Friday, 24 January 2014

Solo on Cloggy

It must have been that fascination, overmastering and fatal as was ever the blindness that took Pentheus to his doom among the Bacchae, which led me once to the steepest cliff in Wales. The sense of intimacy that possesses the solitary had become, it may be, an infatuation; more and more I had thought that I might presume, if my love be kind, until it seemed that there was no liberty that I could not take. It was a May morning of 1942, and I was under the precipice of Clogwyn du'r Arddu. I had stepped from bright sun into the slanting shadow of the eastern buttress. I blinked up at it, at the row of vertical cracks that split it.

On the right I could see the Curving Crack that Colin Kirkus, I knew, had climbed with Alf Bridge. The day was warm, the rocks dry, and the moss peeled from them under a rubber shoe. I started up the first layback crack; why, I could not tell. There was no sense in trying such a climb. I was tasting simply a physical pleasure — why does the small boy buy an ice cream when he has pennies about him? My legs were arched, feet pressed against the back wall. The rubbers slipped occasion­ally, ever so slightly. My fingers hooked around the upright crack edge. I was gaining height, slowly. At the top of the first section, 30ft, above the turf, I surveyed future and past: the vertical walls of the buttress and the little ledge on which I stood.

A comforting crack split the cliff above me, shaped exactly for the wedging of a human body. But it must be hard; if I could not go on, could I go back? The climber has his lesser Rubicons. I knew that infatuation was upon me; that I could not break this spell of movement,of tense wonder at my physical doing. I must go on, to watch body and mind working in their own right together. Now in self-defence, I must give of the best: a poor kind of best, perhaps, if you could catalogue 'bests', but one that would satisfy me for a day. The crack ahead must be a struggle; again, could I get down, was I doomed to crouch like a sheep stranded on its tuft, waiting till I starve or fall? And would it not be a pity so to fall, to end in a moment this bundle of nerve and muscle, of action begun and hope for things incomplete?

I wrestled hotly to the top of the Curving Crack, in a fear and a sure vowing that I could never be guilty of the like rashness again. On the grass above, I lay in the sun. I had done — what? I had done something that only I could tell. Something foolish, something that I must not repeat, but something that I felt still to have been worth' the doing. And I could no more simplify the climb into an idiocy than into a conquest; there was more to it than that, as there must be more to any hard effort in which mind and body have combined to give. And yet if it must be set down as the one or the other, idiocy it certainly had been, and conquest never. I had by no fragment, other than the trampled grass or displaced chockstone, altered the life of that cliff.

I had been allowed to scramble, a short and precarious hour, over its bare rock. I had no more conquered it than the Lilliputians conquered Gulliver, when they first walked across his chest.

Wilfred Noyce