Return to Essays page

Testing the Vitality

Driving up the steel grey keel laid road along the dale - crags rising like bulwarks from a wrecked ship on the valley floor

Just as the pilgrim makes an annual visit to that force outside himself which he credits with creation so each year the climber makes the journey to the foot of the cliff.  To test faith in his ability to respond to the challenge of these  vertical survival games -to exert his self reliance and renew a vision for next year.

The slow careful lacing of boots - the essential contactors of the earth’s striations (wrought out of geology specifically for this motive purpose) once fitted then forgotten as transmitters of adhesive security signals - the green light for upward motion.


The cautious, halting start - deep breaths - heavy heartbeats.  Sweep sweat from palms and take stock, move on -  the rhythm develops - total recall of muscle patterns - each movement new but shaped from the mental template formed at birth and now matched to the task in hand.

The pulse slows as the climb unfolds - absorption in the immediate space and time domain, Two hemispheres encompassing a vertical slice, half air - half rock.

For the climber suspended on the interface nowhere else exists right now.  Each touch of fingers on rock recharges the life cells - each movement renewing the contract with life.

The risk of fatal fall - small, but sufficient to hone the cutting edge that decides between success and failure.

An issue balanced on the fine line of holds that flow upwards and constitute the climb - a climb - no more than a transient existence in the mind and body of the climber.

The final  moves evolve - the problem solved - easy ground and a surge of energy.  The concentration tightens - so easy to falter on the breaking wave of success.

His intention measured, the living gauge recalibrated and a sense of direction regained tha vital course proceeds, reasserting that this pure joy of movement on the face of the rock is part of something deeper than emotion - more a communion directly with the spirit.

© Keith Ratcliffe - 1992


Return to Essays page