Through the Looking Glass

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered”

– Nelson Mandela

*†*

   When I left Canada in the spring of 2012, I was sure that my destiny did not lie on the shores of England. I was enamoured by the freedom of the hills and the sense of individuality that ‘I’ had found. My calling was to be a climber with my band of merry rogues of the road. I still couldn’t really explain this sense of connectivity that I felt out there but was determined to live for this ideal of being my own man. Even though I was deepening my sense of mental identity, had it not been for these early days of burning drive then the Year of the Snake may never have happened.

*†*

   The tiny screen on board the flight starts rolling the credits for Sherlock Holmes, a nice distraction from the constant roar of the engines directly underneath my vibrating feet which brings me back, with sobering reality, that we are 9km’s above sea level travelling over 500 mph.

The movie is either a marvellous coincidence or a clever placement by Air Transit. Either way, the banter, the British wit, the city of London and overcast sky helps to prepare me for the imminent change of scenery. I switch the screen off and stare out the window. It seems we are in the clouds and have been for quite a while. Of course we are, we’re approaching the British Isles.

Considering i cried my eyes out when I left Canada in 2009, I feel reassuringly calm as I’m flying further and further away from the place I have come to love. Because I am content. I have been walking my own way.

Gliding down through the clouds, we are met with green, in every shade you can imagine! I guess this is the fruit of the constant rain.  After living with nothing but snow and ice for the last 3 months the abundance of color is a breath of fresh air. I am pleasantly surprised to be back in the UK, as a visitor.

The lush green of Devon
The lush green of Devon

A week later, in the south of England I sip tea, listening to my favourite black birds sing and start looking for rock climbing venues to visit across the UK. I am hungry for the historic ‘trad’ routes. My mind is restless because I know I cannot stay here in ‘The Shire’. The urge is powerful. The fire needs the fuel. After days of bombarding the UK climbers website for my first trip takes me to the Wye Valley near Bristol then, a friend offers to go for a week in the beautiful Peak district and as it turns out, the Lake district too. (What a treat!) Discovering new places in my homeland gives me huge appreciation for a country I used to resent.

However, I have papers scattered across this desk with how to get to Siurana in NE Spain, somewhere completely new and on my hit list. Got to progress.

This is who I am now. How things have changed.

Climbing in the Peak District
Climbing in the Peak District

But my heart knows better. It was delightful to taste my dear grandmothers Sunday lunches, surrounded by family again. I saw my step father give away his daughter in Newcastle with my lovely mum at his side and I got to hang out with my best friends. The ones who are always sorely missed. The buddies who you pick up with from where you left off, the mates who will always have your back.

Some things don’t change.

In this game that we play where adventure is rife and uncertainty is definite, we must cherish the moments that we have with our loved ones as you can never know for sure what might happen out there. But to all those who know me, I hope you understand that I have to go. I need to experience the highs and the lows of this life. If I didn’t, you wouldn’t recognise me anymore.

Proclamation for Freedom

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   Written during the winter of 2011,  I was at this stage, speaking

  Today is the 27th of February and I’m due to be back in England in 13 days. After numerous trips away from the homeland since 2006, I get asked the eternal questions of “Well, how was it?, What did you learn? Did you have a good time? Hows it feel to be back in reality?” etc (Again & again)

These were met with the usual bug eyed bouts of enthusiasm and excitement, showing off a multitude of photos from the tumbling waves and tranquil forests to an increasing amount of rocks. It was clear from my absence from most of the photos that a chord was struck with the natural elements. (Embers smouldering and spirals turning).

I’d tell stories of all the craziness encountered with different cultures and spout ideals that only a babe, young and clean shaven could have thought, ideas so alien from his normal reality  like a little lamb that wandered from its pastures for the first time.

But this year was different.

In the spring of 2011, after months of training, I left for Canada, alone with only my hopes and determination for company. Pretty soon, I discovered a sense of purpose, which is a powerful thing.  I moved to Revelstoke, exploring the local climbing scene and ate up over a hundred routes in under three months but this was not enough. I was working construction during the day, climbing by evening and consuming as much mountain literature as my mental sponge could take. I was hard on the few friends I had if they had other commitments and lost them as a result. Clearly I needed a change of scene. This is where Squamish materialised into view.

On the west coast, I’m now standing under The Chief which is 500m (1,640ft) of soaring granite walls with boulders littered from refrigerator blocks to houses, within the sublime forests encircling the chief. Quite the experience. I was home.

From then on, I gave all my efforts to the mountain, looking to read all its intricacies and following its paths to the top. Some delightfully easy, some palm sweatingly hard but always, I felt small and humbled. Having climbed over 50 routes (summiting 5 times) and just under 60 boulder problems I was the most content I have ever been in my entire life. Surrounded with genuine souls and friends that understand that unsaid motivation.

Bouldering in the Squamish forest
Bouldering in the Squamish forest

So, what is it then? That ‘unsaid motivation’? Many, many climbers have tried to explain this. Some can, some simply can’t.

For me, I want to spend my life trying to describe why. It is such a profound feeling, one cannot simply say it was ‘Awesome’. Not only is it physically challenging but the most important aspect of climbing, for me, is the mental and in turn, the spiritual aspect. Climbing is a deep commitment for those who take it seriously, in every sense imaginable. On a dangerous route, for example, where a fall could mean broken limbs you must steele your mind and judge the situation to act as safely as you can. To go on, with courage, despite the exposure, because you know you have the strength.

On the other hand, true commitment extends far beyond the actual mountain. Every scrap of money made, every penny saved goes towards your ideal. Exposure to the natural elements bestows you with that forgotten respect for the old world, the love for other creatures and critters and unfortunately loud alarm bells, when our destructive tendencies reveal themselves. (I get the Greenpeace memos)

Climbing a route called 'Rebel without a Pause' in Red Rocks, just outside of Las Vegas.
Climbing a route called ‘Rebel without a Pause’ in Red Rocks, just outside of Las Vegas.

In our everyday lives, mankind strives to help make our lives easier by any means necessary. But on the mountain it is YOU who must adapt and bring yourself up to its standard. Without risk, there is no adventure. Courage, real courage in the face of your greatest fears is something deeply rooted in my quest to find a persons soulful integrity. Just what are we capable of?

“Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves”.  – The legendary George Mallory.

I have a fleeting memory of a peaceful autumn afternoon. I’m sitting  in El Cap meadow looking up at the mighty captain, 900m (3,000ft) of sweeping, clean granite trying to imagine what Royal Robbins & Warren Harding must have thought of this unclimbed behemoth. All that unknown territory before them. Truly inspiring, as they wanted to do it! Despite the enormous uncertainty. This is where we see the question as to why come up frequently. At this moment, all i can say is that climbing is not just an exciting past time, it’s a symbolic journey, and every time you go out on adventures, you learn something new. Lessons that can’t be taught, only experienced. (e.g, Removing the ego to make the best decisions, the bond forged between you and your partners and that all your actions have consequences).  The mountains will always be the most noble and wise mentor if you want to listen.

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That evening under the mighty El Capitain, Yosemite

So, after being ensconced with the climbing fraternity and a climbing partner during the fall, events lead to a bitter end and a lonesome dark start to the winter. Alone, where I started 8 months ago, I had to climb my way out of self doubt, anger and bitterness. You can be your worst enemy at times and your shining armour when you need it most. You are strong and have the tools to save yourself. As long as your honest.

Alpine climbing in 2012 is just around the corner and will bring me one step closer to my ultimate dream, which is materialising on the horizon. But first, I look forward to touching base with family and friends back in England.

Love to you all!

Skiing some fresh powder in Revelstoke as an early Christmas present!

Sharing the divine adventure of awakening & self discovery

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