14 MAYJUN 2020 http://www.climber.co.uk
A JOURNEY BEYOND SIGHT
As a teenager in the mid-1980s Red
Szell watched a BBC fi lm featuring
Chris Bonington and Tom Patey
climbing the Old Man of Hoy. In many
ways, it lit a spark and Red started
to climb and to dream that one day
he would follow in the footsteps of
these great climbers. Just before his
20th birthday Red attended an eye
examination. He was given some
life-changing news. He was told that
he had a degenerative eye condition
called Retinitis Pigmentosa and that
he would gradually lose his sight.
The world as he knew it started to
disappear and for a while Red struggled
to fi nd successful strategies to cope
with the darkness. Diffi cult days were
never far away.
The road to recovery started at his
daughter’s birthday party at a climbing
wall. The temptation was too much.
There was a wall to climb, a challenge to
meet and Red could not resist. Climbing
became important again and, crazily,
even the Old Man of Hoy crept back into
his thoughts. In 2013, with an amazing
support team made up of Martin Moran,
Nick Carter, Matthew Wootliff and
Andres Cervantes, Red Szell became
The Blind Man of Hoy. A year later Red and
his friends climbed the Old Man of Stoer.
In 2018, Red was one of the winners
of the Holman Prize, a competition set up
to remember the work of the blind British
explorer James Holman, organised by
LightHouse for The Blind and Visually
Impaired in San Francisco. The award
allowed Red to return to the sea stacks
of Scotland once more in 2019. Nick
and Matthew joined Red again. Their
objective this time was Am Buachaille.
The story of Red’s climb on the stack, and
of his life living with Retinitis Pigmentosa,
is told in a wonderful short fi lm by Keith
Partridge called Shared Vision.
Shared Vision is a captivating fi lm. We
follow Red’s everyday life and his view
of the world which he likens to looking
through a tiny keyhole into a smoke-
fi lled, dimly lit room. Red explains how
adventure offers him the opportunity to
sort of feel more equal. Climbing is about
touch and instinct and it allows Red just
to be a little crazy. On a wind-swept,
gnarly, wet sea stack in the middle of
nowhere with equally crazy friends,
life is glorious.
Keith Partridge has produced an
enthralling fi lm with some stunning
cinematography. The soundtrack really
enhances the atmospheric photography
of the landscapes of northwest Scotland.
Keith lets Red’s words lead the fi lm
which works very well. We follow three
ordinary guys just having a great time on
a sea stack sharing an experience and an
ambition. Nick and Matthew support and
Red pushes on. Nothing is easy. Each
step has to be considered and calculated.
The camera follows as Red feels his way
up the unforgiving stack. Sometimes it
goes wrong and sometimes it hurts but
it is all part of the journey.
Climbing is for all and Red is not the
only climber with Retinitis Pigmentosa.
Steve Bate climbed El Capitan in 2013
and Jesse Dufton led the Old Man of Hoy
in 2019. They are all remarkable men.
Red reaches the summit of Am
Buachaille. In some ways, he reaches
summits every day, but this was one he
particularly enjoyed and will remember
as a good day out with great friends.
Shared Vision can be found online. An
audio described version is also available.
Shared Vision is dedicated to Martin
Moran ‘... who guided so many to new
heights.’ Martin was tragically killed on
Nanda Devi in 2019.
The imposing sea stack of
Am Buachaille from the air.
Photo: Robbie Paton
THE CLIMBER’S VOICE
by Noel Dawson