The Direct Route

Move up right to a diagonal crack. Make the infamous and enjoyable hand-traverse along this to a step right.

Route description, Direct Route, Dinas Mot

A day set apart from quotidian care,
soul-lifting sun on dependable grit
healing the hurts of a difficult year:
heartache and loneliness, exam resits,
fatigue, world weariness, all disappear.

On the crag, pretence falls away
and, destinies bound by a palpable thread,
friendships fail quickly—or else they
grow deep, and strong and long instead,
pitch by shared pitch, and belay by belay.

Finding flow in the craic and the line
mind entranced by the rush of the rock,
all life’s struggles distilled and defined
in a tangible route to that famed mountaintop,
a needle-less high, fulfilment mainlined.

The screams as she fell,
rusty shards, ripped through my reverie,
but the way that she fell
silent—abruptly, absolutely, irrevocably
is what troubles me still.

A family walk, on a well beaten track,
periodically marked by the usual dissent
from their twelve year old—asking: “Can we go back?”
but finally marred by her sickening descent
of the direct route to the foot of the crag.

Naked, exposed, bare back, hands and feet,
not missing my clothes but rather the certainty,
the tools and the teams, the familiar routines,
the comfort of hospital trauma, and my tightly
tied mask of professional detachment.

Her breathing slowed, then came to a stop,
as her mouth overflowed with copious sick
and she mottled blue-grey. Turn her face up,
risk making her worse, even paraplegic?
Or let her lie there, with no air, and no hope.

But mouth to mouth with a mouthful of vomit?
I wiped away at her lips and her tongue
with a rag, paralysed myself to be honest,
but mercifully, wonderfully, found that her chest had begun
to move, and her face, once more, had life in it.

The first ambulance crew took an age to arrive
from the city nearby, without brace or ideas.
I sited a drip then watched, in disbelief,
her Golden Hour slip away into two, then three as
they methodically tidied before they would leave.

She survived, I was told, in a neurosurgical ward,
and walked, and talked again, in time.
Her parents sent thanks—and I felt a fraud.
A meal out, perhaps? I politely declined,
supposing some things were better left unexplored.

I did climb again, but the magic was gone:
with every pitch I heard the lurch
and felt the scream and tasted, as I clung,
the dull impact of hardened earth
on my anticipating tongue.

That prelapsarian joy
lives only in dreams that escape me, alas:
sometimes, there, I climb still I think, then mournfully
wake with an aching sense of great loss,
and never know why.