For many of us, climbing is not all about the hard grades; it’s more about the setting, adventure, friends, and memories. Our final story of this week’s mini-series comes from Michaela Tracy, who tells the story of climbing with her friend Claire Jane Carter in the Lake District this summer, and the lasting impression it left.
“I like to think our ventures that day helped convince us of our courage to stand and face these tides of fortune and happenstance. I don’t know if I ever thanked you.”
“It was the summer of our discontent, we had made the journey up to the Lake District to get away from the stale and stifling heat of Sheffield; you in the van with Joe, and I sleeping alone in the Yaris. The air was different up there; it gave us space to breathe, flowed gently through our mornings spent sipping coffee in a National Trust car park, swimming in Buttermere.
By the time we’d started the hike up to High Crag it was past noon, you offered to take both ropes – the only one who would actually enjoy the walk – Joe and I split the rack. By the time we climbed halfway up the mountainside we’d left the city behind us, encircled by escarpments haloed in bright sunlight, our souls threatened to jump free and race around the ridge-line, leaving our bodies in dust.
Enough time for one route each, Joe started on ‘The Phillistine’ – a swooping arete line, the classic of the crag, we followed as a team and re-joined at the summit to discuss the abseil situation. Back on solid ground you shamed me into climbing ‘Lost Colonies’, I swept up the starting slab then gibbered my way through the lichenous crux section and onto the top. Now it was your turn, you looked for an instant as though you wished to defer; you’d not led on gear for a while, it was getting late – the crag might get cold soon, or dark…would there be time for dinner? We insisted, there was enough time.
You decided on ‘Delilah’, a route which picks its way up the right-hand side of the crag, pausing for breath on small ledges between technical sections of climbing. I kept pace on the grassy sides of the cliff, watching you fiddle in tricky wires as you worked up the resolve to make the next few moves, taking poor quality camera phone pics that we’d laugh about later, and keep as cherished memories. As the climb went on you started to move more confidently, you floated up the rock-face; defying gravity, trusting your abilities, sure-footed and shining.
We made it back to the cars before sunset, spent an evening at the Fish Inn eating onion rings and drinking golden ale, celebrating our triumph over the shadows of fear and doubt. I wonder if we know somehow back then what lay ahead; the trickle of events which would collect into a torrent and wash me thousands of miles away, over the ocean. It seemed somehow present in the cool breeze that evening – the air of a company on the eve of departure. I like to think our ventures that day helped convince us of our courage to stand and face these tides of fortune and happenstance. I don’t know if I ever thanked you.”
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