We were on top of our mountain. It was nameless and unsung. When we got back down at camp we could play around with ludicrous names, and rack our idle minds with playful possibilities. If for a brief imaginary moment it was our mountain then we could merge our names to call it Phriss.
Overheated we spurted singly up the last chunk of the rocky ridge in the fading light of the sinking sun. We reached the summit at local midnight on our Wild Mountain Time, the expedition having shifted the local time to let us lead a more convenient existence. We reckoned therefore that it was quite appropriate to arrive on top in the middle of the night. The unknown steep hills on the islands towards Cape Farewell were drifting into the indistinct blueness of dusk, the evening fog was creeping over the calm water of the Ilua basin, and eastward in the gathering dusk the long channel of Prins Christian Sund, a sea trough straight as a dug ditch, was matted with ice floes. On the adjacent summit we could see two small friendly figures silhouetted against the deepening blue of the night. Our pals had made a top too.
We decided to stay where we were. It had been a long day, we deserved a rest. Close by was an ideal sheltered bivouac ledge, we flattened and paved it, and being meal time I dined on some of my store of innumerable chocolate bars. The sun set and the light lingered on for another two hours to leave a mere orange sliver in the western sky. Sitting peacefully I smoked a contemplative pipe and tried to count our ringlet of different spires and lumps but arrived at such a dubious unreliable total that I must have dozed off to sleep and counted them over several times.
Crawled into my bivy bag ,wearing my duvet jacket, and eventually everything is worn. At first it was warm, but gradually I chilled, and then it was sleepless cold, and this is supposed to be pleasure–huh! There are stars showing between gaps in the thin high cloud, a planet hangs out over the Atlantic, and a satellite tracks steadily into the north-east. The dawn light comes slowly with little fire, merely a dull cream on the snows, and a chill mist banner gathers and lingers on the lee of the ridges.
Just after eight o’clock we shivered awake and fully clad we began the descent to the col nicking the ridge. A loose stone gives way and unlucky Chriss numbs his arm. The tricky wall wasn’t too difficult and after two hours of careful scrambling we reached the nick. In front of us was the horrid traverse which on the way up had given a full rope length on a rising angle up a steep snow lump adhering to the face, to be followed by other icy unwelcome nosey problems. We looked for an alternative to avoid such pre-breakfast taxation and fraught exertions? Let’s use the ropes to rig up an abseil down a convenient narrow gully and surmount a snow bump down to the glacier below. It couldn’t be easier, we are home and dry..
A loop was strung round a spike and the ropes tossed down the gully. I straddled the ropes appropriately and prepared to go first and test the route down to the glacier ice.
“You know what you have to do. When I’m down I’ll give you a shout, and you follow.” Chris, I realised, looked unhappy, nervous and ill at ease. “You’ve abseiled before, haven’t you?”
Silence, then “No. This will be the first time.”
And so it was, and he made it.
“Good for you, Chris.”
A wonderful unforgettable occasion for a new experience, me thinks.