What can you see?
I only have light perception in an extremely narrow field of view. The best analogy I have is, imagine that you are looking down a small drinking straw and that straw has many layers of cling film over the end. Essentially I can tell whether the end of the straw is light or dark, but that is it. If I hold my hand 1 foot from my face I can’t see it. Critically when I’m climbing, I can’t see any of the handholds or footholds, the cracks to place the gear in or the gear as I’m placing it, all my climbing is done just by feel.
Why do you wear a blindfold?
I only wear a blindfold when I’m climbing indoors. This is because for me, indoor climbing is preparation for paraclimbing competitions. In the competitions I compete in the B1 category and all competitors in this category must wear a blindfold when they compete. Therefore, I always wear a blindfold when I’m climbing indoors so that it’s as similar to the competition environment as possible. It doesn’t make any difference, I can’t see the holds without it on. I don’t wear a blindfold when I’m climbing outside, because for me, climbing outside is not about competition, it’s just about me climbing the routes I want to climb.
Climbing is something I’ve always done and something I enjoy. It presents a multifaceted challenge that I enjoy overcoming. It might not seem like the ideal sport for a blind person, but it’s much better than some! The rock shouldn’t move, whereas any kind of ball sport, (even if it’s the blind version) involves a ball which can be basically anywhere. I’ve tried blind tennis…it wasn’t a resounding success!
Do you practice your routes beforehand?
No. I’m struggling to think of a route I have ever done that on, I’ve never practiced a route on top-rope before attempting to lead it. The routes are new for Molly as well, she doesn’t climb the route before hand to work out the sequence or the gear placements. Molly only directs me to what she can see from the ground. The only additional information we have is from what Molly reads in the guidebook! I always go for the on fondle. With so many routes, so many crags, so many countries and even continents to explore, at this stage I don’t want to limit myself to a single project.
Do you have a favourite type of rock?
Grit! Yes, I have favourite types of rock, anything where there is a big obvious feature like a crack, a corner, or an arete that a route follows is best for me. Basically something I can follow so I don’t get lost on the route. It also helps a lot when it is very obvious what is and is not a foot/hand hold. It’s easiest to think about what’s hard, imagine featured pockety limestone, where there are a myriad of small intricate foot placements. It is almost impossible to get the best foot placement and so is incredibly hard. Rock types like Gritstone and Quartzite are much better as it’s often clear when you do/don’t have the right hold.
Which forms of climbing do you do and which are your favourite?
Probably my favourite type of climbing is trad climbing, it’s the style of climbing where it all started for me and is probably the style that’s given me some of the best memories. I like the other styles of climbing too, but when I think back to my most memorable climbing experiences, most are on trad routes. I enjoy sport climbing too, but I’ve never got into redpointing, I don’t have the patience for it! I far rather be focusing on getting a new route than working one that’s slightly harder. I have the same approach to bouldering, it’s great and I love going round the circuits at Font, but I don’t have the patience to work problems and keep coming back to them. In addition the harder boulder problems often involve dynamic moves and when you can’t see where you’re going this is extremely hard and frustrating! Alpine climbing is cool but usually in a type 2 fun kinda way! I find it hard moving over broken ground and with the required speed to make alpine ascents on the more challenging routes a more tenable proposition. Winter conditions actually tend to make things easier for me, while they involve more suffering, the fact that the snow makes the ground easier to cover is a big plus in my book. I do enjoy ice climbing too, but it’s not a style I get to climb in very often, as it’s very conditions dependent and there’s not much fat water ice in the Midlands!
Does it help that when you look down, you can’t see the ground?
No. Nothing about climbing blind makes it easier! You still know where you are and still know what’ll happen if you fall off! It’s probably worse because the uncertainty is greater for me than someone that can see. In any case, it doesn’t help and I do still get scared like most other people.
Do you always climb with Molly?
Not always but probably 99% of the time. We met at Uni in 2004 and since then have done over 1,300 routes together outside so we know how each other work, and often Molly can second guess what I’m thinking and give the required instruction without me asking! It happens reasonably often that we climb in a 3 with one of our friends too. This is great as it usually means that Molly is relieved of belaying at the base of the crag and can stand back and guide more effectively. We have a big group of climbing mates from Uni and its great we still get out climbing with those guys too.
How does sight guiding work?
In competitions, in the B1 category, all competitors are blindfolded and you’re allowed a sight guide to direct you to the holds verbally. Some sight guides shout, some use megaphones and some use radios. It’s down to the sight guide and climber to devise a system for describing where the holds are, there’s no set rules for this. Molly and I have created a system that works for us based on the clock face. It’s pretty complicated but it seems to work well.
For outside, it’s less structured and it’s not as easy for the sight guide to spot the holds or the sequence of moves. I’m much more reliant on finding holds by feel when climbing on rock. When I’m leading there’s the added complexity that I need to place gear, Molly can spot some cracks that might be suitable, but ultimately finding the right place and the right piece is down to me.
What’s your favourite cheese?
So I may have a bit of a reputation for being a cheese monster, after a trip to the Dolomites many many moons ago! I am partial to a bit of cheese, but I’m not sure I have a favourite one. My favourite few are Manchego, Bleu de Bresse, Raclette and Goat cheese.