Thursday, August 25, 2005

Over the Hill


Until recently I'd never climbed a crag. My week-end in the Lake District which should have been all about gentle ramblings and thoughts of Wordsworth's wanderings and Wainwright's pipe smoking ruminations took a slightly more challenging turn. I intended to have a physical time of it: a bit of a yomp here, a little scree-scrabbling there. Enough to increase my heart rate, stretch my legs and lungs. Enough to induce a sheen of sweat on my back and the odd tear drop of sweat to runnell through the crags of my forehead and trickle-sting my newly tested eyes. But I had no plans to flirt with danger.

The crags on my forehead had been the only crags ever to give me concern. Along with a suggestion of crowsfeet and bags around the eyes, a rumour of greying around the brows and temples. The hurtful revelations and painful reminders from the exaggerated facial scrutiny of the morning shave. But mountain crags had never caused me anxiety. Why should they? They were the preserve of those sinewy, helmeted, mad-dog mountaineers and their baggage, their check list of harnesses, pulleys,clips and ropes. And I was there for a ramble. Nothing more.

Our guide had other ideas. Crags and bags and brows were to take on more meaning for me. More than the vanity routine at the vanity suite. They only greying concerns I was about to have was to do with the swirling mists that threatened to envelop the peak. The brow of the crag I was invited to bag.

Ambleside was to be the venue of no amble. The Langdale Pikes no sideshow for the idle. The Pavey Ark cliff face was not a pretty one and the sadistic climbing route known as 'Jack's Rake'was no garden implement.

The actual climb is a bit of a blur really: A team talk. A roll call last minute: "Anyone here wimp enough to suffer vertigo?" Anyone too frightened to go up?" "If anyone would like to sit around dangling their raw feet in the restorative waters of Stickle Tarn - an achingly beautiful, cool clear mountain lake - the very embodiment of 'the calm before the perilous perform,' whilst reading their Wordsworth biog and experiencing the awful thrill of imagining Captain John Wordsworth, brother of Will, clinging to the rigging of his ship, The Earl of Abergavenny as it sank off Portland Bill, and who was of course a brave man, you can. But don't expect to leave this place with any self respect." I made that last bit up, the mock-threat, not the Wordsworth story.

And the climb began. Some men cramponing, One Man Crapping!

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