Karen thinks that climbing a cliff like this is probably at the bottom of her to-do list, so the scene she describes in this sketch is definitely an unfamiliar subject!
I thought all the exertion would be in the ascent. I didn’t realise we’d have to walk to the mountain before we could climb it, or that we’d be carrying all this heavy gear. When we reach the pitch I just stand there, looking up, up, up. My neck hurts from tilting my head back so far. I shrug the rope off my shoulder.
Jill points out the traverse. “There’s a bit of a scramble. Then, see that dark line of shadow? It’s a ledge. You follow it along until you reach the line of pitons.”
She keeps on speaking and I know I should listen but I can’t get my mind off that ledge. How can you walk on a shadow? I realise that Jill’s stopped talking and I tear my gaze away from the cliff face. She puts her hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t worry. I’ll go first. Just watch me. Dave will have you on belay the whole time.”
She helps me put on the harness and Dave double checks everything. I should be reassured but I feel as if I’ve lost control, that I’m a marionette and the rope and harness are my strings.
I can say no. I can say I’ve changed my mind. I don’t.
Jill looks me up and down, one final check, then begins to climb. She moves quickly, and I try to remember the handholds, where she sets her feet. At the end of the ledge she stops, clips herself to a piton and leans back, looking down at me.
“Come on, Liz.”
The sun hasn’t reached down into the valley yet and the rock is cold under my fingers. Jill was right. Even a beginner like me can see the handholds. I stretch my leg up and to the side and toe into a crevice so I can get my knee onto the ledge. It’s awkward and my legs shake as I push myself up into a standing position.
I edge along the ledge. It’s only four centimetres wide. My head is turned to one side, my cheek brushing the rock, my arms outstretched. I can see Jill’s feet out of the corner of my eye and I aim for them.
At the end of the ledge I hook onto a peg and glare at Jill. She grins. I poke her shoulder.
“I’m buying you a dictionary for your birthday. There’s no way that was a ledge.”