Monday, 30 November 2015

Drenched. Rain hammers against cold glass, wind rattles rooftops. The bleary-eyed walk to the Spar ends in wet feet, shoes riddled with holes. Thick grey cloud blocks the view of the mountains, hanging, depressed. No tourists line the pavements, not for months. The village hunkers down and shudders against the chill. Another reduced meal, another pack of mouldy grapes for 19p. 

Trudging back home, I wonder what to do today. Paul Pritchard’s stories run through my mind; the 80’s, all climbing and partying. Nothing to do but sign on and tie in. If only it were like that today? Was it as good as I imagine? I’m pulled back to the present as I walk past the boarded-up bank, next to the abandoned shops. My stomach sinks as I remember my bank account, falling faster than the rain.

I kick streams of water as they flow down the pavement, flicking droplets into the air. Angry at my poverty but with only myself to blame, I don’t care about my soaking feet. Water pisses through my shoes and I take a final glance up the High Street before unlocking the front door and stepping inside.


Later, rain still drumming on the roof, we head to The Wall.

The Wall is actually plural - there are several walls here, and they’re all at jaunty angles and varying heights. You can jump from the top of some bits, but others… not so much.

It’s quiet today, only the Old Boys, the Pros and the Unemployed on the routes. Music blasts through the speakers and soon I’m inching higher, fighting for the next blob of plastic on the route. The positives of having no work means I can train all the time, preparing myself for winter climbing. The only downside is I might not be able to afford my plans for Scotland and the Alps - ironic!

Reaching the chains, I’m momentarily pleased of my progress. I’m feeling strong and my persistence to training is paying off. Unfortunately, my mood is shot down as Caff chucks in his fourth lap on the 8b, cruising through the moves. I chat to Tim, who’s raving about the Eiger and my FOMO levels reach critical levels. Still, it’s all further incentive to train.


Two days pass. The Brewery bar is rammed. It’s Kendal Mountain Festival, the annual event for all things outdoors, and everyone wears the obligatory uniform: puffy jacket in a primary colour.

We’ve secured a decent table near the bar and our game of Top Trumps continues. We spot the wads and compare stories. I somehow find myself chatting to Jon Griffith and Korra Pesce, two of the most talented alpinists I can think of. I said I’d like to spend a lot of time in the Alps this winter, and Jon drops in the obvious suggestion: ‘Why don’t you just move there?!’ 

I mutter some nonsense excuse but the seed is planted again, the fire re-ignited. I’d always said I’d like to move to Chamonix this winter but it’s not materialised. Suddenly I’m determined: the Alps is where I’ve got to be.


Monday and I’m back at The Wall. Bright lights, white and flickering. We uncoil our ropes again, nodding hellos to the Old Boys and the Pros. I stand beneath my challenge: the yellow route. Currently my greatest enemy, it’s time to reap the training benefits and put this demon to rest.

Feeling flash-pumped after skipping the first clip I fight upwards, milking the poor rest. I never thought I’d enjoy the new plastic holds as they bite into my fingertips but it’s fine - I’m going to be wearing gloves for the next three months.

Making a committing lunge (but without power-screaming - I don’t want to show I’m trying too hard) I latch the finishing hold and breathe a sigh of relief. Calm has been restored, my life will remain on track. I have found my balance again: I’ve finally climbed the yellow route!

Tom LivingstoneComment