(Jacob Rumans) #1 may–jun 2020 15

Climbing with Retinitis

Pigmentosa – Red szell

The question I get asked most about
being a blind climber is ‘how does that
work?’ The answer is that there’s a lot of
groping around for the next hold, it takes
a lot of patience and a fair amount of
stamina from everyone on the climb.
I try to follow the cracks where I can
and have to confess, I’m not the most
elegant climber on the crag. When you
can’t see the alternatives, often the first
hold your fingers find is the best hold,
particularly on a steep section. Footholds
can be more elusive and as I draw
increasingly wide concentric circles
with my toes I get through more pairs of
climbing shoes than your average climber.
When it’s a steep or particularly
technical pitch I rely a lot more on my
climbing partner for directions. Over
the past decade Matthew and I have
developed a clock-face system by
which he can direct me e.g. “Left hand,
11 o’clock, 18 inches, undercling’, or
‘right foot, 4 o’clock, small pocket.”
The other question is about exposure

  • do I still get it now I can’t see? I’m not
    immune; bridging The Coffin on Hoy,
    200ft up in a bottomless chimney with
    only seabirds beneath me, I wasn’t
    unaware of the drop. However, that
    sense of vertigo I sometimes used to
    feel has gone. Oddly the only time I do
    feel the fear now is when I stand at the

summit and my hands leave the rock
face. I think that’s because I’m near an
edge and don’t have my white cane to
locate it.
But apart from then, climbing makes
me forget that I’m blind. I’m so focused
on what I’m doing – it’s freedom. It’s the
same kind of problem solving I’m faced
with every day, surmounting obstacles
so they don’t become barriers – just on
a grander, more enjoyable scale.

the making of shaRed
Vision – keith PaRtRidge
Capturing the atmosphere of three
friends on their ascent of Am Buachaille
was always going to be a bit of a chal-
lenge and require the cameras to merge
invisibly with the rock to allow the
natural action to speak for itself. Filming
was to have as little impact as possible
on Red’s adventure. Immaculate sound
coverage was also paramount, including
the subtleties of perspective, space and
atmosphere so those who rely more
upon that sense could imagine the posi-
tions of climbers, Nick and Matt, relative
to Red. It was to be a film from Red’s
perspective with the shots staying with
him uncut so that the audience could get
an idea of the struggles.
I knew I couldn’t cover the climbing
action by myself so I enlisted the help
of friend and drone pilot Robbie Paton.
The third member of the team was

camera operator Mike Braddock. We
would head in on mountain bikes and
then split to our roles: Mike to the
headland overlooking the stack armed
with a big lens, Robbie to the shoreline
and the edge of the channel with the
rotor-bladed ‘Electric Budgie’.
The whole journey to the stack was
going to be a challenge for Red, especially
the scramble down the mainland cliff
and the awkward shoreline of boulders
covered in slippery seaweed. I wanted
to give an impression of what Red’s
diminished vision was like on that
terrain and explore his inner nightmares
and memories of coming to terms with
a new life without sight. Ultimately the
swim to the base of the stack becomes
a kind of resolution and resurrection.
The atmosphere between the film team
and climbers for the whole escapade felt
like a bunch of mates heading into the
wilds for a grand time. Shooting was a
pleasure, editing the pieces of the jigsaw
together was complex, especially to
remain focused on the story from Red’s
perspective. He proves admirably that,
just because he can’t see a 200ft blade
of ancient rock jutting out of the Atlantic,
nothing will hold him back; even if the
holds break along the way. n

You can view the film on the Climber
website at

Shared ViSion – a Journey Beyond Sight

Red Szell climbing the prized
Scottish sea stack of Am
Buachaille. Photo: Keith
Free download pdf