The Collection - It's Only a Skyhook

This is the second of five short stories based around climbing, and talks about running it out above 'junk pro' - those small hooks of metal: skyhooks. The stories were first written about two years ago, and have never been published.


A July heat, sticky and damp, hung in the air. Only a whisper of a breeze flicked the bracken, shifting warmth from one area to the next. I felt the humidity and wiped sweat as it stung my eyes. A smog blurred the horizon and a thunderstorm was only days from erupting. Nice weather for a swim, my mind remarked.

Our enthusiasm suggested that this weather was acceptable for climbing. Time would be better spent jumping in the Llanberis lake with friends but I found myself walking up to the crag, dragging my feet with bold ambitions in mind.

Too complacent, ropes flaked like piles of spaghetti on the grass, I stepped from horizontal to vertical. A tune plays out in my head, and I’m still walking on by. In that instant I should have switched to alert; focussed; ‘climbing.’ I should have recognised my inability and heeded the call from others: ‘necky… serious… shit gear.’

Instead, I began to drift upwards in a summer daze.

Reaching the obvious crack at the start of the crux, I began to realise my situation. Like awakening from a deep sleep, rising to the surface, I grasped my new seriousness with fear. These gear placements must be reliable, ‘bomber,’ in the event of a fall from higher up the route. Inspecting the cracks, I was initially dismayed, followed by concerned. Hmm… The rumours were correct - the gear really did look bad.

I looked carefully at each possibility again. Opportunities began to emerge, and I thought more positively. ‘Maybe I can get something in there…’ My belayer, lying comfortably in the grass below, continued to lazily flick at the flies and bask in the sunshine. I’d have done anything to swap places. You can’t bottle it now.

A few minutes later, my new collection of gear didn’t help my mental anguish. Like a poorly-arranged window display, the cluster of pieces were haphazardly clipped to the rope. Micro-wires - miniature swages of golden metal - were plugged into the crack. Gently seated in place, they didn’t inspire much confidence.

The skyhook, however, was the only piece I considered good enough to stop me breaking my ankles against the slab below. I found a perfect hole in the rock with a fat bottom lip, and carefully placed the hook inside. It wobbled threateningly but stayed in place… that saved an embarrassing down-climb.

I kept the quickdraw long (at the risk of it catching me only after I have crashed onto the slab), to ensure the skyhook wasn’t lifted out of its placement. There’s nothing worse than seeing your last piece of gear fall off and spiral down the rope. Although a good placement, I was aware: it’s only a skyhook.

When I took stock I realised exactly how fragile and unconvincing these skyhooks actually were. I should’ve escaped, got out of this hellish mess, but a lethal cocktail of emotions held me in place. Pride, confidence, ego; they all spun between conscious and unconscious thought, mixing into a concoction which kept me high on the route. You’ll be smashing into the slab before you know what’s hit you… Cautiously investigating upwards, I pulled out of my oasis of security and onto the overhanging section above.

I felt the calm fall off me, slipping away like the sweat dripping from my forehead. Panic rose in its place, spreading like fire. My whole body questioned why I should continue: I wanted to give up, to simply step off this madness. If there was a junction now, I would’ve chosen safety in an instant. So why was I here?

Tendons screamed in protest, calves began to shake. But still, I held on: inching above the skyhook, higher and higher, caught between reason and insanity. Pride says up, survival says down. Should I jump off now, before a fall risks ripping the gear from their fragile perches? Should I battle onwards, scratching and scraping against the rough rhyolite?

Physically shaking, I felt the sweat run into my eyes again. I was desperate to escape. Shit. Could I jump off? The skyhook is still there, and I begged with everything I had: ‘please… please, don’t break!’

My fingertips fought for purchase, uncurling in slow motion. I shouted down in panic to my mate: ‘watch me!’ 

Feet began to slip and roll, soft rubber melting in the heat. Fingers uncurled. I summoned every ounce of strength to hold on, finally spying a good edge… but… could I reach it in time?