“What the fuck am I doing here?” A young lad and lass are using the nearby boulders to practice setting up belays. They look bemused when I totter past, pads stacked high and top heavy. On my first go my hands butter off, I crash onto the mats and the flying insects dive for cover. I feel the need to apologise. This time I said it out loud and I’m being a dick, that person I hate at the crag who makes a big deal when they fall off. I sit on the mat and gauge the position of the sun. Could really do with that eclipse coming back, because right now the bastard is shining straight onto the holds. In a couple of hours it’ll have arced out of my way, but I don’t have a couple of hours. I look over enviously at the two youngsters, with a lifetime worth of climbing to look forward to.
“What the fuck am I doing here?” It’s not the first time I’ve asked this question of myself. It’s part of the internal dialogue, the running commentary that follows me around. Every winter route, when I’ve been shitting myself. Committing to the abseils in the Alps with rocks flying past. This time it’s more mundane but it feels as important. It’s March, it’s a beautiful day in the Peak District but I can’t see it, I don’t feel it. It’s way too warm, the holds feel greasy and there’s midges. Midges in March. I sit slumped on my mat.
“What the fuck am I doing here?” I start to undo my boots, I’m wasting my time here. I should really head home in time to pick my Dad up from the station. I’m glad he’s visiting, but I hope the weather is shit so I don’t miss out on any climbing. I immediately feel guilty about such selfish thoughts. Hang about, where have the midges gone? A faint, chilling breeze has crept into the bay of gritstone. I get up and brush the holds. The sun disappears behind a cloud. I put my boots back on, cranking the velcro tight on the right foot for the footlock. I pull on and twist my foot into the funny triangular slot. As I straighten and reach upwards, something from last night’s yoga flashes through my mind. I focus on my core and immediately the holds feel gigantic, my hands welded to the chalk-stained grit. Something inside me starts bubbling up, making me grin. I release my foot, get the toe drag, and throw my heel around onto the other side of the arete. Suddenly it’s effortless, I’m on top and I’m freaking out the two youngsters, because I’m whooping, running back down and gabbling. “Climbing, it’s the best thing in the world!” I beam at them, as I grab my pads and run for the car park.
- Dan Middleton