By Shahab Mossavat – 9th April 2014
This morning I remember that no matter how many pairs of dry socks you have, a wet boot is the real enemy. Having used up my final pair of dry socks, I am standing in my own personal puddle eating warm muesli and learning not to care too much.
We break camp at just after 8am, and the youngsters are sent ahead, with the instructors hanging back in what they call a ‘shepherding’ stance. The ability of what was a fragmented group of young individuals from an urban setting to move as one across this wild setting after less than two days in it is truly remarkable and inspiring.
Our progress is rapid and we reach Sandwick before too long. Up ahead and in the distance we can see a high straight ridge, and Uisdean tells us that this is the Roman High Street; literally a thoroughfare constructed 2000 years ago upon the high ground by the invaders, in their (ultimately futile) attempts to defend against the Picts.
Walking on we pass across the lands of the Rowley Estate and reach Martindale. It is just after Eleven in the morning, and for the first time since I got here, my body feels like it is actually waking up. This is well-timed because, walking along The Hause – a winding road dug out of the hillside – we arrive at a rock wall, where Rob, another instructor has arrived with extra kit for the climbing activity.
Everyone has a harness and karibiner and four different ascent routes are available. Me being me, I pick the hardest one, even though in my heart, I’m pretty certain my body lacks the strength and agility to do it, I don’t think a challenge is worthwhile, unless it seems insurmountable. Well, my thinking proves right, and despite several attempts I can’t get up this part of the rock face. The bit of the cliff next door looks a bit easier, but watching the youngsters struggling to get up it, I’m not sure I can do it. I do what adults should do, and I watch, and I try to learn from the way they take it on. About half of those who try this route are successful. Meanwhile Denilson, who is very wirily-built manages to make it to the top of the grade three climb.
Finally it’s my turn, and I have a route and I have a plan. Up above me, Henry is very encouraging as he belays the rope for me. I begin, and I have decided to be patient and not to panic. When you are climbing, sometimes your best friend is a bloody-minded attitude to succeed, and despite my wish to stay calm, the adrenaline takes over, and my arms start to push me up on to narrow ledges, and my fear of heights (quite chronic really) leaves me, and I feel myself soaring. I have made it, and I realise that thinking had much less to do with it, than just the desire to succeed; wanting ‘it’ just that much, that failure wasn’t an option.
A slug of hot tea from Uisdean’s brilliant Stanley flask is my reward at the top. I do everything I can to avoid looking down. It is not so high, maybe twenty metres, but that’s more than enough for me, and I can feel the strength leaving my legs. I feel elated.
From here we can see Howtown, and it is a welcome sight as we eat our lunch. Soon we will be back ‘home’. That word seems to have a real resonance now when applied to the OB Centre. It may only be ours temporarily, but after the rigours of being outward bound, being inward bound for it feels so reassuring.
Now that we have made it back home, the process of cleaning and clearing or ‘de-gunking’ in the OB’s own unique language begins. This is hardly what you want to do, after being out so long, and it proves less popular with some than others.
While, I am washing my boots, Course Director Alex Wheeldon hits me with some very bad news. Craig is very ill, and confined to his room. I visit Craig, and it transpires that he has been to hospital and is feeling quite poorly. I promise to check up on him again shortly. When I go to see, Craig again, just after dinner, it appears his health has deteriorated further, and so, Night Duty Instructor, Nicki Rogers agrees to drive Craig to hospital in Penrith.
It is 8pm and Arkless is going tunnelling. Our instructor, as in the afternoon is Rob, and he issues us with the most unwieldy rubber overalls you could ever imagine. Looking at the tiny entrance, I can’t imagine getting through it, but the die is cast, and in I go, instantly transformed into a troglodyte. It is very uncomfortable for a 44-year-old skeleton to lie prone and pull through almost 90 kilograms of flesh, but the spirit is a powerful thing. Rob appears through a hatch into the first cavern. Our task he tells us is to map the whole tunnel system within thirty minutes.
Nathaniel a reserved young man, of very few words comes to the fore. He decides to take the initiative and begin coordinating the group by placing himself in a small key room, where all the five tunnel networks converge. I observe as he delegates different routes to different people, and listens to what they tell him.
We return to the main circular room after twenty minutes, and Rob tells us that we have mapped the routes perfectly. Rob invites us to reflect on the qualities we have discovered in each other.
As they day draws to a close, my thoughts are mainly with poor Craig, who is staying overnight at hospital in Carlisle. Nicki tells me that they took one look at Craig in Penrith and said there was nothing they could do for him, so she had driven him to Carlisle. I hope all will be well with him.
Lying here in my bed, bruised and battered and feeling more tired than ever, it’s hard to imagine how far the members of Arkless have travelled together emotionally, in the 36 hours since we left to go on our expedition, on Tuesday morning. Right now, I can’t imagine anything other than having a lie in tomorrow, but somehow, I know that by the time the sun comes up tomorrow, I’ll be at the head of the queue to go gorge climbing. I love being here, and with these people, and somehow, I think that long after we disperse and go home, I will think on this time, and smile. Good night.