CRAG NOTES: Dear Conan Essay

© Kevin Stephens

We met in passing a long time ago, and since then I've thought of you often. Innocently of course, the way a child watches the birds, toying with the mechanics of flight. You were like nothing I'd ever seen before, and nothing since. Whenever I was in the area, I would stare dumbstruck from across the zawn, and I still say truthfully that I would change nothing. Four dimensions of flawlessly curated possibility, arcing into space, almost impossible to see all at once.

Wet day at Gogarth  © kevin stephens
Wet day at Gogarth
© kevin stephens

I often dreamed of quartzite, rotten mudstone - that sacred medley of pleasure and fear, delicacy cut with power. I was impatient to stand below the arch, with a slack tide lapping at my heels, salt-laden air burning heavy in my lungs. I could imagine a ray of golden light, reaching claw-like for the back of the zawn, illuminating a vortex of impossible architecture, both rock and sun destined to impermanency. And the rest of us mere fragments in that timely ordeal. A seal perhaps, staring out of the deep, dark eyes letting me know which world we're in. A different world from the one I'm used to.

I knew that one day I would creep up that slab, damp stone forcing me into a state of heightened concentration almost immediately. I knew also that I'd be a wreck, but it was obvious enough that I could rest on the arête, to calm myself in anticipation of what was to come. The puzzle would present itself then; a doorway to the labyrinth, corridors of the soul. More than anything, I longed to step across the void, to feel the sense of commitment take control as I pressed upwards into the corner, incapable of retreating. To feel the tiny creases and crinkles, the pre-cambrian code written in stone, revealing secrets as I edged ever upwards.

That was all part of the deal, and so were the screams as I climbed desperately rightwards, my feet slipping on smears, waves crashing in the empty space below. The ferry passing in those crucial moments, my partner scuttling up wet ledges in a bid to escape the sea. Water everywhere, kelp filling my nostrils, and the shimmering reflections of sunlight dancing on the walls. The intensity of my senses on overdrive only heightened the feeling of relief as I held the undercut, the elation as I tied myself into a web of cams, superbly exposed as no other could be. That was what I dreamed about for many years, and you provided it all, you held nothing back.

Unknown climbers cruising the first pitch  © benkelsey
Unknown climbers cruising the first pitch
© benkelsey, Feb 2006

What I did not expect was the terror of the second pitch, so focused had I been on climbing the first. The stone which threatened to explode at every moment, the relics of pegs stripped by a legendary fall, the gear which only existed to show what could have been. Orange rust stains pointed to the old ways, hopefully never to tarnish this place again, but we were grateful for the signposts. Even on second I climbed like my life depended on it, and arrived at a seven piece belay with the feeling that I'd been resurrected.

We climbed on for a few more metres, tossing holds into the sea. A ritual offering to Poseidon, to grant us safety through this rough passage. For our faith, we were given golden quartzite, the final licks of a setting sun and at last, safety. Sitting on the top with grins splitting our faces, we ignored the necessity to get home and let loved ones know that nothing was wrong. Staring back down into the zawn, white specks of chalk were irrefutable proof of our passage, but they would soon be gone, and that was fine. We got everything we bargained for, and a whole lot more. You were so much more perfect for the mystery which countless stories could not dispel. You did not disappoint.

I've wanted you for so long, since I first saw you in fact, maybe even before then. In some ways I've been looking for you my whole life. In the past I came close, but I'm glad I waited. The fourth dimension of course is time, and we spent a lot of that searching for relief. You were in my heart for many years before, and now you inhabit the richest corners of my soul. You have never known me, and you never really will, but I have known you for many years. And I say this to you now, for you to know that you have moved me. And I will never forget.

Wen Zawn and Easter Island Gully Area  © Mark Reeves - Rockfax
Wen Zawn and Easter Island Gully Area
© Mark Reeves - Rockfax

Support UKC

As climbers we strive to make the kind of website we would love to visit, with the most up-to-date news, diverse and interesting articles, comprehensive gear reviews, breathtaking photographs and a vast and useful logbook system. As a result, an incredible community has formed around the site - we’ve provided the framework but it’s you who make the website what it is today. If you appreciate the content we offer then you can help us by becoming an official UKC Supporter. This can be a one-off single annual payment or a more substantial payment paid monthly or yearly which includes full access to Rockfax Digital and discounts on Rockfax print publications.

If you appreciate then please help us by becoming a UKC Supporter.

UKC Supporter

  • Support the website we all know and love
  • Access to a year's subscription to Rockfax Digital.
  • Plus 30% off Rockfax guidebooks
  • Plus Show your support UKC porter badge on your profile and forum posts
UKC/UKH/Rockfax logo

No comments yet
Loading Notifications...
Facebook Twitter Copy Email LinkedIn Pinterest