Wet climbing

The lengthy spell of dry, and usually warm weather has meant an early start to watering the garden. The grass – what’s left of it – shows signs of thermal exhaustion. But recently I was reminded of the opposite – an occasion when the rain was more than plentiful, but an occasion that presented a great opportunity to go rock climbing.

It was in Donegal many years ago, and five students from Derry and Coleraine went wet rock-climbing. We stayed in a delightful old croft, without water, electricity, plumbing. It was just four walls, with two rooms inside, ill-lit. There was a large fireplace where we constructed a peat fire, bringing a supply of dry peat with us. There was peat all around but it was wet and would take days to dry. The rain fell alternately horizontal and vertical. The wind blew from the west or north west. Water was to the north of the hut, the toilet was to the south, but at night in the dark it was easy to get disoriented, especially returning from the pub. All around were puddles that grew larger and deeper. Indeed, it became difficult to tell which puddle was the well, which the toilet, when one puddle ended and another began. There was no dividing line between the rainful blustery sky and the lying ruffled waters. It was easy to imagine something of the trials of life of those who had lived here a century before, whose offspring left for North America. It was difficult to imagine how they could have cultivated or reared anything.

We arrived on the Friday evening and went out to scout out the rocks we planned to climb next day. Tim was already equipped with wet-rock-climbing boots. He scaled some way up the face, to seek out challenging routes for the next day. The rock stream seemed the most challenging. That was a definite for Tim. The rest of the evening was spent in a pub.

The rain persisted, much to our delight, and earlyish on the Saturday we set out to scale the rock face. Bob held the safety rope while Tim climb the initial route. Bob followed Tim as the rain lashed down in gusts, with Bob holding the rope. Meanwhile Bob had gone off to the right to scout out another route and Bob went with him. Yes, it could have been confusing: we were four Bobs and Tim. Somehow ‘Bob, let go of the rope’, ‘Bob, hold!’, ‘Bob, left hand!’, ‘Take the strain, Bob’, ‘Belay, Bob, belay!’ did not lead to confusion. Each Bob knew which Bob was meant. No one fell. Tim and Bob made it to the top via the first route, Bob and Bob succeeded on the second, and Bob remained at the bottom. And we all got very wet, outside and in. More fortunate than our predecessors.

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