John’s old Renault rolled up to the front door held to gather by rust and orange paint, it was a bright herald of freedom. God, Sundays were dull, all snoring and greyness. Especially in the winter, when playing outside was a muddy damp experience.
It was 7am and bitterly cold as I closed the door leaving behind me a house locked in Calvinistic guilt, and the perception of fun-less oppression. With the car heater as max and still totally ineffective, through the frost haze John guided the rusting freedom rain towards the locked stalkers gate near Garve.
In those days the chain and its many padlocks was often open, so the early morning visit to the stalkers house was avoided. The resistance to a Sunday morning disturbance for something as frivolous as climbing was always palpable as the key was reluctantly passed from gnarled wooden hands in to my excited youthful grasp. The private road to the lodge is 7 miles of ice pushing and bottoming out on snowdrifts. But every precious meter was two less steps in the icy wind. Parking in a drift off the main track we gazed at the huge cliff as the sun eked its way up through he leaden winter sky. It was plastered in snow and ice, the obvious recent thaw line cutting across the heather just below the crag. John had been spying a huge line with good potential for a new route and today conditions looked perfect.. We got to the cliff base cut out a ledge in the snow and had a quick flask coffee before strapping on our crampons and arming ourselves with our ice axes.
John took the lead weaving an intricate and completely unprotected line up the centre of the huge buttress. After 120feet of chopping, scraping and frozen turf, John stopped, hammered in a warthog ice dagger and belayed me up to the stance. My lead now, I moved out right on to a an ice covered slab, the crampon points were useless on the ice, as its cosmetic layering was just to thin to provide a solid enough base to stand on. I brushed off, as much of the surplus snow as I could to reveal the rock slab below, balancing on the steel points attached to my boots, progress was balance, luck and faith. Totally absorbed and completely engrossed in the task ahead, I inched up the slab, 20 feet out from the belay I found an ice choked crack and tapped in a metal protection nut, more use physiologically than providing any real protection my faith in this piece of rope and steel was enough for me to keep foraging up the cliff. A large lump of frozen turf received my axe blow with a welcome dull thud; this for me signified the end of the difficulties on the route. John and I traded another two leads to the summit ridge. Back at the car we looked in self-congratulatory awe at the huge wall we had climbed, a new route, at piece of history that we made, a first ascent. For 35 years this has been my religion, it has its own stories its own dogmas, martyrs and saints, its own preachers and sinners. However for me, instead of oppression, and limitation, instead of rules and godly guilt, climbing has brought me closer to the heavens and the earth, and offered me magical freedom, at best it’s a deeply meditative absorbing worship, at worst a chance to put you hands on the rocks that our world is built on. May your god go with you?