Like a Dream

Climbing can really level you as a person,  I find that the rock can show you who you are at that particular moment in time.  I often experience some form of ego death when I climb a testing route, you're in a very real situation & there is no time for the false self, only the skill & ability that you have combined with a clear head to get you through the short but sometime intense challenges.   

In the same way that the Buddhists regularly meditate on death,  Trad climbing feels like it serves as a healthy reminder to live in the now & understand that at any moment in time, it this precious life could be snatched away from us without any notice.

Trad has taught a lot about controlling fear and managing risk.   We all have to take risk in life whether we like it or not, the friends we choose at school, the career path we pick, the relationships we form, the places we decide to call home are all decisions and all have risk attached.  As are the bold decisions we make to change any of those at any point, because we know that we may have slipped of the right path in life and need to re-align ourselves. 

If you take minimal risk and play it safe, life can just pass you by in the blink of an eye.  You wake up one morning & realise that you played the game to the letter, got a good job, worked really hard, had a family, stayed really fit & healthy & did everything that society told you to do. 

Everything then builds towards enjoying retirement & the next 10 to 20 years are spent fantasising about that. Then, around the time you're supposed to retire you get lung cancer as a result of asbestos poisoning from the school that you worked so hard at & gave all your energy to. 

That's what happened to my Mum, almost five years ago. One of the life lessons it taught me is to live in the present moment more, not for the future all the time. "Live as if you were to die tomorrow" rings true. 

So in true testament to her, in a totally spontaneous manner, on her birthday, Saturday 13th July 2019, I climbed a classic Sea cliff climb with a good friend, Andy "Pixie" Richards.  Incredibly it was my best climbing experience to date, and somehow managed to top Yosemite, The Hindu Kush, The Dolomites, Burgundy, the Peak & all the other amazing experiences that I have had to date.  I'd say I climbed it in her honour but that would be bollocks - truth be told she would not have been able to watch it!

Dubbed as The best sea cliff climb in the UK & in the guidebook:  "A great outing, one of the best in the World", it's pretty hard to not to aspire to climb a Dream of White Horses at Gogarth in Anglesea.  I have wanted to climb it now for many years and every time I have tried for it, the weather has closed in or something has come along to scupper our plans.  

On Saturday morning, a 6am start took us swiftly over to the Pass to bag a car parking space where we intended to climb an enchainment of classic rock routes starting on Dinas Mot with Direct Route into Main Wall into Gambit climb & onward, moving together for some Alps training.  At 730am the drizzle had turned to rain and our hopes sunk for even starting this mission.  We quickly changed tack & headed for Holyhead where we guessed the weather would be more amenable. It was, as it always is a completely different climate there & where I wished that I had packed waterproof trousers & gloves for the Pass, I now was kicking myself for forgetting the sun cream, shorts and vest. 

If you really want to achieve something it's always best not to hype it up, so we casually strolled over to North Stack to have a look at the route from the promontory.  The route was clear - only a team of three on Wen crack.  The abseil rope was setup for us, and it was about to hit low tide.  I have racked up for this route before & had the bag packed with all the long slings in order, having spent time looking at the route and memorising all the sections & intricacies.   Yet here we were looking at the route - clear, perfect conditions with no prior planning or warning, not enough long slings & no real memory of the route!  

I actually only felt nervous before the before the climb.  Abseiling down to setup the belay was "interesting", as their ab rope wasn't long enough or tied off at the end. Could have been nasty, a reminder of the reality of using someone else's rope - you don't truly know what is at the end of it.  I got a stopper knot in the end and carried on down the the very lowest point - where we could then walk down to a lower ledge if need be, still safe from the waves crashing near by. 

I wanted and intended to lead pitch 1 and 3 as I am without doubt the less experienced of the pair and these are the easiest pitches. Pixie insisted that he led P1 as he'd never done it and that I was welcome to climb any or all of the other three pitches.  Pitch 1 wasn't as wet as it looked & served as a great warm up.  You then find yourself situated high above & safe from the crashing waves in a amazing position, looking at a gradually rising flaking line, traversing high up to the left to join the roof and get to the last pitch.   Pixie seemed adamant that I could join pitch 2 and 3 together & I set off, with an equal mixture of confidence and disbelief that this was actually possible.  P2 did have some thin sections for gear and holds & for me was the hardest part of the route.  When I climb a classic route I sometimes feel the bizarre mixture of pure enjoyment, despair & total elation,  I always find myself imagining how many other folk from all over the world have experienced similar feelings at the same points on the route.  

I managed to lead P2 and most of P3 before I hit a traffic jam of three climbers going up the large crack, just before the belay at the end of p3. I bought Pixie up and he led a mini pitch to secure himself at the base of the chimney of P3.   As he tied off to desperate go to the toilet on a hanging belay, I spotted a full film crew complete with drones doing some shooting.  Don't think they've come to film us and I hope to god they can't see what he's doing right now!  

Pitch 4 is the most revered pitch & takes a seemingly impossible line under a roof, at the top of Wen Zawn in a stunning situation, with no apparent holds or feet, and at one point, the whole floor drops away revealing breathtaking exposure & a huge drop into space.  I never ever intended to lead pitch 4 - the combination of route finding, bold delicate traversing and meticulous rope work was something that I always assumed would be taken by the more experienced leader.  However, for some reason I found myself leading it, with a noticeable calmness.  If there is a heaven, it felt like it was up there above the clouds for that brief moment, with time completely stood still, traversing around, up & out was one of those experiences that is impossible to describe. 

In retrospect, the experience might be described as what Maslow calls a "Peak experience" & the more the exposure increased, the more I stopped thinking, and the moves all came instinctively & without any thought.  I was watching it all from above, almost out of my body - observing myself making these moves. It looked impossible from the outset, but I got on with it, weirdly never felt so relaxed in my whole life. It was the exact same feeling that I had when I read the  obituary of my mother at Leicester Cathedral in 2014,  I could feel her on my shoulder, like a little robin, whispering to me words of encouragement & softly guiding me to safely. Guiding me through this journey, this physical form that is called life, from whichever metaphysical world she is in now.   They say that you never stop being a parent & I know what they mean now.  Cheers Mum, you really are the stuff that Dreams are made of.

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