Wednesday, April 3, 2013


An impossible ascent. A sheer icy sheet. An insurmountable tombstone punctuated only by danger spots: Dead Man's Traverse, Skull Crag, Hypothermia Pass, Howling Drop. Climbers have a name for this place. They call it The Way of Thanatos, Thanatos being the personification of death. All who attempted it retreated, perished, or, most ignominious of all, perished whilst retreating. Limp cadavers dangle from the lips of the overhangs. This is the graveyard of mountaineering's elite. The best of them met their end here: Brompton, Ferris, Clanton, Spellman. The frozen screaming faces on their crystallised remains - a warning from above. 'Go back, go back', they wail, their shrill voices mingling with the shrieking wind, but I was not dissuaded. I could do this. I was certain. What's more I could do it without the required boots and gloves, cords and carabiners, quickdraws and harnesses, picks and axes. I had all I needed. I was wearing my warm crombie and I had my cans. 

Yes, all I really needed was my cans. Six LCL, six Dutch, that should see me right. 'Don't do it Mr. Fugger!' they said, 'it's suicide!', 'you'll end up like Dicko!' I told them I'd be OK. I told them I'd be better than OK. I told them I would be the first to reach the top. 'Ah, fuck it lads, I'll be up it in no time. It'll be a laugh', were my exact words followed by the pop of a tab and the fizz of the first sup. It would be, to quote myself again, 'a piece of piss'.

Acute gusts stabbed at my face as I approached the base of the cruel slab - a physical assault by a psychotic Jack Frost. The wind is this mountain's murder weapon of choice. It prizes fingers from their purchase and throws climbers down from the heights. I laughed. I was warmed by the booze. Thanatos had not reckoned on a challenger armed with cans. Trusty cans, loyal and true. They will always see you right. A dozen 500ml 5% portions of masculinity's lifeblood. Oh yes, the cans were the game changer.

I attempted to set my shoe in what I thought might pass for an initial foothold. It was slippery and shallow and my foot failed to grip. I searched for another starting point but it was the same. It was like glass. I sighed in irritation and muttered an obscenity. I tried to find another foothold and then another but the pattern kept repeating. It occurred to me that I might have underestimated my geological nemesis. The fact that I would have to make the ascent single handed (I needed a free hand for my Dunnes Stores holdall of intoxicating equipage) was not going to make my attempt any easier. It began to seem as if it might be no use. Still, I persevered. I kept trying for at least three to four minutes as my small audience tensely observed. Finally I cursed out loud and turned away from the source of my frustration. I was done. The Way of Thanatos had defeated me. Like all men, I was not up to the task. I felt such shame, not just personally but for our species as a whole. Nature had issued us a challenge and I wondered if we would ever meet it. I thought it would be me. I thought I was the man. Alas, no. I was just a bit pissed really.

'Ah fuck that', I said and proposed we return to the chalets and see if the bar was still open. The others agreed and placed comforting arms around my shoulders as we trudged away. I turned once more as we left. I turned back and saw The Way of Thanatos smugly regarding my retreat. Nature mocking. God taunting. I vowed to one day return. I would be back another day but not with cans. Not cans, no, but something else. Something far better. I would bring a quarter of hash and some 'yokes'. Dropping an E would be mad half way up that bastard. It would really enhance the buzz and I'd feel extra good when I reached the summit and danced upon it. Big fish, little fish, cardboard box. I'd probably bring a few valium too, in case I encountered a detoxifying drop in serotonin during the descent. Best not to forget about the way down when you're coming up. That's what my mate Dicko always used say. He was a bit of a climber too but sadly brained himself during a failed ascent of a bus shelter near Kimmage industrial park. He was never the same after that. Not the man he used to be. He's no longer fit for work and his long suffering mother has to spoon feed him and give him baths in case he drowns.

Yes, I will return and defeat this mountain and I will dedicate my victory to Dicko. I will write his name in the snow with piss so God will see it when he looks down from above. A sweet revenge on God for endowing us with the hubris that is so often our undoing. A sweet 'fuck you' for providing us with the booze and pills that lead us to our ruin. Yes, I will be back and I will do it for Dicko. For now I will return to shelter and get a few down me and see what comes of the rest of the night. I'm sure more adventure awaits. We men are all about adventure. Thanatos has its way and we have ours.

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