It was now dark, I knew it, because I couldn’t see my feet.
I switched on my head-torch and immediately the world shrank to the size of the depth of beam. The utter deliciousness of my surroundings are lost, I can only see my hands, the climbing rope and the grassy ledge I’m standing on. Light is such a flippant friend, each day it wanders off to the other side of the globe to play in other lands, the ancients believed that the sun was not in fact a fiery star but a great god named, Helios driving his golden chariot.
“Its dark, lets call it a night and finish in the morning” I shouted, taking time to ensure my words were clear. “I cant see, it looks like it gets harder further up” the reply floated back from my climbing partner. “Just come down, we’ll only have to camp at the summit anyway” I offered. “Ok, coming down” the reply tumbled.
We were about 350 meters above the ground, on the face of one of Kenya’s unclimbed mountain faces. It had started badly, I had managed to get diarrhea and vomiting the day before and my team mates had told me to get fit or miss out. I dosed myself up on dowa and got fit. We started in the dark, walking for an hour and a half through spiky grabbing undergrowth before we reached the foot of this gigantic wall. Six months ago I had visited this exact spot, with another team, but we had been spat off the mountain and had had to abseil off and then trudge away, oozing failure.
I released the demons of the past and started to put on all my special climbing equipment. The lightweight harness, the sticky climbing shoes all the bits of “gear” to place into the wall to hopefully stop me falling and started off. Mostly one climbs in pairs, someone holds the rope to save you if you fall. But the actual process of when you are on the rock is a one man show, soon you are a long way from your partner and out of earshot. You are entirely focused, looking for the next hold, balancing on tiny indentations, scanning ahead, checking your muscles condition, are they burning too much, checking that you are safe as you can be, have you placed enough ‘gear” in the rock? Although its demanding it truly is an incredible feeling…
We climbed all day, taking turns going first, pushing past my last high point, finding routes through the mass of channels on the vertical wall, until we found ourselves at the end of the day with darkness shrouding us. My partner came back down to the ledge I was sitting on, we tied ourselves onto the face, ate snack bars, zipped up our jackets and steeled ourselves for a cold night. Far, far below the lights of the Rhino Charge flickered. No man or woman had ever seen this view before, from our exclusive perch it was truly breathtaking. As Helios returned in his chariot the next day, our muscles were warmed enough to continue and a few hours later we were awarded summit victory.
This time the walk back was far, far more enjoyable.