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Bagging A Tough Pitch

Red is a Rock Climber, Adventurer, Author and first blind person to climb 'Old Man of Hoy'. He's recently been sharing his exploits with us through a series of blog posts. You can find the past three herehere and here.


In this installment Red revists his Extreme Blind Triathlon - Am Buachaille. 

Back in Spring I wrote about my plans for an Extreme Blind Triathlon. The project I was proposing was to tackle Am Buachaille - a 213ft tall sea stack in the far North West corner of Scotland.  

It’s so remote that just getting to the first pitch will involve a 10km mountain-bike tandem ride across bog-land, a 200ft abseil down the cliff opposite, and a 30m swim out to the base of the stack.   After which, if we’ve got our timing right, we’ll have about 90 minutes in which to complete the three pitches and get back to shore before the tide comes in and cuts us off.

No wonder Am Buachaille is so rarely attempted, even by sighted climbers.

It’s a project I’ve wanted to complete ever since climbing The Old Man of Hoy in 2013, but the expense and logistics of getting a mountain bike tandem to the Cape Wrath area of Scotland meant that I’d consigned my plans to pipe-dream land…

Until I heard about ‘The Holman Prize’; a competition run by San Francisco LightHouse for the blind. The prize is for blind adventurers who want to change perceptions of sight loss. To enter the competition I made a 90 - second YouTube video - all the filming parts were filmed at the Castle

The Holman Prize attracts applicants from around the world and the standard is high.  Just one way the judges determine who should go through to the second round is by the number of ‘Likes’ each YouTube video gets. Thanks in no small part to the support I received from my friends at The Castle, and the wider climbing community, that wasn’t a problem.  

Next I had to submit a full written proposal and itemised budget.  After that came the interview round.  By the first week of June I’d made it to the finals!

And now I’m delighted to announce that I am one of the three successful candidates to be awarded the 2018 Holman Prize for Blind Ambition.  Which means that Project Extreme Blind Triathlon can finally get off the ground.

My plan is to tackle Am Buachaille in June 2019, when (hopefully) the weather and sea conditions should be at their most benign.  Which gives Matthew and me plenty of time to get fit and organise logistics.  

Of course you get nothing for nothing in this life and one condition of the $25,000 prize is that there is a ‘project deliverable’.  In my case this will be in the form of a 20-minute film, documenting our preparation for and attempt on Am Buachaille.  

So if you see someone wielding a camera and shouting at a blind climber on the wall at The Castle, it’s probably us trying to find my good side!

Matthew and I needed a bit of good news. Our plan to spend a week in April climbing the lovely limestone cliffs round Masua Bay, and scope out another sea stack, Pan di Zucchero, for an attempt in October, were scuppered by the devastating storms, floods and landslides that hit that part of Sardinia after Easter.  

So instead we celebrated my Holman Prize success with a couple of days bouldering in Font.


As usual, Fontainebleau’s sandstone boulders provided a salutary reminder of the importance of good footwork.  But my weekly sessions at The Castle have left me climbing smarter and in pretty good shape.  So, while I didn’t on-sight every problem I tried, I did give a pretty good account of myself and returned hungry for more. 

That said I was very glad you can now rent decent crash mats locally in Font.  Back in the day (c1989) when I first went there, we took lilos as our protection!  

Red Szell’s book The Blind Man of Hoy is available from The Castle Shop.  And you can follow his progress on The Castle blog or via his website.