I recently had occasion to reproach someone for complaining that, having just turned 40, they felt old. My reproach took the form of a personal story, and in case any of my readers feel that they too are ‘getting old’, I reproduce that story here.
Everyone knew young Sid. He was a regular visitor to Shepherd’s Crag in Borrowdale in the 1990s, and this is where I first met him. Shepherd’s, as it is universally known, is probably the most popular rock-climbing venue in the Lake District, although it is far from being the best. However, the crag’s singular advantage is that it is only two minutes from the road.
Many of the best climbs are located on North Buttress, which, confusingly, is not the most northerly part of the crag, and my favourite has always been a climb called Adam, which has a difficulty rating of very severe (VS). It consists of two contrasting pitches separated by a large ledge. The first is a brutal 40-foot corner crack that is impossible to climb with any degree of style or panache. It is what I would describe as a ‘grunty’, and the usual method used is what climbers call ‘thrutching’ (the word speaks for itself and should need no explanation). It is extremely strenuous and always feels precarious. If it were not for the spectacular joys of the second pitch, a 90-foot vertical wall with lots of good handholds, I might have climbed Adam only once and made a mental note to avoid it at all costs in the future.
However, because the second pitch is so exciting, I was always prepared to endure the purgatory of the first pitch and in fact climbed Adam every year between 1989 and 1999. On one of these occasions, I was climbing Adam with Paula, and we had just completed the first pitch when I noticed young Sid walking past the bottom of the climb.
“Hey Sid!” I called down. “If I drop you a rope, d’you fancy coming up?”
The rope would be a safety measure and would not be used to assist upward progress. Anyway, Sid duly climbed up, and after we had completed the climb and Sid had left, I asked Paula how old she thought Sid was. I didn’t tell her until later that he’d cycled 30 miles to get to Shepherd’s, and he would have to cycle another 30 miles to get back home.
Young Sid was 85 years old.