Edge – Night Climb
Canberra summer. Too hot to climb on a north west facing crag, toes burn inside black rubber randed tight boots, any exposed skin prickles and burns, sweat, thirst, hot to touch granite.
The heat is too long a time not to climb.
Other adventurers go mountainbiking, caving, do pre-dawn starts to mountaineering days. All under new bright head torches.
A film fest showed a mini film about Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson doing the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall in Yosemite. They found the best friction and temperature of the rock at night. Under lights. Thousands of feet up the face.
Turning around the subconscious that tells us you only climb at night if you are having an epic was a challenge.
I talked about the concept with a few people and Neil was the only one interested to try it out. On the afternoon drive in we chattered about doing different things. Rather than just doing the same trips all the time he thought it was important to try new ways doing things, different locations, new canyons. To keep what he called your “edge”. Your ability to stay sharp, in tune with all the components of adventure – the group, the weather, the activity, the place on the map, the time, the terrain……….
As we got into the climbing, a middle grade warmup as the afternoon stretched towards evening, I discovered we had more in common than our professional outdoor education pasts. We both wore the exact same worn out black running shoes (kayano 18s), our sunscreen for the afternoon came from the same orange and yellow mini refillable cancer council containers. And then he made a comment about the amount of time he had spent away on school trips when his family was young that linked us in our emotional inner depths. On that day and evening though we could be like the singing golden whistlers nearby with independent grown up children and wives at work or travelling overseas.
Neil led the first two pitches. I had climbed and adventured lots over the past year while for him this was a more special treat. Then I took us through the easy ground and on to the top. The view over the imposing North Buttress and down valley to the distant city was filled with contrast and shadow in the late afternoon light.
Just like in the old days we made a small fire and cooked beans and cheese jaffles and drank tea. Except this time it was for dinner rather than lunch.
We scrambled down the central rocks and then skirted under the main cliff to the northern slabs and arrived at the base of our climb just as the sun set. The sun going down over the horizon is a defined moment between day and night but the edge of the day is less well defined. The light continues for a long time. He headtorched up the first pitch. I needed only a small amount of light from mine to make the moves up the familiar ground of the climb and fiddle the nuts and cams out. We swapped leads and I did a rising traverse across a slab and into a corner system. Night had fallen. The rock was almost in black silhouette against a starry sky. Dark clouds slowly passed overhead. The city lights way off in the lowland were beautiful. A gentle breeze cooled. We climbed on. Not quite at ease because this activity was so ingrained in our combined consciousness to be a pursuit of the day. But intrigued with the sensations of the situation and open to a new range of aesthetics. Around 11.00pm we approached the top unexpectedly wide awake. Stimulated by the differences, the drama of the scenes, the small pool of climbing light at hand. Unhurried. With all the time in the world. Until morning if we liked.
We were thankful of the good exit path and track through the scrub. A final take in of the whole nightscape vista from the summit rocks. Then back to the packs and down to the car.
Home in the early hours. The luxury of a sleep in. Strangely at ease in the world. A sense of shared experience beyond the edge.