Thursday, January 05, 2006

thunder in the mountains

A bit achey today but glad of it, as yesterday I climbed Ingleborough which is, by a whisker, the second highest mountain in Yorkshire.

There are of course more appropriate climbs for me

but sometimes you need the variety.

There's a satisfyingness to the kind of discomfort I now feel, an honesty to being tired like this; it reconnects with something primal and integral that modern plasticised life denies us.

Certainly, there was beauty to behold and consider up there. The peculiarity of limestone pavements, the spectacular views, the frozen bubbles in chunks of ice two inches thick we pulled off pools that glowed and prickled as the light caught them, drinking the cold water coming straight from the mountaintop spring - but these weren't the half of it.

The real value is derived from the things that discourage your mind. Up on top of the mountain there was a terrific icy wind, like having a sub-zero CO2 fire extinguisher set off in your face. When you stop flinching and revel in it, it delivers an exhilaration that non-physical or easily alleviated experiences simply cannot.

Despite being too tired to speak for the last half hour of the descent, it was not overstretching. Indeed, this hitting of limits and becoming less cerebral and more animal is a lot of the point. It leaves you refeshed, more complete, rejuvenated and ready to do your other stuff better.

One of the pioneers of modern mountaineering understood it in precisely these terms. Although his day job was Professor of Chemistry at London University, Norman Collie knew that the nourishment one's soul can derive from high open spaces is beneficial to the other more urban and intellectual parts of one's life.

A hundred years ago he wrote:

Many are the memories one can bring back from the mountains, some of the peace and some of the stern fights with the elements, but they are all memories of freedom. The restraints of ordinary life no longer hold us down, we are in touch with nature - the sky the winds, the waters and the earth, surely these ancient elements of life can teach us secrets that a more protected existence hides from us.

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