What are the additional challenges that being d/Deaf adds to the already highly challenging pursuit of climbing?
Communication is extra challenging for me as a deaf climber. I can only lip read at close distances – even at five meters away, it’s still not easy for me. If someone says something during a hard route, I have to stop what I’m doing and look down, which uses up my energy and it can sometimes get frustrating. Since I’m often not able to clearly hear a climber shout commands, I’ve had to learn to adapt. One thing that helps is to pair up with a climbing partner that I know well and who is easy to communicate with. This is key for me to guarantee that the climbing day will go smoothly.
Another way I’ve adapted is to master hand signals. I have come up with a system to communicate with partners which is very handy, especially if we’re both out of sight or the wind is too loud to hear our commands. For example, when the climbing leader is ‘safe’ at the next belay anchor, they will powerfully tug the rope(s) three times. Feeling my harness being pulled three times is the signal telling me that I can take the belay device off and respond back to the leader, “Off belay!” The leader then takes in all the rope(s), puts me on belay and signals back to me with another tug of the rope(s) that it’s safe to start climbing. This system means I can take out a less experienced partner. With them, I tend to aim for an easier route so I can keep them within my sights at all times. As a last resort and backup plan, my climbing partner and I can text each other.
How have you learned to overcome these challenges to climb at the high intensity that you do?
Finding a climbing partner can be challenging due to my hearing. It’s the hobby I’m most passionate about, yet there are days I can’t summon the energy to meet an unfamiliar person. The work of lip reading and generally understanding them uses up a lot of extra brain power. Plus, it’s easy for the other person to forget how much work it is due to the fact that I have good speech. Keeping my climbing partners consistent helps me to overcome the challenges. We share experiences and grow together from our mistakes.
Not long after I learnt to lead climb, I started climbing with Jamie and he is now my husband. Jamie has been my main climbing partner ever since and we’ve experienced everything together, from small days out to epic adventures. Since we know each other’s climbing styles so well, we don’t talk whilst we’re climbing, so we’re probably the quietest couple at the crag! Jamie is more experienced than I am, so he pushes me out of my comfort zone. I am very grateful he does and it has been worth a few tears! I’m fortunate enough to have my husband as my main climbing partner. With Jamie and my close climbing friends, I can focus on climbing and have fun without too much lip reading stress/anxiety because they are deaf aware and we know how to communicate with each other.