Featured Image Credit: Alastair Lee, Brit Rock Film Tour
After seven and a half hours of climbing without pause, Jesse Dufton pulls his wearied body onto the top of the Old Man of Hoy. Sitting on the sea stack’s 137-metre summit, he takes stock of what he’s done. It’s now 10.30 at night, but it’s high summer, so this far north, in Scotland’s Orkney archipelago, light is all around. A puffin nestles nearby; far below him the sea swirls and fizzes around the base of the giant rock.
“The stack has been climbed by blind people before, but what’s extraordinary about Jesse’s feat is that he is leading the climb”
It’s a visual montage stunning enough to give you goosebumps while you’re watching it on a screen, let alone in real life. Yet Jesse can’t see any of it. He has no vision of what’s in front of him, because he’s blind. He’ll need to wait until his climbing partner and sight guide Molly arrives at the summit. Then, she can narrate the view in the same calm, reliable manner she’s used to talk him through the climb thus far.
The Old Man of Hoy is not an easy summit. It’s exposed and windy, the sandstone face is prone to crumbling off in your hands, and it’s dotted with short-tempered seagulls, who like to vomit on climbers that get too close. The stack has been climbed by blind people before, but what’s extraordinary about Jesse’s feat is that he is leading the climb. That is, he is putting the gear into the rock with both his and Molly’s lives depending on it. A premise so compelling the renowned outdoor filmmaker Alistair Lee decided to make a documentary about it called Climbing Blind.