A Grand Day Out 32: Masters Of Grit

by Jenny Maud Mar/2009
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Sunset at Stanage
jenny123, Mar 2009
© Jenny Maud
Masters of Grit

It turned out that camping in December wasn't quite as bonkers as some had suggested; we had made it all the way through the night with neither frostbite nor hypothermia. Snuggled happily beneath enough down to clothe a hundred geese we watched as our breath rose in steamy clouds and condensed on the crackly ice-coated walls of the tent.

The smell of hot bacon and a steaming mug of coffee were just about enough temptation to leave the warmth of the sleeping-bag cocoon. A lightning fast dressing session was rewarded by the sight of the glistening frosty grass of an empty campsite, trees casting long shadows in the early morning sunshine.

Togged up in a multitude of layers, we tramped off across the High Peak. It was one of those perfect winter days, where the sun seems much brighter, and the sky much bluer, than it ever does in summer. Too cold for birds to sing, and without a drop of wind, the moors were bathed in a crisp, peaceful silence broken only by the croak of a startled grouse or the distant bleat of a hungry sheep. We walked all day, happily tired legs plunging on, crunching through shallow frozen streams and sinking deep into thick muddy bogs.

We reached Stanage Edge in the late afternoon, the setting sun casting a deep golden glow on the long face. We sat on the edge and dangled our legs onto the familiar rock; a homecoming to a place of so many happy memories. Peering below us we watched them; long sinewy arms and legs beneath the shell of thick down jackets, and wise, weather beaten faces underneath woolly hats. When fear of cold fingers scares off we mere mortal climbers, the true masters of grit come out to play. They rested beneath what looked like a blank face, only the glint of a nut in a tiny crack high up gave it away as a climb.

Soon, another of what must have been many attempts began. He climbed in the way only true masters can. Each foot placed with a calculated precision, held steadfast in place as if by secret magnets on his toes. Legs and arms solid and still where mine would quake and scramble. He reached the crux and paused. I could imagine myself there, see the rock inches from my nose, feel the acid in the arms, hear the quick shallow breathing. One of those moments, which, as a climber, seems like a lifetime. Nothing matters except you, your fingertips and the cold hard rock. And then he went for it. Fingers closed around the tiny hold and took his bodyweight. It held. Breathing louder and quicker. But, slowly, agonisingly, the fingers slipped and in an instant more he was swinging far below, the concentrated silence broken by a string of loud expletives. A master, but nonetheless, beaten again.

We sat a while longer as the heather glowed a deeper and deeper orange and the sun set. Only one place to go now; a warm fireside and well earned dinner. That, and of course, enough beer to keep us warm through another cold night to dream of the day we too would be climbing E5 on perfect winter's days.


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