GB Paraclimbing has been on a roll lately. At the World Championships in Moscow in September they walked away with six medals. This tally included a bronze medal in the B1 (blind) lead category for Jesse Dufton.
Jesse blew audiences away in the Alastair Lee film, Climbing Blind, where he made non-sight ascents of The Sloth (HVS) at the Roaches and the mighty Original Route (E1) on the Old Man of Hoy.
Despite this traditional pedigree, Jesse has been securing his place in the ranks of paraclimbing. In all these ascents, Jesse depends on the support of his wife Molly who, communicating by radio, guides Jesse’s hand and foot movements.
Jesse has just gained his second medal of the season in this weekend’s Paraclimbing World Cup event in Los Angeles where he again took bronze. We caught up with Jesse as he reflects on a great season and looks forward to future competitions.
Jesse, fantastic result in the World Cup. How did the competition feel?
The event was well organised and the route was cool: very steep and with interesting 3d moves on big volumes. This makes it hard for Molly to describe but ultimately makes for a great climb.
And you are happy with your result?
Well, you’re never happy unless you win but, ultimately, I think it’s a good reflection of where my indoor climbing is at.
With a recent bronze in the Moscow World Champs and now again at the LA World Cup, it sounds like great consistency. Is that how it feels?
Yes and no, although qualifications were different: in Moscow I qualified for the final in first and then made a mistake in the final and wound up third; in LA I made some mistakes in qualis and went into the finals in third. So yes, I guess fairly consistent.
Were you beaten by the same climbers in both events?
Silver was the same in both, Razvan Nedu from Romania. Moscow gold was a Japanese climber, Aito Sho and in LA it was another Japanese climber, Kobayashi Koichiro (Koba). Koba is the daddy. He’s 53 and has been competing for ever. He’s a terrific climber.
53 is old for a competition climber?
The thing is with blind climbing is that experience counts for so much. It doesn’t come down so much to power and dynamic climbing, which certainly favours the young. Personally, I can feel myself improving all the time and I feel I have a long way to progress as a competition climber. I currently feel I’m not very far off moving up the ranks, and I was only three moves off the silver medal position this time.
What’s been making the difference for you this season, training or experience?
Mostly training. In some ways I am at a disadvantage on the steep stuff that is becoming the norm. Firstly. I’m a big bloke, and steeper climbing favours the light. Secondly, I think of myself as mainly a trad climber. Sadly there aren’t many 20m roofs on grit to work on 😊
Another hurdle has been the lack of steep, competition style routes in the 7a to 7b range that I need to be trying. But despite this, I’ve been training hard, improving all the time, and things have really stepped up.
What about Molly – has she been training her side also?
Her experience is crucial and my experience in Moscow was in a large part down to her. Obviously her role is to tell me where the holds are, and to guide me to those holds. But the other side of that coin is deciding the sequences for me. In Moscow she spotted I could ’break’ the beta, use my height to do a move in a way the routesetters hadn’t intended. There have to be some advantages to being big.
WATCH: Paraclimber Jesse Dufton climb Forked Lightning Crack (E2 5c)
Looking ahead, currently paraclimbing isn’t yet an Olympic sport. Do you think in time it will be and would you be excited to get involved?
The IFSC are looking towards Los Angeles in 2028 as there is no chance of paraclimbing being part of Paris 2024. This is one of the reasons I was keen to attend the World Cup there this time as this was a demonstration event for that. But I think I would be keen to be involved. If I could raise the awareness of paraclimbing then that opens the doors to a lot of people to get involved in. And while it’s not clear cut to me if I am keen or not, I think that factor would make it a yes. I’m 36 now. By LA I will 43. I’d like to think I won’t be past it by then. Just look at Koba. Maybe he’ll still be competing then too?
And what now?
Well I’m still here in California and today Molly and I are heading to Joshua Tree. Let’s see how much of a sandbag these American cracks are.
WATCH: Climbing Blind - the trailer
Jesse Dufton is sponsored by DMM, Beta Climbing Designs, Montane, Boreal and The Bader Foundation.
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