Monday, 5 April 2010

Easter Weekend

A view of Greystones, Sheffield

A Swan at Rubicon Wall

Some King Cups at Cressbrook

Nige attempting Beau Geste E6 6c, Froggatt

A Reminisce

Hot Tin Roof on the Catstone at Bosley Cloud. It’s a majestic piece of Staffordshire esoterica which can be found half a mile inside Cheshire.

It was going to be a daunting solo. It had been a big deal to lead. And the precarious crux, twelve metres above a rock, was protected by good cams.

Waking at six o’clock there was no time to dither. It had started as whimsy and within hours had become my entire purpose. Getting dressed quickly but quietly, without waking my parents and their questions, I escaped down the stairs. A banana and a bottle of water were put in my bag alongside my boots and chalk bag. A minimal inventory.

Excitement and doubt were my companions as I set off. Pedalling and thinking. It was a cloudy morning. Spring was well under way and it was mild. Despite the early hour the atmosphere was light. The sun was obscured by milky cloud, but you could tell it was already high in the sky.

A slight wind was invigorating and comforting. Sweaty fingertips could make this a lot more harrowing than it needed to be. A good breeze should keep them dry enough for the task in hand.

Making my way along the canal towpath, I meditated on how familiar this journey had become. Bitten by the climbing bug, and lucky enough to be within a cycle ride of decent rock, few chances to climb were wasted.

However this was the first jaunt that had taken place before school. The satisfaction of achievement was buoying my already adrenalin-fuelled mood. I thought about my school friends still in bed. Dreaming of scooters and girls.

After a mile I turned off the canal. The lane that crossed the bridge and passed the sleeping farm soon kicked into a climb. Cool temperatures made it easy this morning. Keenness helped too.

It was nice to do the climb alone. I had been getting sick of trailing my friend’s racing bike up this hill. The sight of him serenely gliding up, opening up the gap between himself and my fat tyres had become a lowlight of our trips out. Today, with nothing going faster than me, and a soloists burden on my back, it was almost a pleasure.

Effortlessly coasting along the canal had left plenty of room for uncertainty. The relentless and physical slog narrowed my mind and left less room for doubt.

And besides, I’d told my friend what my plan was the previous evening. Still buzzing from leading my first E1, the thought occurred to solo it the following morning. He said I wouldn’t dare do it.

After leaving my bike in the usual hiding place my nerves stepped up a gear. It was half an hour since I’d left the house and the world still seemed deathly quiet. As the path came out of the woodland up onto the spine of the hill the Cheshire Plain came into view. Utterly still. The butterflies in my stomach seemed at odds with the the rest of the slumbering world.

The view had led to an odd little thought. The thought that it might be the last time I see it. The adventure was becoming all too real in my mind. Doubt was on the verge of toppling the whole adventure. Why was I here? I could still be in bed. Safe and warm.

It felt like I had gone too far to back out now. I was scolding myself. I thought about lying, saying I’d done it anyway. No. What’s the point? Thoughts of how easy it felt last night were battling against the fear.

Approaching the route from above, I was surprised to see my chalk from the previous evening still there when I looked down. I found it comforting, that my past self would guide me through the crux. A feeling washed over me, telling me it was back on. I felt good again. I got my water out and took a sip. My mouth had become very dry.

With my boots on and chalk bag round my waist, I realised I had forgotten a beer towel to dry my feet at the bottom. I headed down anyway. To my relief the ground was bone dry. And waiting at the bottom was my beer towel.

This reminder of how recently I had been here, how recently I had cruised the route, was further encouragement. I needed it. My heart was beating furiously. Mixed up. Lonely. Driven. Hesitant. Excited. Shitting it.

I stepped onto the slab. The first few moves were easy. The bottom third was dirty and I sporadically cleaned my shoes on my trouser legs. My mind was calmer now. Focused on the task in hand. Just follow the chalk. Whatever you do just don’t let go and you’ll be all right. First rule of climbing and all that.

A third of the way up the real climbing started. Much to my surprise I was enjoying it. As I gained height my knotted stomach was untangling itself. This was thrilling. Liberating. Controlled. Even moving past the gear placements without putting something in didn’t faze me. I felt like Jerry.

The crux section passed by without me noticing. Arriving at the ledge which marked the end of the difficulties my awareness snapped back to a wider reality. The last two minutes had seemed timeless. Just me and the pockets. Vivid yet forgotten.

Now I had to force myself to concentrate again. Two more moves to go… And I was there. Back at the top it was a different place to the oppressive rostrum of a few minutes ago. Absolute euphoria engulfed me. I had got away with it. It felt like my extreme adventures had started. And it was still only ten past seven in the morning.

Thoughts of the real world started to come back. School, breakfast, girls and scooters.

I took one last look at the view. The clouds were letting a little more light into the world as the sun rose further behind them. It looked glorious. I congratulated myself for being here before turning to walk back to the bike. I broke into a run.