Thursday, 22 September 2011

For Evan forever ago

A day out climbing on Tryfan (in Snowdonia - North Wales) and a short walk in the Ogwen Valley manifests a very personal consideration of time and mortality:High above the valley on Gashed Crag in the white grey cloud that whistles above The Heather Terrace, we are tied to a rich green grassy stance with the bright nylon ropes uncoiled on the grass and shattered rocks loose at our feet.

A wet summer Tryfan mist condensing sogginess that sets and drips on our clothes and ropes. Hair is plastered and matted. It is cold but not frozen, damp but not sodden. Clothes are cold but not hypothermic. There is the occasional bleat of sheep that is carried off fast in the streaking wind The ropes gradually trail slowly upwards and out into the grey aerial vapour. We hear wind carried chatter and talk from the craggy main summit of Tryfan, but that babble of those voices is invisible as the cloud base wind streams between the peaks

We are three college friends long gone grey, laughing our way up this fun wet afternoon outing that is just a very special treat. Our last mad meeting was nearly a full decade ago. We have started early, we have plenty of light, we have plenty of time and lots of rope The rock gets running water wetter and greasier the higher we go, we climb alpine style on double ropes until we get to a harder, thinner pitch and then climb up much more studiously just one at a time. Dark, sweet ripe blueberries are surprisingly picked from stubby raven pecked bushes on the roomy stances and we josh and banter our way slowly up the mountain as the coloured ropes ease out and the leader boot climbs slowly, carefully reeling in the many upward mossy and lichenous pitches

The streaming pitches are nervous and the polished cracks awkward, the raking and gusting bumps of wind blow us off balance and we get wetter but the ribald, ribbing laughter continues as we climb upwards towards the end We finally get to the top of the last awkward off width pitch, unmercifully sledging each other’s ageing bones and muscles as the last awkward thrutchy foot and knee jamming crack pitch dumps us out onto a final flat puddled rocky platform. We carefully hide ourselves away out of the gusting wind and coil up the lank, wet ropes, exchanging slings, snap links and the bits of gear collected from each other on the way up there.

The final peak’s mist and cloud clears momentarily and we very briefly pick out the dark, stony outlines of Adam and Eve on the main summit and the black silhouettes of the walkers at the end of the mountain hooraying the top Descending the frost shattered screes and soggy moss peat on careful knees down the Heather Terrace the verbal badinage continues relentlessly. A suddenly unexpected sunlit break in the cloud produces a rare wet quivering rainbow over the moorland Ogwen Valley deep below. Out of a deep secret, warm dry pocket comes a mobile phone camera and that strange magic moment of the scene is captured forever.

Forever, and deep in that word is the rub as a couple of days later I stand on a now quietly redundant stone bridge over the tree lined River Ogwen looking at the mossy grooves and crazed patina of images and the initials that quarrymen scratched deep in the slate slabbed parapets. Inscribed images of elephants and Nazis and the steam train that carried the massive lumps of rock in the quarry over a hundred years ago, lines and curves scratched deep in those silent, flat shiny grey black stones

The bridge is in a very special back water place that I first excitedly photographed as long haired student several decades previously in black and white on now antique 35mm film, I rushed back to the college and printed up the papers in a red lit smelly bath of chemicals and hung them out to dry This bridge is a public but secret place that some know about but only a few will tell, it is a place to pause over the glittering brown river, look for nervous darting trout, hope for secretive salmon and trace the graffiti of the then and also the graffiti of the now.

There are the names and initials of big bearded, hob nail booted and black waist coated quarrymen who lived in the long cottages nearby, now long gone into the ground, quarrymen who are now hidden high on the sides of the valley, deep under the tilted singing gravestones of the silent, bleak and empty chapels My brother tells me of a quarry sign that warns of blasting and carried the severe instruction ‘No Entry’. There was a right of way along the river. So many years ago I scrubbed out the No Entry instruction, but it is such a forever ago that I have even forgotten ever doing it, but that dour warning sign is still there for all to see in English and in Welsh with the rusty scrub marks of the deleted instruction underneath

And if you look just a few yards away from the silent stone bridge there are the deep grooved striations of long ago melted glaciers that ground their way to the sea over the unquarried rock, forgotten frozen glaciers that slid down this valley forever times ago The shape and colours of the mountains always stay about the weather washed same, the dry stone walled narrow winding roads perhaps get a little wider and straighter as the time passes and the roughness of rock climbs each year get just a little more shiny black rubber polished.

I hope that this quiet bridge and it’s deep etched history stays there forever; each year being given just a few more names and lines to add to it’s quiet story long after I am gone away........forever

Michael Combley 2011