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The last push

The last push

Gauging your levels of consciousness and alertness becomes a challenge when surrounded by such majestic forces of nature as you will find close to the summit of a mountain. Fraught with difficulty and risk as it is, the climb requires stamina, dexterity and alertness. The first two I was fairly sure were in check but alertness? Altitude at this level creates a trance-like feeling of dizziness. The higher we reached, the more difficult it became to concentrate on each step. Appreciating nature became less of a concern, and taking pictures seemed an utterly foolish endeavour, as my hands would freeze up within seconds of taking off the gloves. I was half expecting the camera itself to freeze, but with each phase of the ascent there would be some other moment I was enraptured by and desirous of photographing; besides which letting my fellow climbers down at this point was not an option. It would seem foolish to have made it this far with the weight of the SLR around my neck, only to miss it all. Besides, the higher we climbed, the more I began to feel this may be the last time I would be crackers enough to attempt such a mission.

My Father once said that art can be elusive when your consciousness is flooded with trivia. He was right, and its often for precisely this reason that man sets out to perform acts of bravery and substance in inspiring environments. However, perversely, a confrontation with grandeur on such an immense scale renders the climber speechless with awe. Whatever utterances spill out of one’s mouth on a hard climb, are usually trivial and relate to such matters as the straps on your crampon, or how bloody hard you’re finding it to make any progress. I suspect the profundity only starts to spill with hypoxia and frostbite, when you’re knocking on death’s door. You’d soon wrench yourself out of it and blurt some kind of witticism if you knew it was your last. I’m reminded of the heroic Brazilian, who lay dying in a pool of blood after a skirmish with a tooled up Spaniard, only to remark “I came to Spain, to die!” Heroic words indeed. I was desperately trying to think of something dashing and heroic I could come up with if it came to it. The best I could do was “How beautiful yet how cruel is Mother Nature.” Pretty basic I know, but it was the best I could do at 4,000 metres and an improvement on “tell me Mum I love ‘er.”

Time is also bent out of kilter in this sub-zero half world. As much as it hurts, the brain begins to kick in to gear and the desire to reach the peak enhances endurance levels. At points like this your thought patterns are quite significantly different from those you might have when sitting at a desk for example, or else walking along a city street staring idly at objects. Perhaps the most successful individuals, those who work hard throughout their lives to achieve their goals and dreams, have this mountain top mode of thought at all times. Who knows? What if it is possible to capture this state of mind and exercise it in situations requiring deft thought, clarity of mind and stamina in the face of adversity? I resolved to give it a try, then peered up again at the obscured summit, only to have my cornea sheared off by yet another blast of icy hell. If it hurts this much it must be worth it. I gibbered and spluttered yes to myself then switched to a look of explorer cool when Bond shot me a scurrilous glance.

I did so want to finish this – ahem – epic tale of (yes dear) derring-do, quite some time back, but was thrown off track by all manner of important matters. Sadly, since having published the last installments, we read to our deep chagrin that a nail bomb was detonated in the cafe in Djema el Fnaa where I took my tagine and photographed the buzzing market square below. This is very saddening and my heart goes out to those left behind by the loss of Peter Moss, the British travel writer whose life was taken, as well as the other victims now deceased as a result of this atrocious act. We should never let these cowardly acts deter us from our travels and creative endeavours, or from communicating the beauty and excitement of any destination, regardless of the violent beliefs of a minority. To yield to their menace would be to let them win.

Tune in next week for what keeps on promising to be the final instalment.


  1. Yes, I’m there reading that. I remember a survivor of a rock climb telling of the challenges to his state of mind let alone broken-limbed body. He said that for some God-awful reason a really banal track like ‘itsy weeny yellow polka dot bikini’ came into his head at deafening volume and repeated itself over and over and over…and…. over…..and – yikes – what IS the mind capable of. Sounds like full on mutiny to me.
    Thanks for sharing, Pip.

  2. Full-square and splendid, diction richer than the blood of gods. It´s with pleasure I learn of your true thoughts. Mont Blanc will positively blow you away good sir, as will the Rabbit casserole and local beer served at 3000M suspended on the edge of the Tete Rousse Glacier as we acclimatise for the push across the Grande Coulour, the most deadly spot in the Alps, a hundred-meter dash across a 45 degreee slope mauled by 140kph rockfalls with a 500 meter drop to the glacier below. With nothing but a 2 hour climb up rock to the shining snow-field above and a huge push through thin air to the roof of the civilised world, where the sky is always royal blue and the stars are visible at mid-day. Dont forget your graduated ND filters, this one is going to keep you going for years…

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