‘The Day A Moun­tain Changed My Life’


Whuissh? Sch­h­wuff? Shki­ishh? It’s im­pos­si­ble to ono­matopoe­ically recre­ate the sounds en­gulf­ing my head as I sweep in­ex­orably to­wards the gap­ing maws of the quarry wait­ing greed­ily to swal­low me whole. It was over. If you know your Norse mythol­ogy, this was Rag­narok and I was lead­ing the col­lapse into Gin­nun­ga­gap...

Three of us had cho­sen a frigid morn­ing one Fe­bru­ary to climb Con­is­ton Old Man. We talkatively strolled to Crow­berry Haws be­fore sep­a­rat­ing – my com­pan­ions fol­low­ing the path west­ward to the sum­mit while I headed for Low Wa­ter Beck, my first solo scram­ble at Grade 3S. The snow­line was con­sid­er­ably lower than ex­pected and the route fros­tily greeted me with rime-coated rock. Never one to back down eas­ily, I pressed ahead and, after a tense and trep­i­da­tious as­cent, reached the tarn with a heav­ing sigh. Equally rat­tled and elated, I quickly re­joined the oth­ers at the top. Cel­e­bra­tory Jelly Ba­bies on a sur­pris­ingly crowded sum­mit pre­ceded our hasty de­scent. Mov­ing in sin­gle file, with cool scram­ble ticked and crisp views all around, I was bathing in con­tent­ment.

Then the per­son in front of me stopped dead, with no warn­ing. I was too close. I im­pul­sively left the cut-steps rather than col­lide and risk send­ing the line of walk­ers domi­no­ing down­hill. I’d be fine, I don’t slip. I slipped...

The speed at which I ac­cel­er­ated was sur­passed only by how rapidly I re­alised how un­pre­pared for it I was. Not only had I never had to self-ar­rest for real,

I was also clutch­ing an axe that wasn’t there. Turn­ing onto my front, I dug ev­ery imag­in­able point of con­tact into the ground. The snow­pack was frozen hard, so I slid for an age. I could feel the void’s mount­ing hunger as it waited to de­vour me. Mer­ci­fully, I came to a halt – bones numbed by vi­bra­tion, wrists and palms ooz­ing blood.

I limped to the car lick­ing my wounds. I’d be­come com­pla­cent and the moun­tain pun­ished me. I felt ashamed, chas­tised, hum­bled and grate­ful. I was able to walk away, this time, but not with­out a lot to con­tem­plate. The moun­tain is boss and if you for­get, it will re­mind you. I’ll never stop go­ing and tak­ing mea­sured risks. But never again will I for­get to al­ways re­spect the moun­tain. Or to bring the axe.

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