Rock climber Red Széll, a presenter on RNIB’s Connect Radio, is launching a film about his record-breaking exploits in the UK at a pair of events this month in London.
Shared Vision, a 22 minute documentary film, focuses on Red's attempt last year to become the first blind climber to successfully scale the famous Big Three Sea Stacks - three separate vertical stacks of rock, each more than 60 metres high - around the coast of Scotland. Last year he climbed the 65 metre Am Buachaille ending his seven-year campaign to scale the trio, which included successful climbs up the Old Man of Hoy and the Old Man of Stoer.
Red, who was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa when he was 19, is going to be telling his three stacks story, alongside showings of Shared Vision, at The London Climbing Festival in Harrow on March 7 and the flagship Arc'teryx store in Central London on March 12, respectively.
He explains: "Becoming the first blind person to climb all the Tom Patey Three (or Big Three) sea stacks was particularly meaningful for me. It was the culmination of a decade since I’d taken up climbing again, which in turn has taken me out of the rut my sight had cast me down into. It was seeing footage of mountaineers Tom Patey and Chris Boningon climbing The Old Man of Hoy - a chunk of rock about the size and shape of the Gherkin building in London - that got me into climbing as a teenager, and it became my dream to summit it too."
Red, who presents a weekly audiobook review programme on RNIB Connect Radio, adds that he thought his diagnosis with RP had put paid to his climbing ambition: "Tom Patey pioneered sea stack climbing for the challenge, adventure and camaraderie they provide. Following in his footholds I have rediscovered all three, despite, or maybe because of, my blindness."
He's not stopping there. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Tom Patey’s death, which happened during an abseil off another Scottish sea stack The Maiden. "To honour his memory I would like to try climbing it myself," Red reckons. "It will involve sea kayaking to the base of the stack which, just to add a bit of spice to the climb, is located in an MoD live firing area – so it should be entertaining!"
Now in his 50s, Red's return to climbing came after a 20-year break. His young daughter had a birthday party at a climbing wall. Achieving and keeping the levels of fitness and stamina required were Red's biggest challenge, he reckons: "After a couple of years, I told my instructor that I wanted to climb The Old Man of Hoy. By this time, I’d also met my climbing partner, Matthew, and he agreed to do the climb with me. With the help of Matthew and the instructors, they got me from being a sort of middle-aged, slightly overweight, househusband to losing twelve kilograms and conquering the Old Man of Hoy.
He says the film Shared Vision, funded by The Holman Prize, does more more than celebrate his latest climb: "It reflects the rocky road that has led me there both on the day and since my diagnosis. I hope it will encourage others to focus on what they can achieve rather than what they’ve lost. Losing your sight is hard , but fighting yourself because of it is torture. I hope the film will help others to find their outlet."
For further information on how to attend the events and Shared Vision, details are on Red's web site.