Thursday, 12 August 2010

Spectrum Magazine 8th Aug 2010

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.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Spectrum Magazine 1st Aug 2010

Mates Rates

I don,t know how many people I have, biked, snowboarded climbed and travelled with in the course of 30 years plus of adventuring. Hundreds I am sure, some you meet for a day and you will always remember the gifts of openness and friendship they have given you, others I have travelled with half way across the 5 continents with and they have no lasting impression o me at all. Some push your buttons and make you just plain frustrated; others stay in your heart and life forever. All these encounters and meetings whether they fill your life or not are apparently all just mirrors of your own character, (so I am told). What I mean by this is that if they piss you off or make you fall in love, each soul you bounce around with somehow is just a mirror to a small part of your existence and they are there to teach you lessons of tolerance, patience, fun and frolics and inspiration.

Ok that’s the life lesson; I suppose the question is does sharing excitement, danger travel and a tent make you friends. I believe the answers is no, sure it creates a library of sheared experiences, but to a degree if you are very active you will often find yourself standing on top of a 50 degree couloir, or at the base of a climb with someone who fits into another category, a convenient pliable symbiotic relationship.

In the early years it could be a bunch of “mates” sharing a lift, cars and petrol money. Back in the distant past jerry, Roy, Jerry, Jim and I all shared a love for climbing. At the time we were climbing in the Lake District a lot and we collectively over a small student beer or two we thought that it would be a great idea to buy a wagon to transport our climbing ambitions to the far-off romance of the crags and mountains of the world.

We all had no clue about cars and as I had some time, all the others were doing “serious” degrees, I was just playing with cameras at collage, it was left to me to gather in the cash, find the buggy and make the deal. £600 quid later we were the proud owners of a huge white 10 year old Avenger Estate car (Automatic). We dutifully all inspected the car. All collectively nodding in ignorance that it at least looked nice. Friday night came and we filled the car with 5 bodies, a bunch of tents and the requisite number of loafs of bread for a long weekend in Borrowdale.

By Biggar I knew we had bought a dummy, the temperature gage seemed to be climbing a little fast. By Crawford services the bonnet was up and steam was pouring out of the radiator, we decided to go for it anyway. However slowing down seemed to require a lot of foot pumping to get the breaks to slow down the overloaded white beast. We laughed a little as we were still on our way. So at a steady 60mph. we chugged on, with the three working 3 cylinders belching smoke (I was told the timing was out,). How was I to know that the cylinder head was partially blown and the engine block cracked?

Down in the Lakes things seemed to be better, but every mile of the journey was an exercise in massive communal belief that every thing was ok and were we going to get to the cliffs. Driving at 40mph suited the beast a little better, but the fact it seemed to roll alarmingly in the corners may have suggested to those with car knowledge that the shocks were knackered. Heading into Langdale we all become a little more chipper. The campsite was in sight and we could almost taste the tinned bean supper. Climbing a little hill between the two valleys went by in a smokey trail. We found that listening to The Clash’s London calling at volume 11 helped drown out the various metallic idiosyncrasies ( grinding), a great exercise in crises management. Ignore it, until it blows up.

This happy band of rock punks were soon heading down a steeping twisty Lake District hill onto a junction with the busy A road that lead into the heart of Langdale.

A swift application of the breaks resulted in no desirable slowing of the four wheeled mobile coffin, the bald tyres screeching and bending under the weight of the out of control brute. It seemed to cause no alarm to the singing and dancing passengers in the rusty shell, which looking back was probably just held together by paint. A T-junction appeared at the end of our single-track road. A two lane road with cars flashing by and a massive looming drystone wall rushed up to the steering wheel I was holding, 30 feet from the end of the lane, suddenly the cab suddenly grew quieter as the entourage realised that I was ashen faced pumping the rusty floor pan with all my might in an effort to slow the runaway down. Some remained quiet accepting that the die hand been cast, others resorted to panic and shouted quick-fire driving instructions as we shot out off the lane without stopping, across the busy road and headed for the ancient wall. With a mighty tug on the steering wheel that could well have torn the wheel off its mountings, we scraped the wall in a plume of black smoke and steam.

With the pure force of unchecked momentum we continued up the valley in the direction of the pub. “Maybe we should get this thing checked out by someone who knows cars” I said.

Roy is now a teacher in Edinburgh, and still doesn’t pay for coffees, Jim lives in Australia, Jerry now writes climbing guides and Lives in Las Vegas and for my part I miss them all, the laughs and time and climbs we shared together.