Reaching The Summit

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

23rd April 2015
You know why I climb, don't you? You taught me, showed me your world and let me know you through it. Down on Earth you were restless and difficult, dour and quiet. I can't explain it to the people who assume it's because I get a buzz from 'summiting'. When I talk to people and try to explain I see their eyes glaze over. I'll try again and maybe you'll understand, all you people out there.


It's never about getting to the top. Not for me. It's about every footstep I take to get there, every thought that goes through my head and every word I use silently to urge myself on. I have a mantra, a childish rhyme which goes through my head on a loop and I listen and push myself on. Every step is for my father.

I climbed my first mountain when I was seven. It was a hill at the back of my great-grandmother's house and my father took me, encouraging me, talking about his life. I was determined not to let him down so I pushed myself on and on until we stood together grinning into the wind, looking at the house way down below, a doll's house I'd slept in the previous night. I thought I could see my great-granny waving so I waved back, and then I waved at the town and the distant hills. We turned around and looked behind us and then I saw it, a higher hill, a peak reaching up to the clouds.

I wanted to go to the clouds.

My father saw my look and put his hand on my head. "I know, Andrew. I know."

The next time he asked me to go 'climbing' - he insisted on calling it although we were only hill walking - I was ready before him, jumping up and down beside the car.

It was the beginning of finding a bond with him, this father who I'd always been a little in awe of. He loved climbing and I would love it too. I began to see things the way he saw them - a deer, cautious, looking at us as if we were hunters, a hawk watching us high above, shimmering in the huge sky.

We went every weekend it was fine or my mother would let is go. Other times she insisted on family visits and my father and I would sink into silence in the car. It must have frustrated and scared her, thinking I would turn into this silent man my father was.

When I was older we began Monroe bagging, and were set for a record for the number of climbs in six months. But I'd noticed my father getting slower, and clumsier. I watched and didn't say anything, commenting instead on the life around us, the way we always had. My father's eyes weren't looking as far as mine though. It was as if he'd begun to turn inwards.

The illness which took him should have been frightened away by his strength and fitness, but it claimed him anyway. My mother's life halted; she'd lost a man she didn't even know very well. I tried to be warm to her, talk to her, get her to understand but I felt I could not reach her.

Now when I climb I look for him in the land around me. When I see a hawk, or a deer. When I go to the same places we walked together. And every time, I stand at the summit and imagine him there with me, touching my head and telling me he understood me. Or perhaps, knowing I understood him an knowing how rare this was. My father was hard to know.

I am hard to know, now. I have become like him, always reaching for the clouds, always lost in the journey. I'm happy in the mountains. There's a stillness you never find on Earth. Life is harder and more beautiful. The moutain seems alive and you know it's a priviledge to be there and you tread carefully so as not to harm her.

It's not about reaching the top; it's about reaching a place deep inside. My father had me to understand but in all the climbers I've met I've never found the same connection. Maybe one day I will. perhaps in my own son. Perhaps in a lover - though this seems impossible.

For now though, the mountains are enough. They speak to each of us differently, though I know they spoke to my father and me in the same language, all those years ago.