The bit now firmly between my teeth, my lunches are now separated into three options: if it’s dry then try and climb the new projects, if it’s still damp then clean one of the other new projects and if it’s really bad or i don’t feel up to it, go in search of other new boulders! Pretty simple really and it keeps Tess happy.
It has clouded my judgment slightly, this excessive keenness, doing things i would ordinarily back out of. After rambling randomly, i eventually decided to be more systemic and after finding a 20-year-old orienteering map, noticed a little cluster of boulders right at the top of the tree line. On Wednesday, i opted to go check them out.
So off i toddled, dog by my side, not bothering with waterproofs, just straight out in jeans and my branded softshell jacket. Over the bridge, into the cover of the trees, this is fine, i figured, but i’d need to move fast to make it there and back in my allotted hour. I adopted a speed somewhere between brisk walking pace and slow jog, heading up the hill deeper and deeper into the forest.
The path crosses a bigger track with a slight dog leg, and just after this (and an impressive leap over a style by Tess) you get a bit of a view down the valley, into the wind, and a bit of an idea as to what the weather will throw at you next. It didn’t look good, like it was closing in and in hindsight, looked like that was game over.
But this little cluster on the map looked so promising, with not just one little black dot but lots, potentially a little micro-venue in it’s own right. If i was lucky, it would be a full blown bouldering spot, really lucky and a good one at that. While i’ve come to realise that only one in ten spots that you find have anything decent on them, there was still optimism there; optimism that knocked the judgment in my head straight out with the phrase “it’ll be fine”.
Stupidly under-prepared for my this little excursion, i checked my location on Google maps on my phone, knowing roughly where to turn off, and hopped off the path across the top of the tree line. There’s been a lot of foresting in that little area so it wasn’t quite as simple as i was expecting. Nevertheless, i was pretty sure this was right.
Instantly, there were four main problems: i had lost my tree cover, the ground became so difficult to pass that i slowed to a tripping-over-everything pace, i realised that woefully uneqipped was a massive understatement and as was to be expected, the weather closed in even more. The more i trudged, the worse it got, the harder the terrain became to cross and the wetter i slowly became.
Soon, i found my bearings very hard to gain and wished i’d brought that little laminated map with me. It was in my waterproof jacket pocket and as soon as this realisation occurred, i wished i’d brought the jacket more. I daren’t look at my jeans, not wanting to face the truth that i was now soaked. “It’ll be fine”, still ringing in my ears, was now getting quieter and quieter.
It was all nearly worth it when i crested over a little hillock and spotted what looked like a marvelous little boulder and for a brief moment, i forgot all about the situation and dreamed that there would be an expansive boulder field just a bit further down. There wasn’t and the boulder i saw turned out to be pathetically small.
Suddenly the realisation kicked in that i could be in trouble if i was not careful. The ground had become so trecherous that even Tess was struggling slightly and i was now drenched. Worse still, i was doubting where i was but was committed to continuing, having gone too far to retreat. The easiest way out of this mess of a hillside definitely lay ahead.
I’m well trained in general mountain skills and knew every single one of the mistakes i had made, there being many. The main thing now was to keep walking as stopping would be disastrous to the point of dangerous. I had a rough idea of where to go and when i stumbled (literally) onto a small path, i turned downhill and followed it. Next thing i knew and we’d made it to the gravel forest track and navigation would be straightforward.
As one problem in my head subsided, the other got louder, and the weather was now actually raining hard. The light snow had warmed and i could now hear a squelch with every footstep. What’s more, now i knew where i was, i knew i didn’t have enough time to get back and running was out of the question in dripping wet jeans.
The only thing to do was keep walking, keep moving and try and stay warm. I wasn’t exactly under-dressed, just dressed in the wrong top-layers, so i figured as long as i didn’t stop, i’d be fine. Soon i realised that despite not slowing, i was now losing heat faster than i was generating. Maybe i could be in trouble after all.
The limits we can go to are far in abundance of what we think we are capable of. That’s not to suggest i pushed them in any way that day but you know what i mean – life is so safe these days that you’ll likely not have a real life-threatening problem in the outdoors in your life, unless you chose to. Yes i’d made mistakes, ones that three months ago would’ve been very embarrassing when turning up for Mountain Rescue training but that would be the extent of it: embarrassment.
I’ll hold my hands up to my mistakes, on the proviso that i could rename them “errors in judgement”. I had made a decision (granted a wrong one) to carry on regardless and that’s as key as anything else. It’s a quote i often remind myself of by Joe Simpson in Touching The Void: “you have to keep making decisions, even if they’re wrong decisions”. Am i comparing my situation to his? Dear god no, all i’m saying is sometimes it’s worth going against logic and going for it, when a good backup is close at hand. Wednesday’s bad decision was offset by Tuesday’s stroke of genius to leave a change of clothes at work; a workplace no less, with multiple drying rooms for outdoor kit…
So there you go. My only real complaint is that i haven’t found any more boulders. Yet. I’m not looking again today, it’s starting to rain.