A walk (Warke) in space
Wendy didn’t like the look of it, peering around the corner a line of in cut holds chased across a piece of beautiful greenish rock a few meters above the sea.
We argued and I got grumpy, my temper rising as her back walked away from me up the hill. Sitting on a rock, arms on my knees chin on arms I could feel tears welling up. Weeks of no climbing and now this, a perfect sea cliff, dry rock and calm blue sea, I felt strong but now all adrenaline and ego welled up into frustration.
With no stalwart partner I had no choice, go home or find somewhere less threatening to climb, I didn’t have the energy or grown up brain to deal with that.
Pulling on my shoes I knew what I had to do, climb the route, solo, no rope, no safety, no banter, and no shared experience. Dipping my hand deep into chalk that hung from a bag on my waist I watched as with the first touch of rock it left a white smear on the first hold, flakes of chalk dust floated in the air like stars.
I was off, climbing crabwise along the line, overhang above me, sea below, so far I was safe and a slip would just get me wet and end the day, no drama. The climb reared up to the right and around a corner, higher and higher until the sea was no longer an option as a safety net. Looking back where I had come the white chalk marking my route made me smile; I was climbing and climbing well. Rounding the corner I kept looking back and I stopped on an airy tiny ledge, the rest of the climb luring me outwards and upwards. Something clicked, a feeling of loneliness, a feeling of loss and I began reversing the moves I had already made reterning to the safety of the normal world.
Back on the grass, standing on the rock I had been sitting my grumpy self on I berated myself for being such an idiot, why had I backed off? Why do I get so grumpy? Setting off again my mind was clearer, less woozy with grief and anger.
The rock moved past me like an asteroid belt and I was back on my perch below the meat of the climb. Good holds kept appearing and I was calm, so calm I could have already died, fallen from my perch and dashed on the rocks, my brain still firing synapses into a dream. I wasn’t dead, I was in the zone, hundreds of climbing days will only ever produce one day like this if you are lucky and I was the luckiest man alive, in my element, calm, not dead.
I found myself on a weird perched seat of a ledge, hanging over the lower half of the climb slightly and stuck out in space, I felt like an astronaut stepping out on an EVA, leaving my craft for the mercy of deep space. Sitting on the platform I contemplated my situation, return was now impossible or at least difficult, I still felt calm, drugged by the surroundings and taste of the sea. The rock above me now swung left towards more crab wise shuffling across sharp and solid holds, I could see the line teasing me, allowing a glimpse of thigh and a cheeky wink.
Success was only 100ft or so away but the climbing remained sustained and hiding behind a veil with dark eyes , leaving my spacecraft I floated, not falling but gliding across stone, weightless and guided but with no bulky space suit, just a t-shirt, lycra (yes it was the 90’s!!) and chalk . Below the sea had picked up, white caps danced on the sparkling blue and the once light breeze whipped up as I rounded the final corner.
Suddenly I could see Wendy peering nervously over the edge, her pig tails blowing upwards her face a stern pursed lipped scowl. As she saw me a gentle smile cracked, her hair still flailing in the upward draft, I began to laugh as I saw a look of resignation spread around her features, ‘I knew you would do that’ she said, ‘you idiot’. The earlier argument was forgotten, apparently she had been scanning the sea expecting to see me floating face down after plummeting from the route, and I felt remorse and understood. She must have been so stressed during the 2 hours it took me to climb, but what she didn’t know is that I had taken a walk in space....and back
‘Account of a solo ascent or Astral Stroll E1 5b Cornwall’