Back on Rock

With gear dusted off and superb mountain conditions lying ahead, confidence and excitement brimmed: ultra-classic, moderately-difficult and traditionally-protected routes were going to be slain left, right and centre.

‘Watch me!’ The Highlands bathed in glorious evening light, Martin was halfway up the pitch, and his confidence was evaporating. ‘. . . this looks like the bold bit,’ he gibbered, the quiver of his leg increasing. 

Rob fumbled anxiously with the ropes, unsure whether to shout encouragement, remain silent or suggest retreat. ‘Can you see any gear?’

The supportive intent of the question was lost on the leader; it was interpreted as a challenge. As if spring had arrived, ‘nest building’ must begin – though not before the most strenuous position on the route was attained. Moving from his stance, Martin found some minuscule holds. These perfectly complemented the slippery, black sloping rock onto which he smeared his feet. A precarious perch that allowed access (though only just) to an awkward-looking crack into which some gear could be fiddled. He grabbed a karabiner from his harness. ‘Aye, these will go perfectly in this crack. Can’t beat offset nuts.’

The sun crept out of sight, the golden evening turned to dusk and a cool breeze blew down the glen. Rob shivered. It’s ok, he thought. Martin will place some gear, pull though the crux and we’ll be away. 

A nut was placed. ‘Nice one,’ Rob called up, but once again, the intent was lost. Martin shook out, fighting the lactic in his arms. Months of hard-earned fitness at the wall invested in a single body position. He clung to the crux holds and, judging by the noises he was making, was suffering from an unrecoverable pump. He reached down to his harness again. One nut was not enough.

The seasons changed. A cold, hard winter set in. Martin wasn’t giving up. Two nuts were now lodged into the complex and confusing features of the rock. Lactic acid levels were critical. The tongue of a glacier slithered past, its icy, blue body groaning as it reclaimed the valley.

‘Better to be safe than sorry!’ shouted Martin, oblivious to the passage of a geological era.

Fingers clutching at edges, toes stabbing into cracks, and with the fluidity of a bag of nails, the heroic leader inched towards success. One move, shake. Another move, shake. Reverse, shake . . .

On finally reaching the belay above, Rob confirmed that, even though he was on second, the route was not that difficult and had been climbed in poor style. With nothing more to add and ropes thrown down, they abseiled into the night.

Walking back to camp, Martin and Rob reflected. First day back on rock you’re going to feel a little rusty, but tomorrow is a new day. Yes, a new day . . . with a dented confidence, a little more humility and modified expectations.

Creator’s biography

Rob shares his time between his young family, working at the Press, climbing and mountain biking. Given the availability of time, and direct relationship between availability of time and production of writing, the majority of his creative output takes the form of photography, little of which has been published. Formerly driven by numbers and rate of product, he now (mostly) relishes the complete experience provided by the outdoors, the people he shares it with, and the inspiration and growth these two things can provide.