A Grand Day Out 36: Solitude amongst the massesby Simon Dunford Mar/2009
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A week spent hammering away at the keyboard. Squinting, square eyed at weather reports again and again. Looking, green-tinged, at blogs showing off pristine mountains under clear skies.
Surely not this. Arriving at Cairngorm ski centre on Saturday morning we could be in Piccadilly Circus. Fluorescent officials order us into a parking slot. Above us lies a desecrated mountain – corrupted by man into a giant amusement arcade. Then a wearying march through soft snow – monotonously following the footsteps of the hordes that lie before us.
Perhaps this is it. Sunlight catching a ridge that is sharpened by its white coat. Blue ice glinting on the buttress in the distance – beckoning, waiting to be climbed. But still the distractions remain. Groups mill around the base of the cliffs, speaking little, sussing each other out. Where are they heading? Will we be ready before them? Three are already incumbent on our first objective – the beautiful ice of Aladdin's Mirror Direct so we carry on up to our second – Pygmy Ridge. Typical nervousness occupies me at the initial belay, as the rope makes painfully slow upward progress I imagine a multitude of unseen horrors. Following the pitch gets the juices flowing and I fall into a careful rhythm.
Then it's my lead and it hits. This is it. Initial trepidation dissolves away as I am consumed by the climbing. The whole world shrinks to this ethereal piece of rock and ice in front of me. Alone – delicately balancing body and mind. Constant discovery - never quite sure what awaits next. Twisting and testing the axe to find the security that pulls me upwards. Stretching my leg for the higher ledge, brought to my knees when it's just out of reach. Safety and comfort always one more move away.
Sitting at the belay the world is different. I hear, but am not aware of the cries of nearby climbers, see but don't see, the masses trampling their way back across the plateau to warm baths, food and drink. Now it is time to go. The clouds close in and the wind picks up. Reluctance to leave this place is replaced by a need for heat and shelter just like everyone else. Returning, I know that the crowded modern world will no longer press so hard down upon me.
In the dark the ski centre is quiet and peaceful.
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