Addicted to Adventure.....

7th Feb 2016


In his book 'One Day as a Tiger' (*please see note below), John Porter describes the traditional climbers apprenticeship.  I smiled as I read it because it perfectly described my own early climbing journey (I wrote more about this some time ago in my article 'Full Circle' here).  For Porter, part of the route he describes is roughly as follows;

1 Walk in the hills and observe mad people climbing rocks.

2. Read some books and get inspired.

3. Decide you are also mad and find someone with whom to climb.

4. Climb ice in winter and get thoroughly miserable and yet throughly hooked.

5. Go to the Alps in winter and learn how to climb fast in thinner air.

For my friends and I the first taste of number 5 came when we headed to Chamonix at the tender age of 17.  I was free from school and, having managed to spectacularly fail to get any useful qualifications from my secondary school life, I thought I was ready for the big world.  

Although I look back on that first season and marvel at how we survived, we actually managed to come home with a reasonable clutch of routes and summits under our belt.  Aigullie d l'M, Mont Blanc, Aiguile d'Argentiere, Aiguille d'Chardonnet, Papillons Ridge, Vaucher Route, Frendo Spur and similar classics all succumbed to our bumbling style.

I sat on the coach home with shredded hands, skinny legs, sunburnt skin and an intense feeling of inner contentment.  A whole new world had opened up of beautiful sunsets observed from bivvy ledges, the feeling of standing on a snowy summit with the sun rising on the horizon, sharing stories while eating pizza and drinking beer with new friends around the camp fire, cold fingers and yet mostly just the simple buzz of being in a new big, exciting and happening mountain paradise.

The trip had been very special and yet, looking back years later, it was really the whole new attitude that travel offers which I had gained.  The unique buzz of arriving in an unexplored place, of breathing in different air and the shock of newness.  I wouldn't be able to understand it for done time but I was finally beginning to understand that I was not the centre of this vast earth.  I was changed.

Tainted with all the happy memories was the feeling of foreboding as we arrived back to an overcast and dreary Dover.  Coming home was my main problem.  My parents had already lived with my climbing obsession for several years and now, having had this trip to France, they thought I'd have got it out of my system and be ready to sort out an apprenticeship or go back to college to pick up the tattered strands of my education.

We sat and ate dinner on my first evening back.  Mum had made my favourite meal and we chatted about my trip and their time without me there.  Inevitably, we soon got around to discussing my future. 'It's good that you've got the travel bug out of your system then," my Dad said.

What they didn't know yet was that, far from 'getting it out of my system', the trip had really just let the travel bug in and I was infected for life. Unfortunately, I was still also immature enough to live in my self centred little bubble and my poor parents didn't deserve my direct and uncaring response.

"Not really Dad", I replied, "I've been invited to climb in Spain for the Autumn and don't think I'll ever stop now.  I reckon I'll be ticking off mountains until I can't walk anymore". Not the harsh tone I'd choose nowadays, but the intention remains.....and my poor parents paid the price ever since.

(*) We reviewed John Porters excellent book here.

Posted by Paul

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