Rock-fall! SHIT! Where are they, sounds above...SHIT!! Nowhere to go, can't jump either, pretty piss-poor attempt at armour this helmet is.....
Fuck it where are they???
To the mountaineer, there are certain unmistakable sounds that are instant pulse-accelerators, and large pieces of terra firma falling from above is high up there on the list.
My heart was in my throat, my pallet parched from fright, my mind wildly alive and my pulse was very definitely RACING. Thankfully I could still hear the chaos manifesting itself around me, thus implying that I was still alive. As it turns out, the said chaos was a result of some morning entertainment for a troop of Baboons perched atop the ridge and trundling stove sized blocks (much like little kids) of Basalt from the crest...behind me. And me? I was mid-way up the first pitch of "Escarpment Arête" on the Column, with only my thoughts for company. And I was not thinking any personally endearing thoughts at the moment!
The human spirit amuses me no end. We fool ourselves into immortality, and then when the going gets tough and the tangibility of life is thrust upon us by impending disaster, we recede to faith or philosophy to bolster hope or martyrdom. I was but 15m into my chosen method of self glorification, when the going got scary: I said a prayer and then reasoned that if this was it, rather be hit by a falling rock than a buss!? But then as the noise died down, I realised the cause, and suddenly my mind returned to success and vanity. So onwards I forged, forgetting Paul's advice – after ridiculing my plan to rope-solo the Escarpment Arête, he felt it prudent to offer wisdom.... "Tristan, don't be fooled left by the pitons, step right as soon as possible..." The words echoed crisply only after I found myself 15ft above my last piece of gear with nowhere to go. No, make that 30ft – the last wire just popped! Well, down climbing this should be fun.
Back at the start of the pitch / route, I began coiling my ropes, I had embraced fate once to often in the last twenty minutes – this was my first route of its grade and I was soloing it! Simply put, I was in over my head. They say that one must bottom out before one can soar again, I spent 10min in morbid turmoil as I suffered the realisation that I was no wonder kid, and that the grandeur was but delusional.
But was I really prepared to give up the dream? What about the eternal Hollywood theme – stirring music and a determined hero...they always succeed?
Up and right I went, desperately hoping that the route would give up if I got through the initial barriers, my rudimentary self belay slowly becoming more practiced and then I was at the start of the crux - only a momentary hick-up en route, on the second pitch as I got my rope Z clipped (when rope-soloing, it is imperative that one clips the anchored end of the rope into the protection as apposed to the trailing end) and had to rappel from halfway off a single piece to clean it, and then jummar to my high point. The crux very nearly went free, with a wild lunge of the hand as I pulled on a piece of gear as the clove-hitch locked and I ran out of rope, then to the top of the pitch. Finding secure anchors to rapp off each pitch in order to clean my gear was probably the most insecure aspect of the climbing, and each was racked with doubt – I really didn't see the point in being found dead at the base of this majestic spire, still attached to my rope via my rappel device: with my rappel points also still attached to the end of the rope, but at each grass and earth infested rapp point the thought did cross my now almost hallucinogenic mind!
By the time I got to the top of the 4th pitch and easy climbing lay ahead, I was so mentally exhausted from the continual concentration needed for route finding, rope work and fear management that I coiled my ropes and proceeded free soloing to the summit being careful not to climb anything that I didn't think I could down climb. And then suddenly there was no more rock above me, nothing left to climb.
Oh, well I guess that was the point, wasn't it?
Just the breathtaking view, the feeling of deep thankfulness, and the chance to scrawl something in the summit book, alongside legends. It was almost nostalgic : reliving the history of others and imagining their experiences and, for a moment, those legends were nothing more than what we make them – men and women who have been elevated by others as a result of their accomplishments. Part of the purpose of my climb was to prove my self-sufficiency to myself, but crouching atop the summit brought upon a deep desire to share that moment with someone. The paradox was worth a smile, however, reasoning it in my state was futile so I hurriedly added my thoughts into the summit book, took one last look and headed for my ropes.
Some weeks later with no discernible life altering impact from my adventure, I reminisced. Ultimately I had gotten what I had wanted – I succeeded in summiting what was for me a very bold and challenging undertaking, at a time when I was searching for answers to life's more challenging aspects. Sadly however I discovered that the perceived rewards of the undertaking are not always as simplistically straightforward as one would hope. In truth "the perfect climb" is as elusive as eternal bliss, often leaving the feeling of incomplete satisfaction. In essence this is why I (we?) continue to climb, to continue pushing the envelope, always selfishly searching for more fulfillment from the entire exercise as if obsessed by the notion that there is a single answer that will absolve me (us?) of the need to climb. I (we?) am (are?) on an eternal quest for elusive answers.