John shares his ‘Adventures with Sight Loss’

Expedition: Pyrenees: Expedition Skills Course (7 day)

John Churcher

After our recent season of Winter Skills courses came to an end we couldn’t help reminiscing on what an amazing bunch of people that came along for the adventure. John Churcher was one of the adventurers to join the ranks. John’s success on the course was even more impressive as a deafblind person who is relatively new to the outdoor realm and since jumping in with both feet has gone on to achieve many great things- including representing Great Britain in climbing.


Let’s hand it over to John to share his experiences of the outdoors, how he bucks the ‘special treatment’ and his time on the 360 Winter Skills course.

“I came across outdoor activities and adventure later in my life. As a deafblind person in my early years, my parents thought that keeping me safe at home was the best thing to do. Fast forward 30 odd years, I discovered climbing and quickly fell in love with it.

I guess the way I experienced the outdoors is only different from others in that I can’t see it. I can still hear it, smell it and touch it and I still get the sense of exposure when climbing or doing a scramble.

The one thing that is different is how I do all of those things. I have an awesome adventure buddy called Lauren. Without her, things would be very different. She is my eyes when we are out adventuring and she tells me what our surroundings are like. When hiking I will hold onto the back of her backpack so that way I can follow her exactly and she does not have to talk constantly telling me every foot placement.

Over ten years ago I was introduced to climbing and that changed my life. I did it casually for about 3 years and then thought I would like to take it further. This led me to discover there was a National series I could get involved in, I entered and with my results I was picked to represent Great Britain. I was on the team for 7 years, took part in 3 world championships and managed to win 6 international medals and had a highest world ranking of 3.

Lauren and I did a Winter Skills course at the beginning of 2022 in Scotland and really liked it. Afterwards, we wanted to experience another one which is when we came across 360 Expeditions and their Expedition Skills course in the Pyrenees.

As a deafblind person, I’m always aware that I may be treated differently to someone without a disability. When we do anything, we always make sure that people know I’m deafblind and hope for a positive response… Only time would tell how it would go!

We spent time ahead of the trip preparing and making sure we had all the equipment we needed. Before we knew it, we had landed in France to meet our guide, Rolfe, for the week and the adventure was about to begin.

After spending a night in a hotel, we drove to our start point on the Spanish side of the border. Our kit was ready, and we were given snow shovels, avalanche probes and a transceiver to add to our pack to make use of later on in the week. Next, snow shoes were handed to us ready for our journey to the mountain refuge- I’d never seen or touched snow shoes before – and we were off! Donning the snow shoes, we left the carpark and after nearly 6km and a good few hours of walking we reached our destination. The hut which we would call home for the next few days. The weather was awesome.

Over the next week, we would refresh what we had already learned and gain lots more skills. One of the first things we did was to learn how to self-arrest with an ice axe. I think this was the first time Rolfe had worked with a deafblind person and I’m never sure how things will go when meeting someone new but it couldn’t have been better. Rolfe didn’t give me any special treatment and just expected me to have a go just like anyone else. This is exactly what I wanted and this continued for the rest of the trip.

winter skills course with 360 expeditions

Over the coming days we would cover crevasse rescue, glacier travel, avalanche awareness and how to locate someone who is buried by an avalanche. Our final full day begun with learning how to jumar up a rope, and on this occasion, it was used to simulate getting ourselves out of a crevasse. In the afternoon, we had a mini summit to climb although it wasn’t the planned one as the avalanche risk was too high. As we set off, we took it in turns to be at the front which was not that easy as the snow hadn’t been trodden down. Throughout the climb, we would pause and have discussions on the surroundings and potential risks. We reached the summit at about 4 o’clock, greeted with awesome views and a great sunset. It was particularly great for me as I was at the front breaking the trail so had front row ‘seats’ to the view.

All the while, I was treated as someone who didn’t have a disability which was amazing and a great credit to Rolfe. Well done Rolfe, I salute you!

Where next? Well that’s always a good question and the honest answer is at the time of writing I haven’t got a clue. I like to believe that when the right adventure comes along I’ll think ‘yes’ that’s the one and off we’ll go.”

We love that adventurous attitude and can’t wait to see what you put your mind to next! Hopefully see you on a mountain again soon, John!

If you would like to stay up to date with John’s adventures, head over to his Facebook page!

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