Steve Bate - Kiwi big wall climber (who's also a bit blind').
Steve Bate (35) has only 10 percent field of vision is visual impaired and registered blind (Retinitis Pigmentosa), yet in June 2013 he became the first visualy impaired person to solo El Capitain in Yosemite, California.
Steve was in Yosemite for just over three weeks in June and climbed Zodiac in a push of 31 hours with Andy Kirkpatrick, Lurking Fear over 3 days with Andy and Alwyn Johnson (Aussie Johno).
Then over 6 days he soloed the routev Zodiac, in doing so becoming the first registered blind person to Solo El Capitan.
Steve was supported by: Andy Kirikpatrick, North East Sensory Services, The John Muir Trust – Bill Wallace Grant, Sherpa Adventure Gear, Totem Cams, Polished Diamonds, Boots Opticians Elgin, Elgon Rotary Club, Varis Training and The Mountaineering Council of Scotland.
He lives in Scotland with his wife Caroline where he spends his time climbing and cycling.
“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision”Helen Keller
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.Søren Kierkegaard
Visual Aid – A rookie takes on the ‘Captain!’
My eyes widened as I took in the gap between me and the ground. As I swung myself back up the right way, the reason for the fall had returned to the front of my mind. Moments before I had just placed another sky hook, stood upon it before hearing that horrible ‘ping’. Before I knew it I was hanging upside down taking in the Yosemite Valley 1000ft below me.
After fixing the first two pitches and having a much needed rest I spent six days and five cool nights on the face of El Capitan’s Zodiac. I had trained hard for in the previous 12 months but standing at the base looking up I’m not sure that anything would have prepared me for what I was seeing. I was nervous to say the least, more likely terrified at the fact I was going to try and climb this route solo. That fact that I have limited sight (due to Retinitis Pigmentosa) and am registered blind played on my mind. Route finding has always been a problem for me and I really didn’t want to get lost high on the ‘Captain’. As I left the ground the fear melted away in the hot spring sun and I prayed it would get cooler. The climbing totally absorbed all of my concentration and energy. Soloing is a different kind of focus, your guard remaining in the red on full alert like the US embassy in a terror attack. To let slip could have fatal consequences.
The climbing up to the 6th pitch was relatively straight forward before you come to the Black Tower. This pitch has a reputation for hurting climbers not willing to give it the respect it deserves. Climbing onto the top of the Tower it fine but leaving it is a different kettle of fish. A thin steep rising traverse take you past numerous fixed gear old copper heads, rusty pitons, broken rurps and the odd fixed broken wire. This is one of very few points on the route that a fall would have you hitting the rock below as the rest of the route is so steep you simply fall into space. As I balanced and made slow and steady progress I kept telling myself other people have stood on this gear it must be Ok, the thoughts did little to control my racing heart and buzzing mind....
From the top of the Black Tower your lead into the Grey Circle, this was for me the best climbing on the route and included the Nipple pitch and the crux. You cast off on a journey of inverted cam hooks with little else in the way of protection for 10 metres before welcoming a piton to put your mind at rest. Again the thin crack not letting up as it steepens, you carry on hooking until the crack widens right at the point where a number 6 cam is no match for the troublesome skin eating off-width. Once safety at the belay you take on the Mark of Zoro which is the steepest pitch of the route and a remarkable pitch to abseil and clean your gear. For me this by far was the hardest most draining pitch and I was very pleased to have it underneath me. It was also the only pitch on the climb where a had trouble finding the route after pulling over the second roof, but with a long scan of the rock and a browse over the topo I chose the correct path to a welcomed bolted anchor. From here the climbing to the famous Peanut Ledge was Ok, after the Mark of Zoro it seemed slab like even though still a sea of vertical rock.
I slept well on Peanut Ledge and was up and keen to push on to the top[ that day for two reasons, one being I had a plane to catch the following day back to the UK and second I had just dumped the rest of my water to save weight hauling the final few pitches. Leaving Peanut was the scariest pitch I have ever climbed. Its 35 metres for which 30 of them you are leap forging two number 5 Camalots. You climb a flake that flex’s as you put your weight on it and watch the lobes of the cam open as you remove the lower cam intrusting everything on one piece of gear before replacing your second cam higher in the flake. After 20 metres you reach a rivet which upon clipping it I felt relief, and like the Nipple pitch you carry on repeating the process. On pulling over the capped roof at the top I was amazed to be getting wet, in all of my focus climbing the last pitch I hadn’t noticed It had begin to rain. This is due to two factors, one being gripped and terrified and two the pitch like many others is overhung keeping me dry. Cleaning the pitch was pretty quick as you can imagine and that left me with two pitches I could link together before clipping the summit bolts. I was tried and exhausted once I pulled into the summit. My two friends Andy and Johno had come up to meet me and I sat down at their feet to pats on the back. I looked down at the Yosemite Valley in the distance as cloud blew in, I thought of my home in Scotland and tried to take in what I had just achieved. However, being a soloist the work was not done, I had to rap back down and clean the pitch and haul my gear before the job was finished, even then there was the decent!
"In all the splendor of solitude... it is a test of myself, and one thing I loathe is to have to test myself in front of other people."Naomi Uemura
"My success rate is much higher when I'm soloing. It's easier to talk yourself into quitting when you have someone to talk to."Amanda Tarr