The final three hundred metres.
We were probably off-route, but the angle and the terrain meant that you could climb anywhere, albeit with a degree of trepidation. I was tired. I wouldn’t say exhausted, as I know, through experience, just how far in to exhaustion it is possible to push. Still, the going was slow. My stomach churned with nausea, my head boomed with altitude. We’d not slept the night prior, and I’d come straight from sea level. I felt weak.
The rope snaked out ahead, Rob above me. We were moving together with a lot of rope between us, as protection was so scarce it came only every hundred metres or so, and even then it was poor. For much of the time there was nothing but our tools holding us to the face, no gear to be had. Brittle, paper-thin ice was splashed over the rotten gneiss. Crampons ripped and axes shifted behind loose rubble. The climbing was easy, perhaps Scottish III, but we were tired, a thousand sunless metres behind us testament to that. We stopped briefly to take stock, still unsure how far there was left to go.
Succinctly we voiced our concerns to one another, our words zipping down the rope like telegrams; If one of us fell, we’d most likely both die. We were tired. We needed to push on to try and reach the descent before nightfall. We must heed caution.
And so we continued. Unbeknown to us a party had fallen from the route we were on, just the day before. Seven hundred metres they fell. One died, the other sustained horrendous injuries. We didn’t know. We carried on climbing.
Up ahead Rob had discarded his axes and was climbing bare-handed, he’d decided that although his hands were freezing, it was less tenuous than climbing with tools. The thought never crossed my mind, and I continued mixed climbing up the rotten rock. I lifted my axe and suddenly both my feet ripped down. I slid, just a short way, maybe four inches. The low angle of the wall meant my single axe was enough to keep me in balance. I kicked my feet and carried on. Fuck.
There was no point retreating, not that we wanted to. A thousand metres of suffering lay below us, ropes catching on loose rock, poor abseil anchors, traversing. With only a couple of rope-lengths to the summit ridge, the easiest way to retreat would be to ascend. We carried on climbing. We wanted to, but also, we had to.
I hoped Rob wouldn’t fall. He, I’m sure, tried his best not to. I thought about why I was there. I noticed my feet were a little cold, but not too bad. I felt a bit sick. My mind wandered, until it concluded that this was, in fact, a very dangerous place. Thinking of danger, I remembered that my face still hurt. Lower down the route I’d been hit by a brick-sized piece of ice, dislodged by a climber above. It hit me square in the face, bursting my cheek, and splashing blood on the ice, like red wine on a beige carpet. I was nearly knocked off and nearly knocked out. Rob said it looked okay. The bleeding had stopped after another pitch.
Jesus. Why was I there? What exactly was I getting out of this, I wondered. Nothing. I was tired and it was cold. We’d been out of the wind all day, but now, as we approached the ridge, it had picked up. At least its chill numbed my aching face. I thought about a woman I might be in love with. And the children we might have one day. I thought I might tell her. I knew I wouldn’t though, of course. The rope tugged, I kept climbing.
A couple of days later, Jon asked us how the route was. “Fine” we said. “A bit loose, but pretty easy”. And it was.
Email: Jack.geldard ( at) gmail.com