Tides. The out-takes: 1

Hardback jacket_OFC.inddTides, my second book is due to be published by Vertebrate Publishing and on the shelves in May. I’ve worked for five years writing and editing the book (10 edits) and in the last few months the final edits  have been time-consuming, hence the lack of blog posts. But, at last, the book is almost done, its being proofread now, although there is still picture selection and captioning, setting out, printing and a load more I don’t know about I’m sure.

The cover is an ink by Tessa Lyons which I think is wonderful. Tessa did such a great job, as everyone at Vertebrate Publishing have done and who are, of course, still doing.

My initial draft was 150 000 words, the final draft is approximately 95 000 words which means there are a load of prose not included. So on a run-up to Tides being published, I thought I publish some out-takes here as a bit of a teaser.

This number 1 is a mish-mash of an essay I wrote that was first published in the CC journal and some of it was also published in Echoes. For anyone who has read a lot of my writing I’m sure you will recognise bits of it, possibly big bits, and this goes to show how, for me, writing a book goes. Generally I start with loads of content that is pulled from all over, then played with, added too and in the end most of it gets pulled and chopped and I’m left with something else, something completely different, but this start has to happen to lead to the end result.

Tides out-takes 1.

A moving modern art painting passes in front of my face. Greenblackgreywhite, but mostly red. Slipping, blending – shimmering oil. I slide the length of the abseil rope. Inspecting, dissecting, attempting to fathom lines amongst the mayhem of runnels and cracks. Bands of white clay cut through red-rock with Stanley knife precision. The last time I had seen a cut this true, it was running the length of a prisoner’s cheek. Pink fibrous scar tissue, a lesson learned and a reminder for life. Bird shit runs in festering, infecting, fish-stinking, streaks. It pours from insect ridden nests looking like icicles pouring from a frozen overflowing gutter. Nests fill the ledges, almost blocking passage with their mud-thatch. The fledgling guillemots have long departed. The sickly stench of shit and fish and sea make an intoxicating aroma. The smell burrows like cigarette smoke into the fibres of my brain.

Insects burrow into the dirt and slime. Speckled fat spiders spin a yarn strung between crinkled dock leaves. Vibrant green explodes from the ramp that we carefully sort our gear for the first time this season. For me it’s the first time ever on Red Wall at Gogarth and the excitement I feel is dulling the ache of loss.

Stu McAleese and I settle on the grass ramp at the foot of Left-Hand Red Wall and beneath, the sea crashes into the gaping void.

“Go for it, but take your time and lace it.”

Stu, who has teamed up with me for most of the time I’ve been here in North Wales instils confidence. His energy and relatively easy-going nature make climbing with him enjoyable and fun.

Stepping from the green and sloping and into the red and grey-vertical world of the crumbling first pitch of the climb, Stu adds encouragement

“Twid says to climb here you have to spread your weight,” I move back and forth several times scared to pull on a single hold.

“Yes, well that doesn’t give me loads of confidence as Twid’s an expert on this stuff.”

I recall a conversation with Louise, Twid’s partner the previous day,

“Twid says the rock on Red Wall isn’t loose, it’s soft.” She follows this with a look that tells me more than any words could.

This gives me no confidence as I ease five points of contact into chimney made mostly from clay and spiders web. Pushing. Pressing. Palming. Careful transference of weight in an attempt to become an astronaut in a solar system of red and smelly. I wished gravity didn’t rule on planet Gogarth. But, truth be told, I’m glad it does. Life would be staid without gravity.

I have carried more gear and placed more gear than ever before in the previous weeks of rock climbing in North Wales since returning from Peru.

“Place as much as you can, whenever you can,” Stu calls.

He really doesn’t need to convince me. Placing cams into clay, wires into moving flakes and slinging spikes whenever possible, I tell myself something will hold should the unthinkable happen.

Sitting, belayed on the pedestal in the middle of the wall, the first pitch of Left Hand Red Wall is in the bag. Relatively easy, but feeling more serious than many of the harder climbs I’ve led. I look down to the glittering sea crashing into the zawn a hundred feet below and reflect on the reason I’m now in Wales rock climbing and not mountaineering in Peru.

Cartwright had died. I thought I was ok, I thought I was tough and I was coping with the death of my friend until I started climbing after the wake. It was then I discovered that my usual carefree attitude had taken a serious knock. Jules was indestructible. If he can die, what hope for the rest of us? What hope the rest of us? The last time Jules and I had rock climbed together was here, here at Gogarth and it was here at Gogarth that the sea sparked as much as it does today.

The first few weeks were difficult and I was still carrying a rack of gear more suited to the walls of Yosemite, along with a heavy heart and a head of emotion. But my confidence was slowly returning along with the strength in my fingers.

As I sat and belayed I recalled landing at Heathrow and visiting my parents boat. They were on the move, touring the canal system in south of England. Both Mum and Dad were very fond of Jules, dad in fact appeared to like him more than any of my other friends I had introduced him to. I’m sure he connected with Jules’s don’t give a dam attitude, his drinking and smoking, his opinionated personality, sometimes I thought dad must wonder where he went wrong?

Stu, passed by looking sure, and in control on the more solid, but technically more difficult second pitch. We met on top of the crag to ask what next?

“Cannibal sounds interesting don’t you think?” The confidant Cumbrian states while reading the guide book.

“You reckon? It sounds pretty bloody scary to me.” The older, not so confident one replied, knowing it was my lead. But feeling the need to push myself a little more, I was soon on the downward journey and ready to do slow and cautious and calculated amongst the soft.

E4 5c is not a popular grade for some climbers. It suggests scary run-outs and sustained unprotected sequences. Normally this is the type of ground I love when I’m going well and feeling confident. Unfortunately, at this moment, I was neither. But the voice had returned, the voice of questioning, of pushing, this hopefully was a sign my drive was returning.

Potato-crisp, dust covered fins had to be pulled until another clay band could be grovelled. Here, recuperation could take place, before once again stepping into the moon-like meringue of soft sandy rock.

Having pulled the lip of Red Wall for the second time that day my thirst for adventure was sated and with the blond Cumbrian wilting in the heat, we ran away for an ice cream hit.

A couple of days later I return with John Bracey who is living in Wales for the summer in preparation for his summer mountain guides test.

Gulls swoop and soar on thermals, screaming, crying, liberated. I envy their skill and their view, but not their ability to fly. Once again, I stood on the grassy ramp at the base of Left-Hand Red Wall – the dirt and smell shocked me with the intensity. Bracey slid beside me and looked with disgust at the first pitch of Pagan, the three-star Pat Littlejohn route. His lip curled as if the barman had served his martini stirred and not shaken.

“Wow, that looks disgusting…your lead I reckon.”

“Ok, but it really isn’t so bad once you start,” hoping to sandbag Bracey into leading the pitch.

“No that’s ok, you go for it, I know how much you like this sort of thing.”

This sort of thing was a traverse along a green and slimy wet ledge. A nest filled the ledge at one point. Grass bushed from beneath and above, impossibly clear drops of water sparkle in the sun. The water runs through the orange before mixing with green to become tainted and infected. Welcome to the world.

Knocking lumps of ash from the rubber soles of my climbing shoes, I wondered why I was bothering, this would be no technical-soft shoe shuffle across clean solid rock. The thought of chalk was laughable. Gentle and cautious. Once again, I step slowly into the world of the unknown, it surprised me how quick I focused on the climbing. Easing along the break, avoiding the old dried smears of bird shit, tapping the rock, assessing, gently weighting, creeping, inching, pulling. I was consumed once again.

Escaping and climbing into the dark intense place in my head is definitely one of the reasons for climbing. Forgetting the mundane, ignoring the insane, questioning mortality. And my immediate future depends on dirt encrusted, sand-coated with ball bearing like friction. It depends on cams wedged into clay and pockets overflowing with ashtray grime.  Life is OK?

Bracey ambles along the first pitch with the confidence of a top-rope and begins to climb the second. The rock here in the middle of the wall is cleaner, steeper and more solid. The moves are beautiful exercises in technical footwork, planning and route-finding.

I climb the final pitch that traverses right following flakes and cracks. Then I move left with less gear and more exposure. This is no place to take a wrong move and at last, I launch into a sequence that once committed, could prove irreversible. Topping-out, the old desire returns, I long to be back on the wall pushing myself, living on the edge, or at the very least, close to my edge.

How fate twists and turns our way. One day everything is fine, the next you find life is ticking and kicking hard, like being curled in the gutter outside the nightclub. Arms and legs pulled tight, the blows keep coming. Hopefully, inner strength is enough for recovery. Hopefully the memories will never subside but become less painful.

I stare into the Gogarth guidebook and look at the pictures. One image stands out more than the rest.

Paul Pritchard’s eyes burn into the rock. He peeps from his duvet jacket focused only on his immediate future. Thin, black striped lycra-clad legs poke out from the oversized jacket. Socks pulled high. Clinging to life on a cold wind driven day. South Stack lighthouse glows yellow in the background, lighting the way with methodical, mesmerising regularity. The sea is in turmoil below. Stare long and hard and be there with him. Smell the sea’s salt, the seagull shit. Listen long and hard. Hear the cry of the gull and the crash of the sea…listen to his heartbeat. Now feel yours. Paul, like Jules, was such an inspiration to me, he was what I once wanted from life. Freedom, anarchy, energy, determination, confidence. Paul was badly injured on the Totem Pole in Tasmania, Jules was dead.

Another day… Another sea scape and once more the sound of waves and gulls.

Shittlegruber, climbed in 86 by Pritchard and Harms gives intense, technical climbing with spaced gear and thought-provoking sequence. I sketch across the biggest holds on the climb, nearly falling, pumped stupid, feet scrabbling. Reaching a ledge, I look back at the gear, gear I nearly fell and tested. It surely would have ripped. Two measly wires wedged behind an expanding red flake. But I feel fully sated now as the steep, overhanging and fragile, moving groove, the groove above the fiery wall of red is climbed. Life is porcelain, life is a delicate balance.

In two days Stu and I fly to the Alps and not long after I travel to Nepal for a second attempt at Tengkang Poche with Nick Carter. I fear that on my return to Nepal I will be rendered useless once again. My body wastes and grows weak in the mountains. I fear my head may also weaken on my first visit to the Alps and then to Nepal since Jules had been killed.

Living in Ynes Ettws, my mobile propped in the window to receive a signal informs me I have a text message. Bracey wants to climb and as the rain pours down the window, Heart of Gold Direct is mine if only the weather will allow. Racing across the island of Anglesey, following the dips and hills of the duel-carriageway, the clouds finally part. A shaft of sun spotlights the way to Red Wall, the soft and vertical demarcation between sea and land. And within no time Bracey is inching into the middle of the wall, carefully pulling and testing. He reaches the hanging stance and rigs a solid belay. I move toward him stretching, warming my arms between moves. Crowds of tourists stand on the promontory by the RSPB information centre, no doubt wondering if they will witness an epic.

I leave Bracey hanging from a cat’s cradle of half sunk wires and cams smeared into clay. I don’t envy him. By the time I’ve led forty metres of extremely technical uncertainty, his legs will be numb.

Time appears to still, but of course, it doesn’t. The sea is quiet, the gulls are quiet, no more the cacophony like revellers on the dance floor. Stu McAleese’s beta on how best to approach the route runs constantly through my head,

“It’s all on good holds, you just have to trust and yard. Don’t stop to think, just keep moving.”

I wonder if the same beta could be used for life, for my life?

I screw the inside edge of my right foot onto a sharp flake. It doesn’t break as I weight it. Leaning from the wall eyes dart looking for edges, crimps, cracks, crozzles. Orange and red. The smell of the sea. Tides of emotion wash through me with every move.

Bracey is twenty-five feet below, leaning from the rope watching me. We have both been in this position before. At least this time there is a rusty old peg between us unlike the fall from Omega on the Petites Jorasses last winter.

‘Trust and yard, just keep moving. Just keep moving…’

 

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2 Responses to Tides. The out-takes: 1

  1. Congratulations on the new book. I liked Echoes a lot, so I’m looking forward to reading this.

    • Nick Bullock says:

      Thanks Clarissa,

      The reception of Tides is going to be interesting. Everyone who has helped and worked on it considers it better than Echoes, and so do I. I hope you enjoy it.

      Cheers
      Nick

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