In the face of it.
Rachel had died one week before I arrived, falling from a ledge whilst moving from one section of The Buoux cliff to another. My first thought was how do we continue? Is it callous, unfeeling or somehow twisted to keep trying to cliff in the face of such loss?
Or was is better to celebrate a bright shining life and carry on climbing? Whether we took the decision to carry on climbing through self-motivation or the need to honour our life path, time alone would answer, but to stop the journey was never really an option. We were all sharing an apartment near Apt, a market town in the heart of Provence. Surrounding the quaint towns, the lavender fields, and the chi-chi galleries fill of Cezanne rip-offs are the finest collection of cliffs in France. This was where reputations were made, egos humbled and skills honed. The cliffs are steep and require iron hard skin and super lightweight bodies. I had made the mistake of trying to climb here whilst not at my peak and had my ass-spanked. This time I had prepared well for the trip. I was light and motivated to push hard and often. As the month wore on, the weather got cooler and cooler, and the conditions were perfect. Crisp autumn mornings saw the little scrawny band of climbers perched on the step of the rented apartment, sipping coffee and eating baguettes and Bonne Maman for breakfast. The vineyards were turning from green to gold, the lavender fields plump with bushes, loaded with calm inducing scent. For a while each morning we spent this lovely time before the drive to the cliffs existing like lizards, each sunrise moving from our dark cold apartment, blinking into the light, basking in its rays, seeking revitalisation and universal energy preparing for the fights ahead. The small group each focused on their own challenge, a first 7a flash, or a project somewhere in the 8th grade. United by the shared love of moving over stone but co-existing in a kind of symbiotic, parasitical environment of shared living, shared shopping and shared belay (rope holding) duties. Every morning the debate started, where would we climb today? Those holding the cards were the ones with the most time invested in a “project”, a target climb that they had started work on or wanted to do most badly. The decision also was framed by the need either to be in the sun, shade, or whether it had rained the previous day. Wonderful simple living on the face of it but underpinned by complex issues of dominance, need, and energy. Ultimately the car drivers had to have the casting vote. Today after some debate we decided to go to Volx. Volx is a small town overlooked by a huge cave with a series of famous ultra steep super climbs. Lowering off from the end of a route here can take you 10-15m away from your start point with the route over hang in some places 50degrees. It is a place for positivity, power, and speed. Having put off the inevitable for as long as was reasonable a series of twisty poplar lined roads were blasted to the crag. The excitement and energy growing as we approached the crag. Even looking at the cliff from the car park made your arms hurt with anticipation. I ambled up to the crag in the middle of our small band of pale skinned friends eyeing the incumbent French locals, the occasional loud American and the isolated German contingent. Finding a spot to lay down our packs and unpack out stuff out of the way I put my sack on the ground. I bent over to take out my climbing shoes and an apple. Someone shouted as they fell off a route only to be left dangling in space on the end of their rope. I straightened up to look, and something passed my head fast. There was a dull whisking thump. I looked down and my pack and sitting in the middle of the rucksack lid having destroyed the sac lining was a fist sized rock. It missed me by seconds and centimetres. If I had not looked up I would have been killed.
In Memory of Rachel Farmer.