Blind Climber Jesse Dufton 'Non-sights' E3

© Molly Dufton

Jesse Dufton has onsighted his first E3, Internationale at Kilt Rock on the Isle of Skye. It was the first time the blind climber had ever attempted a route of the grade. 

Jesse Dufton 'non-sights' Internationale E3.   © Molly Dufton
Jesse Dufton 'non-sights' Internationale E3.
© Molly Dufton

Jesse has been in a good vein of trad form of late, having onsighted a clutch of E1s in Pembroke, including Rock Idol (E1 5a at Mother Carey's Kitchen), two weeks before heading to Scotland.

He had previously 'non-sighted' - as he describes his style of ascent - E2 in August 2020, with an ascent of Forked Lightning Crack at Heptonstall. Just two weeks later, Jesse climbed another E2 (Auricle) 'non-sight' at Bamford. In 2019, he led the Old Man of Hoy.

Jesse was born with a degenerative eye condition called Rod-Cone Dystrophy and his vision has deteriorated to the extent that he can only differentiate between light and dark in a very narrow field of view. He is also a member of the GB Paraclimbing Team

Was Internationale the objective of the trip?
Funnily enough, no. Before we left the main objective in my mind had been Grey Panther. I'd done Rock Idol a couple of weeks before, and the description of that route makes a pretty bold claim that Rock Idol is probably the best E1 in Britain, so I'd been on a bit of a mission to tick off some of the other contenders so that I could decide which one I think deserves the crown. Obviously I've already done the Old Man of Hoy, which is certainly right up there, but I've got a few still to try and Grey Panther had been next on the list.

Grey Panther.  © Molly Dufton
Grey Panther.
© Molly Dufton

When we arrived at the crag we met a couple of other climbers and did a bit of gear swapping. I borrowed their medium cams for Grey Panther in exchange for my large ones while they did Internationale. Once I'd done Grey Panther, which was absolutely brilliant, I was in two minds about whether to try Internationale, but figured it was now or never, as when was I going to have access to a few more big'uns again.

Jesse high on Internationale.  © Molly Dufton
Jesse high on Internationale.
© Molly Dufton

Were you expecting to climb an E3 this trip?
Certainly not. I've been climbing well recently and had hoped to get an E2 but I hadn't been thinking about anything harder. I only found out the grade once I'd topped out. Anyone who has seen Climbing Blind may remember the scene where Alastair Lee asks Molly "Do you ever lie to him?".... Now I'm not sure she explicitly lied to me about the grade before I set off, but there was certainly a bit of strategic omission on Molly's part. She knows me pretty well and had obviously decided that I was capable of doing it. Molly had eyed up the route on the first descent and decided it looked ace and she was confident I could do it. In retrospect, it's probably a good thing she didn't tell me the grade beforehand, it might have psyched me out.

I'm in no position to judge the grade, I can only compare it to Forked Lightning Crack which is E2 in some guides and E3 in others, I think Internationale is certainly harder as it's 45m tall and sustained, having multiple moves equal to the crux of forked Lightning Crack. I'll just go with the consensus, which seems to be that Internationale is E3, but like I say not my place to judge. It's a good thing that the route follows an obvious feature, as Molly was only able to see me for the first few moves before her line of sight was blocked by a bulge. When I re-emerged, I was too high for her to make out any useful detail other than the big crack. Normally Molly will direct me to holds that she can see from the ground, but I didn't get much assistance on this one. Instead I think she spent most of the time watching a pod of dolphins out in the bay. I'm not sure what it is about wildlife watching while I'm on the sharp-end of a big lead but it seems to be becoming a theme.

Molly and Jesse on Vulcan Wall.  © Molly Dufton
Molly and Jesse on Vulcan Wall.
© Molly Dufton

That seems like a great start to a trip, how was the rest of it?
Yeah, after half a day's climbing I'd ticked my objective and then some — everything else was a bonus. We spent the first week on Skye. I wanted to get a few Hard Rock ticks. We got Vulcan Wall but unfortunately The Great Prow was wet and dirty. One thing that people sometimes don't realise is how hard big mountain walk ins can be for me. Slogging for hours with a heavy bag over scree when you can't see where to put your feet is exhausting. I often find it way harder than climbing the route. Vulcan Wall was a big day for me but it was worth the walk in, the route was fantastic. We also did a few days at the sea cliffs at Staffin and Neist Point. I got Gorbachev (E2 5b), which, had I not already done Internationale, would have been the trip highlight.

Then for the second week of the trip we went to Reiff, which is one of my favourite climbing areas, there's so many great routes. I particularly enjoyed Blind Bandit (HVS 5b), with a name like that how could I resist!

Tallying my leads from the trip I think I got 20 E points (19 on-sight, 1 ground up) which I'm really happy with, in fact, it's more than I got for the whole of last year! Scotland never disappoints, it was fantastic trip.

Blind Bandit.  © Molly Dufton
Blind Bandit.
© Molly Dufton

So what's next?
Well I'm hoping that the World Championships and Paraclimbing World Championships will take place in Moscow in September. While there have been IFSC competitions taking place already this year, GB haven't been able to send a team to any of the paraclimbing events so far due to COVID restrictions.

In fact, these two trad trips I've been on recently, I had the time off work booked for IFSC competitions, then obviously had to change plans and stay in the UK. So I'm just knuckling down at the moment trying to get ready for Moscow. Then there's an IFSC World Cup in L.A. in October and I'd like to compete in that, then spend some time climbing outside in the States, hitting Indian Creek would be great but I've given up making plans to be honest. Getting on some splitters and towers would be amazing though!

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Jesse is a member of the GB Paraclimbing Team in the Visually Impaired category, B1. He is a skilled and experienced climber across all disciplines despite his disability.

Jesse suffers from Rod-Cone Dystrophy, a...

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23 Jul

Great article; thank you. Amazing achievement.

Interesting that Jesse thought Hoy a good climb. I'd imagined that a blind ascent might lose some of the things that it scores classic points for - the setting, approach (view from the ferry) and abseil. I can see why Rock Idol would be high on the list - it climbs beautifully. I guess the sounds and smells of the sea cliffs are universally intoxicating though.

Anyway, lovely article.

23 Jul

Totally inspiring. Well done Jesse.

24 Jul

Jesse is so inspiring - great article.

As others have said, totally inspiring. Congratulations Jesse!

25 Jul

that’s flippin impressive, so inspiring

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