National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Meet the adventurer

Paralympic cyclist Steve Bate MBE


You’re the first visually impaired person to have solo climbed El Capitan, in California’s Yosemite National Park. What inspired you to do this?

I’ve always been fascinated with mountains and the outdoors, but I didn’t get into profession­al rock climbing until I moved to the UK from New Zealand and started working my way through the challengin­g process of becoming an alpine guide. However, in 2011 I received a diagnosis: retinitis pigmentosa. They told me the worstcase scenario would be blindness in four years. I lost my driver’s licence, stopped climbing and got really depressed — who’d want to trek into the mountains with a blind guy?

Then a friend of mine, Andy Kirkpatric­k, an expert in rope soloing, suggested I climb El Capitan before I went blind. He planted the seed and certainly gave me something to focus on. I wanted to prove — not to anyone else, but to myself — that I could still be who I wanted to be; that I could live a life of adventure without my disability holding me back.

What did you learn about yourself from the whole experience?

After spending six days on that wall, in 2013, something clicked. When I reached the summit, I thought that if I can do this, I can do anything. I’d been a climber for a decade and had always wanted to try El Cap, yet I’d always made excuses not to go. All it ever really boils down to is the fear of failure, which is probably the thing that stops most people from achieving their dreams.

How did this lead to you cycling for the Paralympic­sGB team?

Getting to the Rio Paralympic­s in 2016 seemed like an impossible dream, but it was the perfect challenge after El Cap. I had a willingnes­s to try hard and an attitude to always give my best. For British Cycling, it was a case of ‘if he can climb that on his own, then he’s got the right mindset about what it takes to achieve’.

The world record for cycling from Cairo to Cape Town is 41 days, 10 days and 22 minutes — set by Mark Beaumont in 2015. You’re planning to do it in just 25 days next year. How is that possible?

Mark travelled completely solo, which involved arranging his own food and places to camp. It’s an adventurou­s way to go, but it’s also time you lose when you could be riding. Mark is fully supportive of my approach and he’s even come on board as my adviser and mentor. My aim is to average 250 miles a day; some days, I’ll come up short and hopefully others I’ll get a few extra miles in the bank. For example, northern Ethiopia looks horrifical­ly mountainou­s — I’ll have back-to-back days of climbing 6,000 metres, which is going to be insane.

I spend so much of my time riding around in circles, so to be able to go on an adventure like this and see new things every day really excites me. No other para-athlete has gone after a world record of this magnitude.

How do you prepare for long-distance journeys?

I’ve been doing local bikepackin­g [biking with luggage in panniers] trips to test myself. For example, when I rode the length of Scotland from Coldstream, on the border, right up to Tongue, at the top, I chose to ride through the Cairngorms National Park. I wanted to know how I’d cope mentally. This is where a lot of riders can get unravelled, but for me, the point where I just want to get off is the space where I can learn about myself.

What advice would you give to those coming to terms with a challengin­g new disability?

It’s important to look towards a goal of where you want to be, but equally important to work it back to where you are. Ask yourself what small thing you can do today to make tomorrow easier, break it down into bite-size pieces and always try to remove emotion from the equation. Success is never a straight line. If you can accept that, adapt along the way and always keep your end goal in mind, then you’ll have the ingredient­s to succeed.


Scottish-New Zealander Steve Bate MBE is a member of the Paralympic­sGB team and an ambassador for Elliot Brown Watches

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