Five Years Time

 The Bangor University 'Sports Science and Outdoor Activities' class of 2013.

The Bangor University 'Sports Science and Outdoor Activities' class of 2013.


I sat opposite Llion in The Heights, and smiled. The candle on the table burned brightly and chalk stuck under my fingernails. We had a lot to talk about, and we’d both seen great change in the three years since I left Bangor University. Life had been good, and busy - but busy hadn’t always been kind. We knew some of what the other had been through, and recognised the depths in our words. The weight of the years lifted as the pint glasses chinked again, and we reminisced about the journeys we’d been on. From university instructor and student novice, to friends. I smiled again. I felt content as I realised: life had rolled full circle.

I hope I’ll feel the same contentedness in another three years. When I first met Llion, it was at the start of my three-year Sports Science and Outdoor Activities degree. As an enthusiastic Fresher, I bounced with energy and tried to hide my inexperience. As an instructor, Llion taught with patience. My life hadn’t yet been dedicated to climbing, but I could hear it calling, louder and louder. I was drawn, moth to flame, spiraling ever closer to rock and mountains. I looked up to my university instructors (primarily Trys, John and Llion). They were - are - experienced paddlers, climbers, teachers, and they guided us through the course of being a student.

Now, three years of degree and three years of life later, I feel I’ve progressed from my early university days. I climb, and feel alive. I know the relief of placing good trad gear at the end of a runout; I know the fear which storm clouds bring; I know the contented exhaustion after a big alpine climb. These feelings haven’t been directly taught to me. Instead, I’ve been given the skills to develop myself into a climber who searches for these adventures.

We raised another glass, and the candle began to burn low. ‘You’ve got to go to Yosemite!’ Llion said. ‘You should check out Tuolumne too, it’s amazing. The rock is brilliant, and...’ And we’re off again, laughing, wild-eyed about another place, another memory of Llion’s, and hopefully a future memory of mine. Our climbing abilities, once so distant, have moved closer, and we compare routes we’ve enjoyed. We’ve shared experiences through the medium of climbing. Our lives were brought into a parallel trajectory through my degree. I moved away after university, travelled, climbed, and returned to North Wales. I’m back, and talking with Llion - someone who heavily influenced my climbing. Life has rolled full circle as we meet again.

During the degree, my fellow students and I slowly grew out of our egos and aspirations, becoming ‘more experienced’ climbers and paddlers. I use the term ‘experienced’ loosely, as we all progressed in a sense; for some, it was floating down a river in a kayak - the wrong way up. For others, it was falling in the sea when the tyrolean broke!

I have had similar chance encounters with John and Trys, the other main instructors during my degree. It was unusual to meet them outside of a university context, and the stories we heard came alive again. ‘You know John really can control the weather?’ ‘Did you think Trys ever felt fear?’ The meetings are often surprised, just passing on the street, and I hastily try to convey my gratitude and gratefulness. Do they know how much of an influence they’ve had? How can I summarise that while discussing the weather? In hindsight, I think they understood. I think they realised when I looked them straight in the eyes and said, sincerely and with a smile, ‘thanks for everything.’ 


It seems there’s an obsession with the future. ‘Where will you be in five years time?’ But how can we possibly know where we’ll be? You can’t predict the future; the only certainty is that the future’s uncertain. I can’t say where I’ll end up - although I know where I’d like to be, and I’ll do everything I can to be there. I could never have predicted my life would lead to this moment.

The candle was nearly out; only a small flame flickered. Five years ago, I didn’t know I’d be sitting opposite Llion, reminiscing about university with our drinks nearly finished. During my degree I don’t think I fully appreciated the teaching I received. Perhaps, through rose-tinted glasses, I’ve found the experience different? But I know that to have an old mentor become a good friend is something special.

Where will we be in five years time? Who knows? I look back five years of my life, and I’m glad I’m now here, laughing and smiling. This moment is validation of an enjoyable life, and enough for me.

And now the candle has burnt out. The wax begins to turn opaque. It sticks to the wooden table in a solid river. It’s time to leave, to bundle into the cold winter night. But I hope to share a rope with Llion in the spring, when the sun shines across the mountains and the leaves turn green again.

Tom LivingstoneComment