Rock climbing in Scotland
It’s blustery up on the mountainside. I pull my jacket tighter across my chest as protection. The rocks around me seem to be pulling the long grass closer to them too… or perhaps it’s the other way around. Perhaps the grass is looking for shelter against the boulders which have survived millennia up here.
These boulders have dealt with more than a few gusts of cool wind. And today they’re going to survive me too. Whether I survive them is another matter.
I’m not technically in the Highlands of Scotland here around Glen Croe. As I walked up the mountain, though, I felt higher than any time so far in the country. Now with my own bare hands, I’m going to head a little further up.
Ed Hides is taking me climbing and, with his help, I’m going to tackle some of natural walls that nature has carved for us. Ed has recently started his own outdoor adventure company called Experiential, so I’m confident I’m in good hands. Now I just hope that my hands are any good.
Two climbs and two successes. With a harness and a safety rope, my fears were lifted from me. Sadly lifting my feet was not so easy. From a distance you always think you can see a simple path to the top.
It’s much more difficult when your fingers start to go so numb the only way you know they’re still holding on is because you haven’t fallen. But I managed to scramble to the top of my first climb and, emboldened, launched into the second one with enthusiasm as unbridled as the land around me.
From the top, I look around. Ed has chosen well for today’s climb because, not only have I succeeded, but there’s a view you simply don’t appreciate as you drive by in a car. Mountains and valleys intersect, a lake glimmers in the distance, and it all feels so untamed.
A few lines of a poem by Scottish poet Norman MacCaig were recently hard carved into the stone walls of the country’s Parliament. They seem appropriate as I look out from the rocks.
Who possesses this landscape? –
The man who bought it or
I who am possessed by it?
False questions, for this landscape is masterless and intractable in any terms that are human.
And that’s exactly it. We may feel like we occasionally conquer this landscape – with a successful climb, for instance – but we never really possess it… or are possessed by it. I tilt my head into the wind and look further up. More boulders. More challenges. Intractable.