man rock climbing A Connect magazine article
From Issue 15 published May 2017

Red Szell, our RNIB writing competition judge and radio presenter is also a rock climber. Red showed Connect team member Leeanne Coyle the ropes at his local London climbing centre.


So Red, tell us a bit about your level of sight.

I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at 19. I can still tell between light and dark, but can’t see any detail. It’s very hazy and a bit like looking through a keyhole into a smoke filled room. What I like about climbing is it’s not just a visual activity. There’s a lot of feel and balance and there is the potential to improve, which helps in the battle against the frustration of losing my sight. Anybody who’s got a climbing wall near them should just give it a go.

What tools do we need to climb?

We need a harness around our waist to loop the rope through, a belay plate, and a carabiner to put the rope through. Climbing shoes are good but you can begin climbing in trainers. And for safety, we have another experienced climber here to belay you.
There’s a carabiner here that clips onto your harness and then we’ve got a belay, so the rope goes through that, and when I pull down with my hands on the loose end of the rope, that locks the rope so no one can fall – no one can move at all.

You’re going to show us your ‘warm up’ climb. Now I’m reading the chart and it says that’s the yellow and purple swirls. I can quite clearly see the holds dotted up the wall here but how are you going to find them?

One of you will be my spotter. I use a clock face system – imagine my tummy button is the centre of the clock, when I reach up with my right arm, I’m reaching up for anything between 12 o’clock and maybe three or four o’clock, likewise with the feet. It takes some getting used to, but we should get there.

After 20 years of not climbing, you got back into it and achieved your lifelong ambition of climbing the Old Man of Hoy in the Orkney isles.

Indeed, and it was a tough climb! It’s this pillar of rock rising out of the Atlantic. It is 450 feet tall. For those with sight, it’s kind of the shape and size of the London Gherkin building. The Old Man has a huge bulging belly in the middle so you have to climb out of a crack and over it. 
There’s a lot to contend with; there’s wind, and there are fulmars, which are sea birds that have a very nasty habit of regurgitating their fish supper all over your head if you are too close!

Now what we’re standing in front of is not quite The Old Man of Hoy, but I’m giving it a go anyway. 

Fantastic. First pick two good footholds and two comfortable handholds to move one limb at a time. Decide what you’re going to move first, then move a leg up every time you move an arm. Take a breath and then work out where you’re going to move your hand or foot next.

Being up there was amazing. I’m definitely going to try out a few other walls.

Glad you enjoyed it – next step, The Old Man of Hoy!

Find your nearest wall

Visit UK Climbing, or write to UK Climbing Limited, 91 Western Road, Sheffield, UK, S10 1LB.