S5 pupil Sylvie Colchester wrote this reflective and touching essay about climbing in the Lake District with her father for her Higher English portfolio.
We topped-out on our first objective before I found my legs lacking under the weight of my rucksack, but kept on, finding that the further we went the less tired I got. 'Athlete's high', it was called, Dad said. The brisk breeze cooled the warm sun, allowing us to walk, run and climb. At the crest of each hill, I could hear the silence, interrupted only by my beating heart. It felt like an impossible beauty. The stretched hills and deep valleys – endless. The Solway glistened in the distance and if you squinted just right, you could see the Isle of Man on the horizon.
My mind empty, yet full. Quiet, yet it had never been so loud. Tired, yet I had never been so full of energy. Trying desperately to organise my thoughts as I picked and bothered my Dad for the names of each hill surrounding us – Haystacks, Pillar, Scafell Pike – and each climb he has accomplished, in awe and adulation of the memories he recounted. Subconsciously turning his stories into goals and discovering a lust for life and a lust to climb until I am above the clouds.
My rucksack became an afterthought, only a perch for my hands to grip as we skidded down rocky paths and back up damp grass sheep trods. A sharp wind surrounded us and a heavy mist moved over the hilltops, the jagged rocks a contrast to the rolling clouds and rounded hills that surround us. I could feel each texture beneath my feet and felt at one with the world. Multiple crags disrupted a carpet of green grass. The sky was as bright as my breath was heavy, though a blanket of clouds threatened from the east. Balancing carefully on loose rocks and with a panicked mind, we ambled up to our first climb.
Innominate Crack (VS 4b). A sheer wall riven from top to bottom. Intimidating and strong in its demeanour with a boastful impression. As I climbed, its layered ridges imitated my building emotions as sheer drops haunted my peripheral vision. My feet slotted perfectly in nooks and crannies, though my confidence faltered as I got higher. However, as I reached a small cave-like opening near the top, I pulled myself in — allowing me to look at the scenery around me. Its beauty inspired me as I reached the last pull and pushed off my feet, clambering over onto the small uneven platform that marked the climb's end to meet my Dad. We took a few precious moments to take it in, the exhilaration flowing through us like magic, then fixed the gear, ready to abseil back down and do it all over again.
Athlete's high. That feeling of unlimited energy overtook my thoughts; a feeling as though I could walk forever without difficulty. I felt one with the wind and sky as I let go of my mind and descended comfortably down the climb, controlling myself with my belay device. We moved swiftly over to our next climb while I desperately attempted to capture this marvellous world in photographs, unable to show how even the dullest shades of grey the rocks can be so beautifully intricate. Stubborn and brittle.
Our second climb: Tophet Wall (HS 4b). "A four-pitch climb with superb exposure". A climb thoroughly enjoyed by Dad as he was transported back 20 years ago, to his college days of freeing recklessness. I felt honoured to be able to appreciate and share his favourite things in life. As we began our climb, I perched comfortably, trusting my feet and myself, balancing on thin ridges with full confidence as I took in every ounce of the view while Dad fixed gear and we continued on. Skirting around, across and upwards knowing I could and would make it to the top, moving carefully and always looking two holds ahead. As we summited each hill and topped each climb my energy only increased. The view changing at each and every angle, with wide eyes and a bursting heart trying my very hardest to remember each grassy mound and each snapshot of rock.
Our third and final crack was overcome as we battled against the threat of thick fog and rain nearing nightfall. Arrowhead Ridge Direct (VD). Pointing us towards home. The winds grew sharper, nipping at our cheeks in ignorance. I sat steady on a ridge halfway up, with steep drops on either side of me but I looked not in fear, rather in satisfaction and fulfilment of all I had accomplished.
Reaching another pinnacle, I felt ablaze with both self-pride and admiration for this beautiful world. I felt I was floating above it. This moment felt still, as though time had stopped, and I could look upon the world with no consequences. For a moment I wasn't a part of this world, I was merely a bystander. I was in love with these fleeting moments of easy freedom. In love with these treasured, alluring hills and the memories they hold.
A small plateau cradled a clear pond with a reflection of the patchy blue sky. Its stillness contrasted with my racing mind, at ease in the madness. I struggled to withhold my joy at being able to share such special experiences with my Dad without the interruption of brothers or work or life. At peace with ourselves, with the memories we are constantly creating becoming reminders that there's so much to see and do in every corner, crack and crevasse of the world. So many opportunities for magical experiences that can alter your whole view on life and the purpose of living.
As I bonded with the earth beneath my feet, I bonded with the man who raised and loved me. I was finally at an age to know him and relate with him. Finally at an age to understand him. The world was silent and the atmosphere comforting; we spoke not in words but in experiences and understanding.
With thanks to Sylvie's English teacher for putting this piece forward for publication.