In this week's Friday Night Video, Alastair Lee teams up once again to film blind climber Jesse Dufton on an ascent of Forked Lightning Crack (E2 5c) at Heptonstall, his first E2. Jesse was born with a condition called Rod-Cone Dystrophy and his vision has deteriorated to the point where he can only differentiate between light and dark in a narrow field of view. Watch Jesse on his 'non-sight' in the short film below:
In August, after his ascent of Forked Lightning Crack and Auricle (E2 5c) two weeks later, we interviewed Jesse:
Why did you choose Forked Lightning Crack E2? Tell us about the ascent!
My mate Charlie had recommended it to me as he thought it would play to my strengths. I'd never heard of it before his recommendation, but I think it was spot on. The route suits me. A big obvious feature to follow so I can't get lost. No intricate sequences of small footholds, big obvious gear and a healthy dose of Whillans brutality required - right up my street. Molly assured me that it looked like a mega line.
Molly helped me find the starting holds and as I pulled on and made the initial moves, I was surprised at how steep it was, I hadn't imagined it was going to be THAT steep. I was relieved to get my first gear in, and once I'd put a couple of bits in the first horizontal break, I totally relaxed. I think this mental management is one of the things I'm most happy about, I think that every time I manage to calm myself as I did then it becomes easier to do it next time, which allows you to climb at your best.
Was there an element of uncertainty about the gear?
No more than usual. The bits I got in the first horizontal break were both good and then I reached up and got a massive cam deep in the first vertical crack. I could reach in and feel each of the lobes with my fingers, so I knew it was bomb-proof and I just had to worry about the physicality of the crux. Often when I'm climbing it's not possible to get a tactile inspection of my gear placements, and as I can't see them I have to trust myself that I do place good gear, which presents an extra mental hurdle, but on this occasion I could get the tactile inspection so my mind was totally at ease.
How did you find the physical aspect?
Everything seemed to come together for me once I got into the crux. Yes, it's burly to start and it certainly requires a good pull to get high and established in the first vertical section. My memory of the moves is a bit hazy, I always struggle to remember my climbing when I've been "in the zone". I do remember a few off-balance moves where I had to stave off the barn door.
I managed to find a semi-restful position to get some gear in the second horizontal break and got it in quickly. When you're blind there is nothing worse than fumbling around in a bad position trying to get some gear in and knowing you're at the most exposed. Fortunately, I slammed one home quickly and got into the second vertical section. I got a solid knee-jam which allowed me to take weight off my arms and get another runner, but I instantly regretted wearing shorts. This was the first point where I couldn't quite work out the sequence, it took me a little while to work out how to get higher in the second vertical section. I was pleased that my endurance was holding up. I wasn't pumped so I had time to chill out and work out the moves and I was pretty gratified when I grabbed the ledge at the top of the crack. I thought about trying to extricate myself in style, but opted for the safety of the good old belly flop...
Molly: "Can you imagine being led to the base of a crag that you can't see (and have never seen), having your hands placed on the rock at the start of a route and setting out into the unknown with only verbal suggestions from your belayer/wife! Forked Lightning Crack is steep, hard and unforgiving. Big gear is weighing him down, it's warm under the sun and he climbs slowly, move by move, unable to plan ahead. The ease at which he led this route was astonishing. Every time I thought this must be the crux, he powered on through. Just wow!"
You have said that the hardest part of this route for you was committing to trying it, what was going through your mind at the base of the crag?
I was trying to decide whether I was feeling good enough to give the route my all. It was quite hot (I hate it when I'm too hot) and I was a little tired as we'd been up in Yorkshire for the week and had done a fair bit of climbing, but I was thinking back to a chat I'd had with Ben Bransby a week or so earlier about saving routes for "the right time". Ben had reminded me that there is never a perfect time to do a route and that if you save them forever you will never get them done. So I had his words banging loudly in my head as I decided it was best to just get straight on it. Molly described the route to me and I remember feeling the setup was akin to my pre-comp ritual, rather than the relaxed day at the crag I'm used to. I'm guilty of building the route up in my head as I knew it would likely be the hardest thing I'd ever attempted.
Read the full interview in the link below: