The grit pierces your fingertips. If you’ve sanded wood you might have felt the different grains of sandpaper. Even a well climbed gritstone boulder is like the roughest of these. There are odd footsteps, often on the easier climbs, at the start of which there is a single obvious move needed to reach from the floor. There you’ll get a tiny patch of stone that is like marble, an edge that has been pressed, rubbed so many times it becomes slick to the touch. The harder the climb, the fewer the feet that have edged, the rougher, the better the stone.
This is a low boulder, a hard grade, an unfavorable route. Chalk white fingers are numb sore; the best climbing is in the cold when fingertips don’t get greasy. A foot placement out and to the left, hips tight in to the curve and fingers reach up over the edge to the thin crimp. The right foot back out behind, wedging the body in place and you can breathe. The pain is ignored, hands chalked up, two more moves.
You don’t look down to the mat, it is a little more than jumping distance, if you fall you will roll, like you have before today, once, twice, three times. No spotters, no one there to catch you, congratulate you, shout beta at you, stupid instructions for a task they don’t understand. You are working, working a route, a goal, working the pain out, the aches and tiredness. You live this. You can tell yourself and the world that everything is okay now. You are strong, healthy. You do not fall.
You breathe slowly regaining the crimp, twisting left, out, right foot now precarious but able to push up, one move to make the flat, left palm up and reliant on the friction. It is good; the benefit of the unfavoured path you have taken. You lift, core tightening and your heel hooks the slightest dip in the surface. Against the rough rock it is enough, the edge of your left foot smearing against the wall, all friction, grit and strength to rock over onto both feet and stand. In the cool air a whispered breeze, realising it is nearly dark and when you turn you will not be able to see the mat on the ground beneath. You sketch down and jump the last four feet. Exchange shoes for trainers and shrug into a jacket, hood up, you are already cold now. Folding up the mat you trudge less graceful out of the wood, to the car and the short distance home.
Food, a hot cup of tea.
Tomorrow you will be out on the moor, that was the last of the boulders sheltered by the woods. So you pull out a wind proof and stuff it into your kit. Next you will shower and sleep.
Tomorrow you will climb again
For the first time you think briefly; tomorrow you will be on the moor, perhaps there will be others there.
But you do not know how to feel this. It is not as clear s the grit. And anyway, it is tomorrows concern.