Meet the Cambridge student climbing a mountain blindfolded for charity
Ed Smith, a second year at St John’s, is going to attempt to climb a Thai mountain blindfolded to raise money for the RNIB
On a sunny day in the gardens of St John’s College, I sat down with Ed Smith, a second-year philosophy student, to discuss his bold fundraising plan for the summer.
Over the summer, Ed will be travelling to South-East Asia for three months. Halfway through this trip, Ed will blindfold himself for seventy-two hours non-stop. “One of those days, I’m going to climb a mountain whilst blindfolded”, and he will be guided by his girlfriend Eimear. “I’m going to go somewhere visually stunning and I’m not going to be able to see a single moment of it.” He will be blinded with a Paralympic grade blindfold.
His intended climbing target is Khao Chang Phueak, a stunning mountain which is “1250 metres. It’s pretty high. […] You walk along the ridge of the mountain spine. It’s pretty dangerous.” He was remarkably relaxed about the scale of the challenge he has set himself, though: “I’ve done absolutely no practice thus far. I’m probably going to spend a few hours blindfolded beforehand, test it out.”
Ed’s motivation is to fundraise for the Royal National Institute of Blind People through his JustGiving page. “I’m thinking if I raise enough money, I’ll be at the top of this mountain, somewhere outrageously beautiful and I’ll be so desperate to take off my blindfold. The best way of preparing is to raise as much money as I can so I have the biggest incentive possible not to take off the blindfold… First and foremost I’m doing this because I want to raise a lot of money but I have also always wanted to blindfold myself for an extended period of time because of my sister.”
His relationship with his sister
Edward’s sister, Harriet, has been blind since birth. “She’s an absolute inspiration. She’s incredible. The ways she thrives in a world designed for the sighted is mind-blowing… There’s no way any of us can possibly relate to someone who’s never been able to see. Doing that for seventy-two hours won’t come close but it might give you a little bit of a taste of how hard it is.
“At the end, I will be able to take my blindfold off, and Harriet can obviously never do that but what’s important is that we should all try and understand what it’s like to be so amazing when faced with so many challenges.”
Ed’s sister is ten years older than him, “I credit a lot of things in my life to her. My music taste being one of them. This will hopefully just give me an insight into the kind of super powers that she has. I just hope to make her proud because she makes me proud every day.”
The RNIB is an “incredible” national charity. “People probably don’t realise how big a role such a charity can play in the life of someone like my sister. One of the main joys of her life is reading and without RNIB she might have never read a book in her life because they have an RNIB library where they provide braille books.
“They help with things that sound small, things as small as reading or being able to pour your own cup of tea, being able to use an iPhone, they cover it all. Their main aim is to break down the barriers that present themselves to blind people. They do amazing work and they’re a pretty underfunded charity.”
Ed hopes to raise awareness: “People don’t realise how much of a big deal it is, so many people become blind every day.”
Ed thinks his biggest challenge will be mental, not physical. “I’m so unbothered by the physical challenge of it. The psychological challenge is going to be the biggie.” Ed’s used to climbing mountains, the blindfolded aspect is what is new and terrifying. “Studies have shown that it doesn’t take many days being blindfolded before people are having crazy hallucinations.”
He’s also aware of the challenge to his relationship: “The trust I’m going to have to have in Eimear is going to be crazy, I’m going to have to depend on her for so much I wouldn’t normally.” Ed wants people to acknowledge the extent of his girlfriend’s contribution to the challenge, “People probably don’t understand the demands of a carer and she’s going to have to be responsible for my life and for the little things like helping me put my socks on.”
The aesthetic challenge
Ed studies philosophy and his studies have influenced his understanding of the difficulties he will face. “I’m fascinated by the aesthetic side of things”. The visual experience is, as aesthetic philosophers argue, paramount to everything. “I’m just so intrigued by what kind of experience I’m going to have when you put me somewhere so incredible and just subtract the visual aspect to that experience. [..] I am looking forward to connecting with nature in a brand new way.
“I mean, I’ll probably just be crying the whole time, but let’s see.” The thought of the challenge has also given him a new awareness of the centrality of vision to our lives: “Our whole world is designed for the sighted, everything we do is so vision centric. My sister has a rich, diverse, full life but she has never had vision.”
Feature image credits: Ed Smith