The smell of the thyme and crushed rosemary wafts across the hillside as the last rays of the sun dip behind the snow capped peaks. Huge Corsican pines stand on the hillside, the hardiest silhouetted on the ridges against the dying late autumn sun. A pair of Ravens wheel and talk to each other high above our heads catching the last warm up drafts of warm air at the days end.
We are in the Vallee de la Restonica in central Corsica, and my god its beautiful. There are few places that touch the sensory buttons like this; it has a wild, ancient impenetrable beauty, so rarely experienced in Europe. Its granite mountains are huge and impressive, its tree filled valleys soft and shaded. At this time of year the countryside is bursting with the colours of another dying season. Reds, yellows, fire bursts of orange. The complexity of the topography, the pouring boulder filled rivers, the dusty vineyards all combine to create a picture of a land of such huge contrasts that could not fail to make an impression. We are here to climb, to eke out a few more pitches on dry rock before the silent snows arrive. The rock is turning from orange to ochre as the sun leaves the cliff, almost immediately it goes from tee-shirt hot to fleece cool, and whilst the rock will retain the days warmth for an hour or so more, this change heralds the mystical turning of the clock from climbing time to the magical beer o’clock.
But before we pack up the climbing detritus, count the carabineers, coil the rope and drink the last of the day’s supply of water I have one more thing to do. Its been a while since I have been on a trip where the focus has been on the climbing, life just seems to have been in the way; the daily tasks simply leaving little time to find the required hours for the selfish pursuit of my vertical world. I need a little test, a reminder of what I can do if I push, and not to simply climb easy routes from memory or autopilot.
The rope is secured at the top of the cliff, so the stress of leading is taken out of the equation, leaving no chance of taking a knee grinding elbow scraping whipper (fall). I ask for a tight rope at the base of the climb as I would hit the ground in the first 2 meters just on the stretch of the rope. I pull off the ground onto the small sharp starting holds. The change of gear is evident, it’s a reminder of days and years in the past, hard pulling, on small granite edges, the feeling of being light and free on the rock, of looking quickly to work out the sequences, the pressure of crystal under skin, sore, pressing deep into the stuff of being.
I can feel myself become alive, the controlled aggression required to climb well, is dredged up from deep within my soul, where it has lain dormant for over a year. It comes up from the soles of my feet with a rush of adrenaline, a fighting shout, a grunt of power (what remains) to the crushing tips of my fingers. It’s a reminder of what commitment feels like, the desire to succeed, the hunger, the over riding the fear of falling. It’s a window into a long gone youth. But more pertinently it’s a reflection; a mirror so blatantly held up against my face, the only thing that’s holding me back is me, my own fear of failure.