Flying through the air, I was more intrigued than fearful. Sure, there was the ‘holy shit’ moment, but then… well, what would happen? Where will I land? Was my gear going to hold? Would I sleep in my bed or have a state-funded one?
I can’t remember where I got the idea of trying this most iconic of grit routes, The End Of The Affair. A seed was planted some time in the past, its roots creeping their way through grey matter over the years until, one day, I woke up and decided to do it. Not try it, but do it.
And that’s how I found myself tying in at the bottom on a warm, blisteringly windy day in April. "There’s no way I’m doing it today" said Ben as I lowered him from the top rope. "I’m practically being blown off the route". It was true. Chalk was being shot horizontally from his bag with every dab of the hand. What was more, there was a distinct humidity to the air, and sun was on the left side of the rounded arête. All the crucial holds were both slopey—and on the sunny side. I tried tricking myself that the wind was cancelling out the poor conditions, but I wasn’t that stupid. I tied in for a second top rope. If I got it clean, I would go for the lead. Fuck, I got it clean.
The following half an hour I was a nervous wreck. I packed and repacked my bag, seeking order from familiar possessions. Trembling hands tied the crash pads down to stop them blowing away, and I put earplugs in to stop the wind beating my ears. Lastly, the top rope was pulled. But then, by some mechanism, my imagination disengaged and mind quietened.
Before I could compute the gravity of my situation I was stood on a smear, looking down at a dangling rope and a lot of air. Just a foot match and a high step before the crucial jugs. The route, however, had other plans. I couldn’t use the marginal foot swap I had practised on the last top rope. The smear was just too poor, and my grip was loosening. Then, the Fall the Big Ride; the Weekend Whipper. All my questions were answered with the familiar tightening of rope, level with Ben. The gear held. I could walk away today.
Ben lowered me the solitary meter till I was standing on the ground. He pointed up. There was a disturbing lack of sheath where the rope fed through the gear, revealing the inner cord’s tentacles. That was close, I joked. And it was. The grit gods had given me a message. Quite what, I’m still unsure.
The End Of The Affair? The affair is not ended.
Jerome Mowat Climber and writer. Based in Sheffield and London.