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.”
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!
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!
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!
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’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!
“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!
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!
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!
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.
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 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!
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
The first Blind Lead the Old Man of Hoy, off Orkney, Scotland
On the 4th June 2019, I successfully became the first blind person to lead the classic East Face Route (Original Route) E1 5b (6 pitches) up the Old Man of Hoy. I led all 6 pitches clean, placing my own gear as I climbed. To be honest probably most of the trad routes I have led are a blind person first, but this iconic Scottish Sea Stack which figures in Hard Rock seems special.
This is the most adventurous hard trad rock route I’ve done, it was truly epic! The climb was only half the story. Wild camping and then an hours walk to the headland. A tricky descent on treacherous grass slopes and scramble across to the base. A late start waiting for the wind to drop, leading to a top out at 10:10pm. Followed by 3 massive abseils back down, it was dark when we hit the deck. Then repeating the tricky and slippery scramble to get back up the cliff relying on step by precarious step instructions from Molly. And lastly the hour long walk back to the tents, reaching my sleeping bag at 2:45am with the sun threatening to rise again. It was such an amazing day, unreal!
There has been great media interest and I’ve received hundreds of messages from all round the world congratulating me on the historic ascent! It’s been quite surreal to say the least. It’s appeared in newspapers, the Scottish Parliament and I was also invited to BBC Broadcasting House in London for a live TV interview! If you missed it, here is my first TV appearance:
Update 2: I didn’t make it through to the final 😦 Sad times..
Update 1: I’m into the Semi Finals!! Thanks everyone.
Exciting news…I’ve applied for the Holman Prize! Created specifically for legally blind individuals with a penchant for exploration of all types, the Prize provides financial backing – up to $25,000 – for three individuals to explore the world and push their limits.
Check out my application video below. Please LIKE the video on youtube and share it with your friends to help me win the $25,000 prize towards my dream project:
Blind on Baffin – a Winter Mountaineering Expedition
The video with the most likes goes through to the final.
“The Holman Prize is not meant to save the world or congratulate someone for leaving the house. This prize will spark unanticipated accomplishments in the blindness community. You will see blind people doing things that surprise and perhaps even confuse you. These new LightHouse prizes will change perceptions about what blind people are capable of doing.”
— Bryan Bashin, CEO, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired