Page 50 - 2016 AMA Autumn
P. 50

                                 As the winter continued my attitude toward Houseman is changing. Maybe his attitude to me is changing also, maybe living with Kenton and I, two older people, is having some effect. Maybe for me the prison effect was beginning to dim and my attitude was also changing – smoothing like one of the pebbles in Mousetrap Zawn at Gogarth?
When there was just the three of us in the apartment, Kenton or I generally cooked and Andy washed-up. Andy’s cooking skills were not as honed as his climbing skills and when he offered to make a meal, he usually went out, spent a fortune on ingredients, invited everyone over and then asked me to cook. I suspect his Mum catered for him most of the time he was living in Yorkshire!
One night Kenton and I were cooking. Kenton loved hot food and was making something with fresh chillies. Andy offered to preparer the vegetables and after slicing chillies, rubbed his eyes. Immediately the stinging fire burnt into his eyes. He ran to the bathroom and leant over the bath pointing the showerhead into his face before turning the cold water to full. His legs cycled the floor. Kenton and I still in the kitchen cried also.
The sun sets as Houseman and I burrow into the side of the Nant Blanc Face of the Aiguille Verte. Headlight beams illuminate the road between Chamonix and Argentière and I can see that road, its signs, the tennis courts, the river, the bars, the ski shops... familiar. The blood pumps inside my arteries. My head is bursting. Across the valley the piste-bashers are flashing yellow, smoothing snow for skiers who appear to find peace without discomfort. I can’t. Not yet, not yet.
Streaks of glistening ice fill the folds of rock. The snow slope falls beneath our feet. Twight and Backes, Parkin, Gabarrou and Silvy. I climbed here with Cartwright on a five-day hit from Britain. Five new pitches joining the ridge of the Brown-Patey, but still only halfway up the face, our crampons blunt from two days mixed climbing and kicking and kicking and kicking... Kicking, Cartwright and I exited the iron-hard runnel of the Marsigny-Moore. “I hate fucking ice-climbing” Cartwright screamed and on the abseil descent I remember him leaving cams as back-up, and this is when he said it, this was when he said the words that haunt, “When you do as much as this shit as I do Nick, it’s a matter of percentages, you need to cut down the chance of being killed.”
The start of There Goes the Neighbourhood, leading to the median slope had been in, but the top was dry, so The Youth and I traverse the whole of the Nant Blanc Face with memories as fresh as the ice of the British Route we now climb. The summit of the Verte rises above us like a massive toadstool.
A second night sleeping on snow. Street lights in Argentière quiver as I lie shivering. The helicopter beam swept the north face of the Dru searching for the Slovenian with a fractured skull.
Houseman and I return to town the same day as Prezelj, Anderson and House return from the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses.
And that night, we party so much that Vince misses his morning flight.
The Difficult Crack, The Hinterstoisser Traverse, The Ice Hose, Death Bivouac, Traverse of the Gods and The White Spider – scraping stacked blocks on the final slopes of the Eiger North Face with The Youth belaying from below, I lose myself in the swirling facets and intricacies of the past months. I was changing. I had changed. All of the approaches in the early hours, sleeping in damp clothes, hunger, humility, success, togetherness, these things were honest, they had integrity, they formed me.
And standing on this summit now, this summit with so much history, I know the descent will be from numb-fingers and feet, from the hot-aches and the fear and it will lead me back to warm rock, swaying grass, bleating sheep, birdsong and appreciation. It will hopefully soften the blow of growing old, it will round the sharp and ease passage. My third winter in the Alps was at an end, it was time to return to Llanberis.

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