Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Climbing Three Cliffs

I've never been very good at social climbing. I've never been much good at real climbing either, for that matter, but I love it, even at my current low-level of ability. Yesterday I went to Three Cliffs Bay in Gower and climbed the eponymous cliffs from the beach. It might be a cliché, but when I'm climbing I'm genuinely "in the moment", living completely in the present, without the weight of the past or future on my mind. It's a sort of temporary eternity, if you credit Japanese mystics and Wittgenstein, and I do. The petty concerns of ground level are not only left behind but wiped away forever; they might shimmer back into existence later, but on the rockface itself they not only no longer exist, but never existed. That's a clumsy way of putting it; but that's how it feels. I dare say that climbers better than me (almost every other climber) could put it into better words than that.

Getting back into climbing after a pause of more than ten years is the best thing I have done for ages. The last big climbs I did were Giewont, Rysy and Gerlach in the Tatras back in 1999. I did a few easy routes in Sardinia the following year in the Gennargentu range. Then I stopped. I'm clumsy, heavy and lazy. Too bad for me! Anyway, none of this matters: I'm enjoying it again and it's getting me into shape faster than running or cycling. It is affecting my thinking in other ways too. When I played a lot of chess I started seeing potential chess moves everywhere; so that a shadow, a fallen leaf and a discarded glove lying on the ground might look to me like a chess problem. Now I'm seeing routes up the sides of buildings, walls, rooms full of furniture and climbing everything with my eyes. I'm also reading climbing books again. Expect climbing to appear in the next short stories I write! Incidentally, the funniest book I have ever read is a lampoon on accounts of mountaineering expeditions. The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W.E. Bowman is still my favourite comedy. Why doesn't someone adapt it for the radio? Maybe I should lobby someone at the BBC about this. Why not?

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