My first mountain trip ever was a school visit to Snowdonia. We climbed the Idwal Slabs, walked the Devil’s Kitchen, and failed to learn orienteering. I don’t remember any sunshine. My first independent trip was in the Lake District. We walked Catbells in the autumn, exquisite, and I took a bus and walked up Helvellyn in mist. My friend took the bus back to Keswick. There was nothing to see. Visibility was about twenty feet and I was frightened at the prospect of the steep drop to Red Tarn. I had no idea how sudden it was, how dangerous the area might be, or what to expect in any conceivable way.

Around ten years ago I was walking near Red Pike above Wasdale, climbing up to Pillar in a white out. I was having fun. I don’t usually enjoy clambering and climbing for the sake of it, with nothing to see, but on that occasion did so. Sometimes it’s good merely to use your body. Stretch, grasp, heave, thrust. Get city nonsense out of your mind. You’re not trapped and confined by it: you’re free. Two walkers, slow and nervous and uncertain, weren’t sure of the route. You look like you know what you’re doing, she said. I gave some advice.

I don’t tick off summits and seek to conquer. I go into the mountains, as Nan Shepherd said poetically: and realised, slowly, over the years, yes I do know what I’m doing. Coming back down here, after reaching the high col but not Monte Cinto, there was a white out with fifty foot visibility. Nothing to worry about because the GR20 paint flashes were visible. Not much fun however, because the ground was rocky and slippery. If you couldn’t see the paint flashes, this area would be dangerous.

We’re separated from nature in modern society. We’re separated from ourselves, to greater or lesser extent depending on circumstances. Marx referred to alienation: but considered the individual in dreary economic determinism terms which leads to (so called) working class tribalism. RD Laing referred to the facts of dehumanisation in psychological terms and implied an autonomous self, not a serf identity where you mob together with others and shout at the rich. Walk the hills and you’re free from society. It’s a primal experience, sinking through mist or wading through black night if you come down late in the day.

When I got back to Haut Asco, I met an Austrian chap on the hostel veranda. We spoke about Kafka whose writings (Orwell’s too) describe the corruption and sickness of contemporary living. When I returned from Corsica, after a few days I wanted the hills again. I retreated to a favourite part of Snowdonia. The Rhinogs are a fine wild place with wonderful views and lovely proximity to the sea. There was bright sunshine. I climbed Moelfre. I rested at the summit for an hour.


Cloud Over Corsica

Sunday October 4, 2015