To me the end of October marks the end of a 7 month climbing season – which I have somewhat artificially defined as the period of British summer time. During this time I have likely spent more weekends climbing than not – and probably procrastinated over doing any other important things in my life.
So now it’s “winter”, it should be time to get fit and strong, ready to head back into the mountains in spring and reap the rewards. Except I’m broken at the moment. So I thought I’d take some time to reflect on the 2015 climbing season.
I want to explain briefly what climbing is to me. I feel this is hard, but I’ll give it a go.
There is something quite other-worldly about life on a climbing trip. It appeals to something deep and primitive in me. Sleeping in a tent in the hills around good friends seems like a way of… breathing. It feels like a way of getting in touch with who we really are. You take away the buildings, the cars, and the smog and you’re left with nothing left on your mind but shelter, food and sleep. It’s a release; a way to erase all the unimportant facets on modern life from active consciousness. And it’s a way to feel in touch with the environment around us.
This is all before actual climbing begins. Climbing is a delicate art. I like it when it’s spicy, but I try not to let it burn me (and actually I say that like I’m climbing hard – but mostly I’m just a wuss). It’s my favourite thing in the world to be in a strenuous and exposed position, with gear a little further below me than I’d like, but with a calm head. A head that tells me I know this situation, one that tells me that I can hold the position for quite some time. My head tells me that the little crack above will perfectly seat a number 3 runner, and my body proceeds to place it with little error. This is when I feel on top of my game. Climbing is about controlling my fears and about managing risk. It’s getting to know myself and the environment around me. It’s a chance to be strong, a chance to get fit. It’s the chance to be in the worlds most beautiful and most secluded places. It’s a chance to meet some of the most relaxed and understanding people imaginable, and to be part of a great community.
And it’s great fun.
2015 has been memorable. I’ll remember training through the winter, discovering a beautiful crag by the sea in Kalymnos, eating lunch on top of mountain pinnacles in the alps, doing multipitches in the Wye valley, and long and stunningly located via-ferratas in France and Switzerland.
I’ll also remember taking a large fall in Bosigran in Cornwall, thugging up painful cracks in Hen Cloud in the peak district, angering a seagull after Joe took a whipper in Swanage, helping a party below us on a slimy and wet multi-pitch in North Wales and discovering some grubby recently developed sport climbing crag in the forest in Gower, South Wales.
And I’ll definitely remember having to self-rescue off a multi-pitch on Telendos. I’ll remember walking down a mountain at night with no food left after doing a multi-pitch trad climb and then descending a glacier. And the lightning storm – I’ll remember that until the day I die. Running to lower ground in my pyjamas at night with the sky lighting up like day every couple of seconds and bolts of lightning going off all around.
Then there’s the time spent chilling at a campsite or in a pub, the times cooking food out of a can on a gas stove, the times sleeping in the car because we failed to find anywhere to camp, the times we went for a walk in the rain because the weather didn’t agree, the times we rushed back from the crag to get to the tea rooms or the meadery.
I have left out so much. I’m not very good at actually taking photos, and very few trips actually have them.
So thank you to everyone who climbed with me in 2015. Thanks for catching me when I’ve fallen off. Thanks for laughing when everything’s wet and we spent the night cowering in the back of a van. Thanks for shouting at me to man up. Thanks for putting up with me when I’ve been difficult and stubborn. For keeping up the motivation to train, for days spent at the Castle, for enduring long drives across the country on a regular basis, for drinking with me around the imaginary camp fire. Thank you for sharing my obsession.
Let us greet 2016 with a little more focus. Let us be that little big stronger. Let us be that little bit bolder. Let’s get out there a little further away from it all, and remember that the painful epics looming are just the cherished distant memories that we still have yet to come.
See you in the mountains!