UKC

Morocco Multipitch First Ascent by Blind Climber Jesse Dufton

© Jesse Dufton

Jesse Dufton, known for his bold ascents as a blind climber, has established a new 100m-long, 3-pitch route called 'Eye Disappear' in Morocco's Anti-Atlas mountains. 

Jesse Dufton on Eye Disappear.  © Jesse Dufton
Jesse Dufton on Eye Disappear.
© Jesse Dufton

The route is located in a high valley near the hamlet of Alma.

'It feels really quite remote. It's amazingly quiet compared to most crags in the UK,' he told UKC.

Jesse and his partner Molly had hooked up with Paul Donnithorne, who has developed the area over the last decade. He was able to discern potential lines amongst a huge amount of unclimbed rock in the area. Only four routes existed on the 100m high, 200m long cliff where they set out to make a first ascent.

Jesse said: 'I've struggled to think of a UK crag to compare it to, it's probably about the same size as Gimmer, but it's less broken, just one massive block of rock. We picked it as it's vertical rather than slabby, which I prefer, and it's reasonably close to the dirt road. Whacking through boulder fields and thickets of spikey shrubs when you can't see isn't that great.'

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.

Relying on his team to scope out a line, Jesse said that Molly and Paul spotted a large crack or chimney high on what would be the third pitch and a ledge at about 25/30m. He added:

'The thing about new routing is the uncertainty. You've got no idea if there will be a poorly protected section or a crux that is beyond you. You have to prepare for all eventualities with gear, so your rack is absolutely huge, and heavy. But I guess, strangely, the uncertainty is quite normal for me. I never have as much beta about a route as sighted climbers.'

The 100m high crag in the Moroccan Anti-Atlas.  © Jesse Dufton
The 100m high crag in the Moroccan Anti-Atlas.
© Jesse Dufton

Jesse cleaned some loose rock off the line as he went and said that he didn't feel too anxious about this extra new-routing obstacle. he explained: 'Apart from the cleaning it felt surprisingly normal, well normal for me at least, having to search out all the holds and gear placements by feel alone. I didn't get much assistance from Molly over the radio for this one.'

All three climbers were keen to lead, and to minimise faff, so they swung leads. Jesse had the first pitch, Paul the second and Molly the third.

'The difficulty was pretty consistent, but Molly's pitch had the coolest moves,' Jesse admitted.

For Jesse, seconding can be harder than leading as when he's following, he can't receive any guidance over the radio as Molly is belaying above. He explained:

'Fortunately, it was not a problem on this route, but I've made plenty of climbs at least two grades harder than they needed to be. Paul didn't comment on it, but I wondered if he questioned the unusual chalk marks I left. Because I can't see any of the holds, I feel EVERYTHING, and consequently leave blobs of chalk on tiny random nubbins that are normally ignored, well and I often use that tiny crimp because I couldn't see the massive jug.'

After topping out in the sun, Jesse felt 'pretty happy', but was mostly thinking about getting back down. He said:

'Unfortunately, I hadn't taken a pair of walking poles up the route, so I was going to have to scramble down without them, which is much harder. Hanging on to Molly's rope rucksack we skittered and surfed down the loose scree to big smiles back at our bags.'  

Reflecting on his first new-routing experience, Jesse summed up:

'Doing a new route has given me an appreciation for how hard two things are: Firstly, to propose a grade for the route. I can see how unintentional sandbagging happens! Secondly, how hard it is to come up with a good name. For this route I went with a systematic approach. The name and theme of the crag is Heavy Rock, and I wanted to make at least some reference to my blindness, so opted to modify the name of the Metallica track I Disappear (used in the soundtrack to Mission Impossible 2 – the one with the climbing opening scene) to Eye Disappear. It was the best I could come up with.' 

Walking down from the base of the crag (with poles this time).  © Jesse Dufton
Walking down from the base of the crag (with poles this time).
© Jesse Dufton

Paul returned the following day and did another new route that came in from the right and shared the first belay ledge. Jesse said:

'He reckoned that this second route was about E2, which wouldn't have been beyond me, but would be much closer to my limit than the climbing on Eye Disappear turned out to be.

Jesse has previously 'non-sighted' E3, with an ascent of Internationale at Kilt Rock on the Isle of Skye (UKC News). In 2020, he non-sighted Forked Lightning Crack E2 at Heptonstall. Just two weeks later, Jesse climbed another E2 (Auricle) non-sight at Bamford. In 2019, he led the Old Man of Hoy. He is also a member of the GB Paraclimbing Team.


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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...

Jesse's Athlete Page 10 posts 3 videos



16 Mar, 2023

Absolutely mind blowing

19 Mar, 2023

it really is. mega effort. I can't even begin to imagine the experience!

20 Mar, 2023

Brilliant effort, Jesse!

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