Wednesday, 12 December 2012

More from the Archives

Back around the time I wrote Death dance, I was also hanging around a lot with John Redhead, He's one of my most colourful friends and always the trickster, seeking  and prodding peoples buttons. At this time  he was just finishing his poem/sound sculpture Soft Explosive, Hard Embrace. and was putting together some film to promote it with. John has a history of putting on lavish cinematic epics, and then loosing them, for them never again to see the light of day. His north stack clowning on the Cad only remains as a few photographs for instance (see the Chris Dale section in the new slate guide). Apparently his new book is very good.

John has allowed me to put up my section from the promo film. In this bit I solo Opening Gambit in Twll Mawr, enthuse a bit a la Death Dance, and appear young and slightly touched in the head.
The banana flake parted company a few months later.

I wish I still had those trousers.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Old Life, New Life

I read recently that a friend and fellow adventurer, Rob Greenwood was hanging up his axes, at least temporarily, for adventures on safer shores. This led me to contemplate the transition my life has taken since marriage, and the arrival of Logan, Ethan and Dylan. I recently after my Thursday experience have also forsworn the wilder shores, and I'm getting my head around what exactly that means. I've certainly changed as a person, Its not just the responsibility of fatherhood, maybe I've less to prove to myself, and others, Maybe I've learnt enough from death choss now..

I was Trawling the archives and found this essay I knocked out in the early days. I post it here in trepidation, but as awkward as it reads, it does give an interesting, if cloudy and warped, snapshot into my mindset back then.

"Death Dance"

"Keep it loose, and if you can't keep it loose, keep it stupid..." parting words upon leaving the safe cyber shores of rocktalk and moving all my possessions to the powerfully real surrounds of Llanberis.. Having managed to get into my new abode, despite having to fish the keys from the letterbox of an absent mate (long story) I soon felt totally out of my depth. Here was I, a low to mid grade adventure climber, attempting to join in with one of the most important climbing communities in the country.
With my few firm friends in Llanber' on holiday or keeping a low profile, I went through the motions, fixing up the house and wondering why I'm here.
Lounging lethargically round the house, watching the drizzle slide down the windows, I thought about going home.
Bollocks to that. I checked the weather forecast and this afternoon was going to be the only dry weather in ages. I packed a drink and boots and chalk bag and set off for the lake. My goal was upper Dinorwic, with only one Crook route up there, there must be some scope, and the walk will stop me feeling lazy. The Oil drum glacier was interesting, and I could easily imagine getting buried up there. Only Katie and Rob saw me go, I didn't tell them my plans, too easy to be dissuaded. No help there then.
Upper Australia, Dinorwic, whatever you call it is huge. And scary, don't forget scary. Can I forget?
Red slate that's all blocky and slopey, the purple havens and grey evilness that gives way to sheets like punk wood and shivering bands of mud and shale. Quartz filled dolerite that crumbles like salt and life saving sheets of brown sand paper. Memories of the place come unbidden like the passage of tunnels on an intercity train journey.
It would be too simplistic to say I was cocky. I knew that if I set out trying to prove something then I would die. However, I was feeling a spare part, unsure whether I had a right to be there in the first place. I needed an enema for the soul.
Suited and booted I immediately regretted not bringing a helmet, the occasional gust of wind bringing down tiny flakes like autumn leaves. Maybe if I had brought a helmet I wouldn't have come, too thought provoking a hell-met is. I attacked the most beautiful line, and retreated in fear. I found a solid arête and got fifteen feet up before pulling a huge block off that tried to propel me to the deck. I turned instead to an easy gully. My first encounter with the bands of vertical shale that insinuate themselves through the cliff, brought only anger. Especially as there was a possible, if sustained, crack above me that I would have relished if I had some gear, a rope and a partner. Too much uncertainty, but I couldn't turn back so early. Once I'd crossed it, I couldn't turn back. Grovelling, digging and knitting the solid patches together I was spat out onto the terrace. I could walk off here. Leaving what? a shitty shaley loose pitch going nowhere of merit? Arrogance forced me to seek a second pitch, one that flowed from the first.
A ledge system spotted from the ground gave hope, and I emerged shaken onto a platform containing a simple VS layback that had held so much promise from below. It ran with water and was capped by a loose wig of death blocks. Arse. A brief consultation with my maker left me a little calmer and I saw a series of ledges leading round the left arête of this niche. they were coated with brown crystals that rivalled grit in friction. Yummy. Unfortunately, as I strode forth, it became apparent that all I touched started to move. "Seek the easy path" became my mantra and I oscillated between oases of brown sandpaper, my fear rising like vomit. The doors had closed, the heavens were like brass; silent. Twenty minutes, half an hour must have elapsed in this tortured groove, pinned between a rotting miner's hut and my mortality. I gave up. I headed back knowing how dangerous retreat was on terrain such as this. You see when you go up, your hands pioneer the path, sensitively selecting the good nuts from the bad. My feet are pretty crap at this. Somehow, my path down differed from my path up, probably due to my paranoia over loose footholds. My fingers sank behind a solid flake. The doors opened again and choirs of angels sung a tentative chorus. One jug and some solid footholds do not equal an end to trouble. I commit and am immediately taken back to long repressed memories of past epics. A fragile rock over into the unknown, with death patrolling the depths below like a restless shark. Time shuffled its feet and so did I.
Romanticising aside, I made it to the next terrace. Took off my boots and prepared to bugger off. I was stopped by the notion that I was still alive, and before me lay a beautiful and most importantly safe looking corner. Short and perfectly formed, it succumbed to a struggle and I was back in the race. The worst was over. Steadily following the easiest path in the straightest line, two more interesting and non death-like pitches were dispatched. It was the end of festivities. A short scramble up moss and scree led to the final terrace, a walk to safety, and an ogle at Crook's Big Thursday. Smashing.

Maybe there's a life for me here after all. Better find a climb partner effing quick though. Life's too precious.

Why I am here again? Alone in the shattered heart of Dinorwic. I'm booted and suiting at the bottom of a chaotic fissure gaping like a festering wound. This is actually serious. a grade I haven't attempted on a real and proven route. Its not my imagination, its someone else's. I hope they aren't ill humoured. A helmet this time, There's no fooling myself of this crucibles potential. Peace sits uneasily on my heart while my head cycles through what little beta I scraped. A solo to prevent a seconds death. First pitch hard to reverse. Don't do in an earthquake. Check. Why am I here? The threshing floor awaits, I'm off to meet myself.

Section one twists up like a Crag Lough corner. A niche is entered via a soft fist jam. looseness abounds but in a unthreatening curious way. I'm moving through but not part of it all. Until a big lump come off in my hand that is. Shit. Still I was in balance and, therefore not dead. I lob it into the abyss, cursing as I'm forced to digest the reality of the depths. All the effing way to the bottom. Eff. Must remember not to fall off, that's all. Mantling out to the arete I find the move Ray talked about; reversible but not in a pretty way. Never mind, I'll walk off the easy way. Now Ray said the first pitch was the hard one. The gorge rises out of the rubble like a stage set from star trek meets Bram Stoker. Its a lot wider than I thought, and carpeted with shit and surfboards. I pause to take in the scenery, you must pop up for the view of the rest of Australia, its quite a pleasant perspective. I stick to the walls of the gorge, at least once I confirm the status of the flooring. The dolerite makes it feel unlike any of the other experiences I've had out here. as does the thick coat of mud everything has. More like Cheddar than North Wales. The gorge ends. A chimney huh? More like a huge boulder choke that caps the gorge with choss and sludge. No bloody roof in the description! Here I face the crucible. Here I see myself clearly. here I hope the obviously loose rock will gain gravity and immobility, bolt themselves down. I clean the sludge off the few holds, a rock comes away and hits me in the bollocks. pulling on shite I insinuate myself onto the horizontal. Weirdness, all is stupidity. Fun though, and it feeds my head.

The smell from smashing slate is like standing too close to fireworks. a smell of danger, a warning of the place you have brought yourself into. It screams "Get out! Mine!" There are treasures in the darkness that it protects. but they are slid between the borders of life and death. I doubt I will ever see them, not for long anyway. When a Jewish priest entered the holy of holies, the other of otherness, the sacred heart of the temple, the other priests tied a rope to his leg, so that if he was overcome by the power of God and died, they could drag him out without endangering themselves. I'm getting worried, I'm beginning to get excited by slate's vaporisation. Its real, a sentry to a more real place.

I'm not afraid of death, but I don't want to die, please believe that. I've made peace with my maker and there is much to be done. But I believe in an otherness; a yearning for a different life. I feel a need to place my self in a crucible of my own making, parameters of my choosing rather than the fashions of the day. I yearn for a place for chivalry within climbing. Indeed it may be its last refuge in this fearful, controlled and contrived "safe" society. The heroes are stretched thin as paper and extrapolated far from their templates and their root form. A knight is known by their deeds. this is not their works, their calculated actions, but the spontaneous actions driven by who they are and who they are made to be. Climbing for yourself, striving towards a point where this is a soul drive, just for you, and maybe your climbing partner, but no one else. That should be our goal. The arena of testing is dispassionate and the earth does not feel our passing. It is on the surface that life passes; like condensation on a mirror. There are, however, guides to the threshing floor. I listen for the quiet voice that made me, and the smell of combat.

Having said the crucible of Dinorwic is a cold and impartial to our passing, it seems strange to now turn to the moods of the quarries. During a buzzing, crackling summer, with ropes coiled like snakes in the grass, all may be good in the world. Meanwhile, out in the badlands under leeched grey skies, with shattered battlements tipping their hand, Death might be your belayer. A single location may charge through the full spectrum of emotion like a bull in a psyche ward. It is in truth a lot like the dark side's dwelling place on Dagobar, found in “The Empire Strikes Back”. Here is an arena where spirits may dwell, and all that is with you is just what you have taken in your self, or have attracted to yourself. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld has the dungeon dimensions which strive to pierce through reality into the world, in places where the boundary between the two realm’s are stretched thin. Maybe the quarries are a nexus in a similar vein. No matter.

Adorning the sterile substrate of slate like a rainbow on a soap bubble, life clings and shadows roam; projected, trespassing, or otherwise. These stirrings impinge on us in differing ways. While below the surface dirt and rock and worms and water dwell, the surface is a slick of grass and heather and gorse and goats. This in turn is punctured by monoliths of man's failings, hopes and natures solutions. These connect with us through our wiring and baggage. They trigger the positive and the negative, the constructive and the destructive within us. Whether we are conscious of this or not is depends on our tuning. When in a group we are insulated by the projections from our comrades. Like a lake in the rain; patterns are dispersed to an even murmur. When numbers are reduced the ripples are more discernible. And alone there is just you and the residents; bouncing off the quarry walls, oinking crows, wailing goats and the bowels of the hill humming a melody that's manmade. There is something reassuring about the generator hum. It tells you that you are not alone, Sometimes a whisper sometimes a roar. Where is doesn't tread, these seem to be the dark places. Wind fights generator. Man against anti-man. For wind, and the rain for that matter, can tip you off the threshing floor into the machinery. The dark places in the quarries are found where the anti-man elements gain a stronghold. Twilight seems reinforce this, long regarded as a time where worlds meet, maybe its merely the leaving of the light, taking away a point of security. Try to take the light with you, that's what I reckon.

What is anti man? Things that are destructive and negative. A mild breeze stimulates the upturned cheek as you contemplate your next rockover, A sudden gust takes you off and down the hole. I feel that all aspects of life must be split to one camp or the other to a certain degree, if something is truly neutral then it is of no use and therefore a hindrance. Characteristics and quirks can be expressed for good or evil also. Nothing is irredeemable, it is how it is applied; anger or passion, fussing or caring, moody or contemplative.
All that is up there is what you take with you, fed by what is for us, and what is against. This is my experience of the quarries.

There you go. I'm not sure I'm that person any more, but I can just about trace the journey.

Giveaway Project of the Month - December

Having compiled the index, I realised I haven't given away anything foreign for a while, meaning of course outside North Wales. Having just completed my first decade of Llanberis living, my previous existence as a weekend warrior seems a dim and distant memory. The never ending quest for adventure, a warm pub and an appropriate doss.
A favourite haunt was the Roaches, Staying in the hut with a old uni crowd, there were squeezes, cracks and Japes galore. Raven rock gully seemed to draw me more than most (that and Lucas Chimney), Left and Right and of course the Crack of Gloom... Which although obviously lovely I have yet to travel, as partners always put their foot down. now as the years have gone by and my abilities condensed, thoughts go back to the space between left and right.

The central pillar with nice monkey on a stick climbing and adequate gear would eventually lead into the horror-zontal of boulders and flared cracks, bouldering in the sky with runners and clean air..

Possible? Possibly I never got around to trying it.
Please do.