. The Access programme is backed by blind climber Jesse Dufton, star of ‘Climbing Blind’ – a film charting his ascent of the Old Man of Hoy, in Scotland. Rolling out over the coming months, each stage of the Access programme will tackle different areas of inclusivity and see Freeklime become the most accessible activity space in the north. Starting with a class to aid visually impaired climbers, founder and experienced climber Chris Whitehead has partnered with Jesse, as well as volunteers from the Kirklees Visually Impaired Network (KVIN) to trial the new facilities.”

A picture of Jesse climbing a boulder problem with purple pockety holds. A member of staff is stood on the mat behind Jesse acting as his sight-guide.
Climbing with the staff of Freeklime.

The great things that Chris at Freeklime has put in place include:

  • a section of the brand-new wall has been altered to include high colour contrast
    handholds. These holds are strategically placed in patterns to ensure there is a colour contrast against the wall to help climbers with limited vision to spot and plan their routes.
  • to cater for those with low/no sight at all, Freeklime also offer a spotter to
    work one-on-one with all visually impaired climbers
  • Lines on the floor to guide you to reception, the toilets, the changing rooms..

I would hate to think that people who genuinely want to get into climbing aren’t able to do so because of the lack of facilities or assistance, so programmes like this are exactly what we need to ensure climbing is accessible for all. The Access programme will ensure a member of the Freeklime team works one-on-one with visually impaired climbers at the centre, guiding routes and offering advice on techniques, as well as empowering them to tackle more challenging problems. This is fantastic, as this is probably the biggest barrier. Molly and I gave the staff at the wall some tips on sight guiding! So they’re all good to go,  super psyched and super friendly, so all you Yorkshire folk should go and have a go…! You’ll love it!

Freeklime’s website is here.


World Sight Day 2019

10th October 2019 – World Sight Day. I didn’t know there was a World Sight Day until I was contacted through my website and asked to be a World Sight Day Champion! But I’m very glad to have found out, because it’s a great cause. My sight is not currently curable, but I can imagine what a life changing experience it would be to have your sight restored and I hope that World Sight Day can raise money to make this a reality for as many people as possible.

The World Sight Day ‘Challenge’ is a great opportunity to raise awareness and transform lives for people around the world. I was asked to do 2 challenges, 1 climbing related and 1 everyday task. The videos of these will be released shortly…so keep your eyes peeled!

A picture of Jesse wearing an orange vest and an orange blindfold. He is climbing on the wooden holds on the steep circuit board at his local climbing wall.
Jesse climbing round a circuit board blindfolded.

I can imagine that most people will find the climbing challenge a lot tougher, but strange as it may seem, I find the everyday tasks much harder.

See if you can climb round a circuit blindfolded, with a friend giving you directions. Or maybe try your hand at making breakfast blindfolded…toast with butter and jam. Sounds simple…but have a go!

A picture of Jesse in his kitchen, he is reaching for the toaster with butter and jam at the ready. He is wearing a monkey eye mask.
Making breakfast with my favourite blindfold

Other examples of “World Sight Day Challenges”

• The Challenge of brushing your teeth blindfolded
• The Challenge of making coffee/tea blindfolded
• The Challenge of writing & sending an email blindfolded
• The Challenge of putting on make-up blindfolded
• The Challenge of making a sandwich blindfolded
• The Challenge of getting dressed blindfolded

#WithoutMySight Challenge: complete a safe task while blindfolded recorded by a second person and share the 30 sec clip across social media with #WithoutMySight #WorldSightDay @WestGroupe #EverydayHereos

Join me on today! Tag 3 friends you’ll be passing the challenge on to!

I look forward to hearing how you get!

Kendal Mountain Festival

I’m massively looking forward to the Kendal Mountain Festival this year, I’ve never been before and it’s promising to be a great weekend! There’s a Special Film Screening of Climbing Blind on Saturday 16 November 2019 at 16:30 – 18:00 @ The Brewery Arts Centre Theatre. Alastair Lee and I will be up on stage for a special Q&A after the screening, I’m intrigued to see what questions get fired our way! Don’t be shy!

Tickets are available here

The kendal mountain festival logo, an outline of a mountain in dark blue at the top with the text, kendal mountain festival also in blue.

Molly and I will be there all weekend soaking up the atmosphere and attending other talks and screenings. If you see us, come and say hello!

A picture of the Old Man of Hoy taken from the headland looking out to sea. The sea stack is 137 meters tall and is standing proud right in the middle of the picture. Waves are crashing around its base and it is a beautiful blue sky day.
The Old Man of Hoy [Photo: Alastair Lee, Posing Productions]

Climbing Blind – Brit Rock Film Tour 2019

“CLIMBING BLIND – the climbing film set for as big an impact as its story. Part of the 2019 Brit Rock Film Tour. A 60 min documentary directed and produced by Alastair Lee, in association with Montane.”

The Brit Rock Film Tour Premiere has been announced! It’s in Sheffield on 24th October 2019 at the Pennine Lecture Theatre, Sheffield Hallam Uni.

Molly and I will be there to introduce ‘Climbing Blind’. You can buy tickets here.

Other locations and tour dates will follow…

To say I’m excited is an understatement! That’s right…for once, Jesse is actually excited!

A picture of Jesse and Molly, both wearing Petzl climbing helmets and Montane jackets. Molly is looking at the camera and Jesse is looking out into the distance. They are wearing coiled ropes on their backs as the approach the crag.
Molly and I out in the mountains on another climbing adventure

Molly and I went to see the Brit Rock film tour in Buxton last year. You may think a blind man going to a film tour is a bit odd…but even though I can’t see the films, I can still hear the stories and Molly gives an audio description of what’s on screen. I might not get the full experience, but that is true for almost everything for me and staying at home would solve nothing. Also, you never know who you might meet and what opportunities may arise. It was a great evening and after the Q&A, Molly took me to see the film maker…Alastair Lee. I had a question for him. I was intrigued how he found the subjects and stories for his films…did he approach climbers with ideas, or was it the other way round? Turns out, it was a bit of both. I couldn’t resist asking, “how about filming a blind guy leading trad?” It was just a throw away comment…I’m not sure he knew what to think or what to say. Ha, well I guess you wouldn’t…

To my surprise, a couple of days later I got a friend request on Facebook from Alastair and a message asking if I wanted to meet up! We met at his local wall to see if I really could climb. I’d like to think it was my amazing climbing that convinced him this project had legs, but in my heart of hearts I know it was a close encounter I had with a traffic cone in the car park that sealed the deal!

A picture of Jesse sat on a rock wearing his red jacket in the centre of the picture. Alastair is squatting to one side of him with his big camera filming an interview. The gritstone crag of Stanage popular is in the background.
A cold day at Stanage, my first time in front of the camera.

The project has been incredibly fun throughout and I think the result is going to be amazing…but you will have to judge that for yourself.

Al has been awesome, we’ve had so many laughs, I’ve met some true British climbing legends and made many friends along the way. I’m hugely grateful that Al took a punt on me! I hope you all enjoy what promises to be a brilliant watch / listen with a host of classic routes that many people can relate to!

A picture of Jesse and Neil bouldering at the roaches. Jesse is stood at the base of the boulder with both arms in the air, spotting neil. Neil is wearing a monkey eye mask and is reaching out into midair trying to search for the next hold. He is squatting down and reaching forward in an extremely funny pose.
Climbing with Neil Gresham at The Roaches

Keep your eyes peeled on the Brit Rock Film Tour website for further dates and locations.

Reflecting on my 2019 International Comp Season

I learnt a lot during my first year training and competing with the GB Paraclimbing team in 2018. It was a bit of a shock to the system to be honest! I’m not sure I fully appreciated just how much the top athletes have to go through to be on top form. The effort, dedication and time required is phenomenal. It was a steep learning curve for me and to give it everything, I had to make some tough decisions. It was clear that I had an unbelievable opportunity to give this competition climbing a real crack, my first season on the team had gone ok, but I felt I could do so much more. It was tough giving up Ju Jitsu last year and getting into a routine, having a training plan, managing injury prevention and changing my diet.

However, the more I trained, the more I started to enjoy it and the more I wanted to get better. It took a while before I started to see improvements, but when I started to make measurable gains I became even more determined. Adam Harrison at the Climbing Station has been ace in setting out my training plans. I climb quite differently to sighted climbers and the adaptions he’s made specifically for me have been great. Molly is as dedicated as I am, she is with me for every training session, which is good as I can’t really train on my own, not being able to see is pretty limiting! So it’s a good job she loves climbing as much as I do!

I trained hard over the winter and at the start of 2019, I felt a lot happier and more confident that I’d hopefully be starting to catch the big guns in my category. I’d become leaner and stronger. Molly and I had also streamlined our communication system, a vital part of the teamwork required in competitions.

Training on the Lattice Board at the Climbing Station

When team selection came round in March, I was feeling positive. However, my first qualification route went terribly wrong, it as appalling, I fell really low down and sank into despair thinking I’d ruined my chance of re-selection. I sat in a grump for what seemed like an eternity.  Molly was great and a chat from Hannah managed to turn it around. My 2nd qualification route was much better and my final route better again. This was a real lesson in the mental aspects of competition climbing. I was pleased with how I’d managed to just reset and start again. Being in a team and having teammates looking out for you is great for this. Luckily I’d done enough and was picked to represent the GB Paraclimbing Team for the 2019 season.

The new Duco GB kit launch at the Climbing Works in Sheffield

The eating salad continued, the hard training continued and the outdoor climbing didn’t really take a backseat either. Rest days were spent trad climbing. When the weather was nice at weekends it was hard to resist!

Consoling myself with a pie after trashing my hands attempting The Vice at Stanage!

The first competition of the year was the Para Blokfest on the 8th of June. This was the first ever Paraclimbing Blokfest event. Blokfest had teamed up with Para Climbing London & The Castle to put on a routes and bouldering para climbing mega party! And what an event it was! It was absolutely fantastic, I just hope that this now becomes an annual event! I wasn’t in peak condition for the comp having climbed the Old Man of Hoy only 4 days earlier and travelling the length of the country to get down to London, I was feeling pretty knackered. My finals route was so good, the setting was amazing. There was a steep roof section that I had to traverse and cut loose on…a tough one for sight-guides! As my heel slipped, the crowd gasped in the near silence, but I passed this section and came close to topping the route. I took top spot in the B1 category and took home a bag full of goodies!

My finals route at Blokfest

Next up was the World Paraclimbing Masters in Imst, Austria at the end of June. The first international comp of the year and my first opportunity to see how all my training had been paying off. The format of the event was different to the standard IFSC comps, there were 5 routes and no final. The higher you got on each route the more points you got, effectively a point per hold. The scores for all 5 routes were accumulated and climbers are ranked in terms of the highest total score. It was a great competition for me, I topped 2 routes and got as high as I think I could on another, leaving only 2 routes that I felt I could have done better on. I finished in second place, which was my first international podium. It was a great feeling, I’d improved so much since last year. Molly did a great job sight-guiding me. It was good to have her guiding me, it’s really important to have a sight guide that knows you inside out and that you climb with regularly.

Standing on the podium at the World Paraclimbing Masters, Silver medal.

Next up was the World Championships held in Briancon, France in mid July, the big one! I had prepared well and felt ready to give it my all. I was up on the second day, so Molly spent the first evening running over and over the route demonstration videos to get the beta nailed for my qualification routes.  My first qualification route was early the next morning, it was on the vertical section, on the side of the main steep competition wall. Molly assured me the holds looked pretty big and was confident I’d top it. I had slight nerves before this route, as I knew I couldn’t afford a slip up. This was accurate as everyone in my category topped the route! A shame in my opinion, it should have been set harder in order to split the competitors. This meant it was all down to the second qualification route, which was on the main wall. I was really happy with my performance on the second route, steep routes don’t favour me. However, I managed to climb through the steepest section (45deg) and on to the head-wall to where the angle eases. Most pleasingly I recovered from a tricky section where it would have been easy to fall, progressing significantly from this point. I found myself in the final by a reasonable margin, I was so happy!

Strangely, in the final I was extremely relaxed, as I achieved my target. It was a great experience preparing to compete in a final, which I hope will help me in future. I performed well, managing not to drop the starting holds, which were horrific! I finished in 4th place which I’m happy with. To improve my ranking I simply need more training…onwards and upwards.

Getting high on my 2nd qualification route on the steep wall in Briancon.

For me, the international comps are over for this year, however the able-bodied World Championships are still to come. I’m extremely disappointed that the paraclimbing and able-bodied World Championships were separated this year. In my opinion the 2 events are complementary and both are diminished without the other. I’m extremely grateful to the French Federation for stepping in to rescue the situation, you so that there could still be a paraclimbing World Championships this year, Briancon was fantastic. But I still think that the separation should never have arisen. I will be wearing my gift from Team USA in August, to cheer on the rest of the GB team in Tokyo…

Team USA and Adidas made 200 caps for all the Para athletes… Brilliant!

I finished the international competitions this year extremely satisfied with the progress I’ve made. I’m looking forward to a summer of outside climbing and prepared to get stuck back into training in the Autumn.

A big thanks to the Para team coaches – Robin, Be and Emma, you all do an amazing job and work tirelessly to ensure we’re all fully prepared.