Jesse Dufton

Jesse Dufton

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Blind Rock Climber

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Synopsis

Rock climber Jesse is best known as the first blind person to lead climb the Old Man of Hoy, which is the focus of the multi award winning documentary Climbing Blind, and has been recognised as a Guinness World Record.

Biography

Jesse Dufton was born severely sight impaired due to a genetic and degenerative condition, rod-cone dystrophy. Nevertheless, he began rock climbing as soon as he could walk and became a fully-fledged climber aged eleven despite his lack of sight.

At university his climbing exposed him to the effects of climate change first-hand and this inspired him to study a Ph.D. researching solar cell materials. During his postgraduate studies Jesse’s vision further deteriorated and he lost the last of his useful sight and with it his ability to read. With his ingenuity and the aid of text-to-speech software he completed his doctorate and began a career in the clean energy sector, moving to work on hydrogen fuel cells. Jesse has risen to hold a senior position in a global fuel cell firm, picking up a postgraduate certificate in Intellectual Property Law along the way.

Jesse organised a self-supported expedition to Arctic Greenland. In this month-long trip to the inaccessible and seldom visited Stauning Alps he summited two previously unclimbed mountains, a feat few sighted climbers will ever achieve and a world first for a blind person. With temperatures ranging from minus fifteen to minus thirty throughout, a serious near-fatal incident and the gruelling conditions of polar exploration, Jesse demonstrated his mental toughness, ability to lead in a crisis and how to build a strong, cohesive, and diverse team. 

Jesse is also a world class competition climber and joined the GB Paraclimbing Team. He has won medals at multiple international competitions and World championships. Jesse’s competition experience has honed his ability to excel under pressure and deal with the mental demands of high expectations.  

He is best known for scaling the Old Man of Hoy. This was the focus of the internationally acclaimed documentary Climbing Blind, which stunned climbers and non-climbers alike, Jesse’s achievement was recognised with an official Guinness World Record and a parliamentary motion. The Old Man of Hoy is a 137m tall freestanding sandstone pillar which rises directly from the sea in Scotland’s Orkney archipelago, it is considered a jewel of British climbing and is known internationally. The fact that on Hoy, as with all his notable climbs, Jesse led and completed them on the first attempt without rehearsal, generally referred to as “on-sight”, is what sets him apart, and is the basis of the great respect he has earned in the climbing community.    

Not one to rest on his laurels, Jesse has continued to increase the difficulty of his climbing, taming the infamous Forked Lightning Crack in Heptonstall, Yorkshire, and the imposing line of Internationale on the Isle of Skye, each of these representing successive progression through the difficulty scale used by climbers and setting new high points for blind climbers.

Jesse’s talks allow him to share the mindset and mental tools which underpin his numerous achievements, from managing fear, overcoming obstacles through ingenuity, and dealing with a crisis in hostile environments. He deftly balances humour and harrowing anecdotes with keen insight into performance, diversity, teamwork, and sustainability from a unique viewpoint. His achievements and outlook in the face of his disability are hugely inspiring and the fact that he has achieved such success in the sporting and corporate worlds allows him to understand and relate the key attributes which underpin success universally.

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