1st International Blind Climbing Comp

This weekend, my friend Koichiro Kobayashi (better known as Koba) will be running the 1st International Blind Climbing Competition, which is being held in the Chiba Prefecture (about 30 minutes from downtown Tokyo). This is a major event that is sponsored by the Japanese Mountaineering Association. I was invited to compete but regrettably I had a scheduling conflict. I climbed Kilimanjaro in 2005 with Koba, and was actually part of his wedding ceremony at the base of the mountain.
As best man, I was dressed in traditional Massai warrior robe and huge thick staff, apparently for killing lions.
Blind climbing comps have been held in Japan and Russia for the past five years, which has given them time to work out all the details. Competitors must be at least 16 years old and capable of climbing 5.10 at a minimum. They are divided into three classes: B1 is totally blind (that would be me), B2 has very slight vision, and B3 has significantly impaired vision. Climbers in the B2 class can compete in B1 if they wear an eye mask.

The first day of the comp is what climbers call the "On-Sight," which presents some problems when you are blind. In this case, I think They should call it the "non-sight." As with standard climbing comps, the competitors enter an isolation zone. One hour before their climb, the climbers are given a 3-D route description--this is a sheet of paper with the hold locations marked by raised relief--so they can "see" the climb. Then the climbers have 10 minutes to lead the route (starting from the ground, they clip the rope into carabiners as they get higher). The person who gets the highest wins. If there is a tie on height, then the fastest time wins.

The second day of the comp measures physical climbing ability. Climbers are given 15 minutes to "work" a route on a top-rope; practicing the moves and getting verbal help from a coach. When it is their turn to compete, they have 10 minutes and can again get instructions from their coach. The rankings of the comp are based on both days.

As I mentioned, Koba is leading this effort. He started climbing at age 16 and was very active leading outdoor trips. When he was 28, Koba was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which is a progressive disease that impairs vision and results in blindness. That hasn't slowed him down though. He has started a non-profit called Monkey Magic (friends used to tease that he climbed as fast as a monkey) that helps people with disabilities access the outdoors through sports like climbing.

I'm disappointed that I couldn't make it to Japan for this event. But the 2nd International Blind Competition is scheduled for July in Italy and I hope to make that one. And I can't help but wonder how guys like Chris Sharma and Daniel Woods would do playing by our rules. Maybe I should invite them to compete next year, with blindfolds of course.