A friend said to me a number of years ago that one of the definitions of bravery was to be afraid, and then do it anyway…..On that basis, I seem to be a very brave person!
This was easily borne out – although yes, pretty scary – it was exhilarating. It did take some time to sink in, but the course itself was excellent – our Guide was a world standard Mountain Guide, with International Accreditation – and also a deeply serious climber.
The technical skill involved in climbing is never ending: the knowledge to be gained is so vast and the discipline so rigorous, that one could easily spend a lifetime climbing and still feel you had so much more to learn. I am a lifelong and skilled hiker, and yet the relationship to the land between that of a hiker and climber is so very different: for the hiker it’s usually the views and to be involved with the land, that drive us on. For the climber it’s the challenge and the respect of the climb, the respect that is, for the rockface itself.
Hanging by my fingertips on more than one occasion, during these five days, I found myself asking “did I really volunteer for this??” – one of the first maxims of the Army is never volunteer for anything! But, if you don’t, sometimes you miss out on the spectacular – and that is precisely what the views from the cliff face above Banff in Alberta were. To be on top – literally – of a World Heritage Site, looking down, below the tree line, to these distant buildings. It really did look like a map, but one that you were deeply embedded in.
During the course we learned how to use the various and very complicated pieces of kit – what to expect of their strengths, which in some case were 2.4 tonnes of weight…..! How to use this equipment and the various scenarios for using different bits of kit. We learned about the rope – far more intricate than I might first have imagined. We learned how to belay, and we learned – almost most importantly, to rely on the equipment. To trust in it. That is easier said than done, for it seems an alien thing, to be hanging hundreds of metres above a vertical drop, broken only by the occasional outcrop of sharp, jagged rock, by a piece of rope 10MM in diameter…..
And yet we did, and here am I to tell the tale! Even if only as a course in “Fear Management”, it was exhilarating, and I do hope to climb again with the Army – it was a privilege.