THE BLACK ROCKS SAGA
Setting up for the last move on ‘End Of The Affair’, the infamous E8 arete at Curbar, I realised something was wrong. I shouted down to Neil who was belaying: ‘Err, mate….. I’m not up for it!’ ‘What!’ he replied horrified. ‘You can’t say that, mate…You’ve got no choice!’
Neil was poised, ready to jump off the ledge that lies below, so he could take in enough rope to prevent a ground fall. Instinctively and very carefully, I started reversing. I knew if I could get closer to the gear, and Neil jumped, I would probably stop just short of the ground. Seconds later, I was off. Neil leapt from the ledge and we came to a hault hanging like a couple of monkeys at a fairground stall, just a few inches from the ground. Words didn’t really seem sufficient at the time but I had to say something: ‘That was a bit spicy mate! Nice one!’
A week later we hatched a cunning plan to go to Curbar in the morning so I could finish End of the Affair and then on to Black Rocks so Neil could make the second ascent of Meshuga. Then we’d both do Gaia afterwards. Right then! Monday morning started like a dream with crisp blue skies and frozen puddles on the ground. End Of The Affair passed without incident this time, and we set off to Black Rocks. A sinister and macabre place at the best of times, I stood beneath the prow of ‘Meshuga’ while Neil tightened his flimsy shoelaces preparing to embark on this ‘ultimate Hard Grit experience’. The characteristic signs of fear were starting to invade and Neil was silent, consumed by his meditative void. He started the dynamic sequence of moves with the rope dangling uselessly to the redundant belay plate that I clutched in my sweaty palms. I thought about the bouldering mats that he had stashed purposely at the other end of the cliff to prevent temptation. This was a route not a boulder problem. Maybe our pride and prejudices border the fine line between self-preservation and recklessness.
Neil launched for the blind slap around the arête, hit the sloper, then like a piece of Al Dente spaghetti hanging from a kitchen ceiling he paused, before plummeting down onto the slab six feet to my left. He bounced off the boulders and down into the gully below. Mike Robertson dropped his camera and legged it down to him while I frantically untied myself from the belay. Dazed and confused, Neil had received a blow to the head. He was incoherent, but there was no blood. After a few moments to recuperate we took him down to the car and sped off to the hospital. He had been extremely lucky; or so we thought ...