Finally the day has arrived. Months of training and preparation, weeks of hectic packing and ordering last minute supplies and finally everything is distilled into three heavy bags on platform 9. Sheffield station – the departure zone for so many expeditions to so many of the world’s great mountains. You’d hardly know it though. Same old dirt, same old delays. Some things are perennial in the world of travel. And, as I’m finding right now, stress is one of them.
Turns out that Ally, who is flying in from Geneva with EasyJet, is delayed to the point where he’s got 20 minutes to make our flight. It’s impossible not to start worrying about all the possible consequences of missing it, but mainly they all boil down to one thing – cash. Lots of it. Maybe that’s why flying long distances is always stressful, because if something goes wrong it costs a lot to put it right. Or maybe it’s something more fundamental, something about being a long way above the earth, or something about changing continents at a speed strange to our species’ evolution. Whatever, I’m trying not to worry about it. There’s nothing to do one way or the other. Just wait.
And, sat on the long delayed train to the airport, it turns out that the waiting’s not so difficult. It’s a spectacularly beautiful evening with clouds hanging from the Peak District’s modest hills and a sun gone golden and warm. Makes me wonder why I’m leaving this cosy place and the comfort of my family, but this is another train of thought I can’t see through to the end.
The answer to the why, of course, is this sodding great big mountain on the other side of the planet. To say Cerro Torre is iconic is an understatement: it’s what might come from a design brief to build the wildest, most beautiful mountain on the earth, but then dispatching that brief on acid. It’s also a mountain with a history surpassed perhaps only by Everest and is, in the words of the famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner, “probably the hardest mountain in the world if you go to climb it with your hands and feet”. That’s a slightly odd quote, granted, but it hints at a controversial history too complicated to go into here. Suffice to say that if Ally Swinton and Dave McLeod manage to free climb it, they’ll be doing something pretty significant in the world of mountaineering.
I, of course, have no chance of climbing this mountain with only my “hands and feet”. I’m working, filming and taking pictures. And I’ll be climbing with Ally – assuming he makes the flight – so when it gets too hard for us, we’ll haul up Calum and Dave’s ropes. It’s still an intimidating proposition though, and if conditions come good we’ll be looking at two or three days of little sleep and an awful lot of hard graft. Ally and I will have to carry a bunch of cameras in addition to our climbing rack and so won’t have the luxury of the lightweight style the mountain normally demands. How this is going to work out, I won’t know until we get there. Yet another of this trip’s imponderables.
And to be honest, that’s pretty much what I’m left with at the moment – an awful lot of unknowns. Will Ally make the flight? Don’t know. Will the weather allow us a crack at the Compressor Route? Who can tell. How am I going to document the ascent? What tactics will we have to employ to work on Cerro Torre? We haven’t a clue. There’s so much we don’t know, there’s not much point worrying. And its with this in mind that I arrive at Manchester airport and try to work out how to get 90 kilos of luggage onto a 23kg baggage limit. It’s going to be interesting…
Update – Ally made the flight!!!