Thursday, 17 January 2013

Sunshine mountain

Finally I understand. This is what climbing is really about. It's about climbing mountains. People have always said to me, climbing is about getting outside, getting hands and feet on rock. When I did that at crags, it didn't make sense. Repetitive, slow, mundane, got less out of it than I got by going to the indoor climbing wall where I got a high volume of exercise, great cake and a social life. I thought climbing outside would make it part of a journey. If there's one thing in life I enjoy, it's a journey. A to B, not round in circles.

I love long distance walking, consecutive days, carrying pack or not carrying pack. I love the feeling of travel. Offa's Dyke path was one of my best endeavours ever. I love it too on the bike, Mary Towneley loop over two days was just awesome, a feeling of travelling, even though it is a big circle. Sea Kayaking has always held similar promise. I like to move it move it.

And finally today, climbing became what it should be. For the first time in my life, I climbed a mountain. I mean, yes, I've been to the tops of mountains before, walking, sometimes even with crampons, occasionally involving scrambling, but today I climbed to the top of the mountain. Walked to the base through boulder fields and snow, slow progress negotiating big lumpy pieces of landscape. Upwards through snow drifts, upwards through rocks. Upwards, always upwards. No vegetation other than the occasional moss patch, no trees, no grasses, the climate simply too severe to support life in quantity. Crickets now and then leapt out of the way, even in the snow.

Then we began to climb. The shoulders of the mountain starting off wide and shallow, two people moving together on a rope, scrambling, hands now and then reaching out for rock. The ridge became narrower, it became steeper, rocks became bigger, parts of the mountain, no longer window dressing. Climbing became more involved, hands over hands over hands over feet, feet, feet and feet. Clanking of metal on rock, and short sharp phrases floating between us through the air. Climb, cleaning, on belay, off belay. Many many repeats, many meetings to swap leads, to return gear, just us and the mountain, climbing. Doing what climbing is really for. Together we arrived at the summit, in the middle of a glorious blue day, around us simply mountain, simply rock, simply air and snow. In the distances lakes, Mount Aspiring, Mount Cook, a panorama of challenge but all of it remote and irrelevant because we're here, at the top, climbing the mountain.

And then of course we head downwards, three Abseil pitches see us start on our way, gliding down between two shoulders of rock, skirting thick snow in the gullies, finally existing the narrow slit into yet another snow field. Crampons. Axes. Exhilaration and joy.

Tired, aching, sore, happy. I finally climbed a mountain.

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