A Helping Hand – Summer 1998

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I leaned my head back and looked up the mountain, slowly shaking my head as I always did. “No way” I said softly to myself. “No way can I get up there”. And as usual I tightened my gear, steeled myself and began to climb.

I had always liked climbing, which was a legacy from my dead father. In his day, he had been a brilliant climber, one of the best. And in the end, it was the death of him. He put climbing before everything and everybody else. I will always remember the disbelieving stare of my mother when the news reader announced that the climbing party in the Welsh mountains had been hit by a storm. There had been one casualty.

He usually spurned all kinds of safety equipment, climbing with only rope, crampons and a climbing hack. No helmet, harness or hooks. He said they spoiled the challenge of man against mountain. And it wasn’t only climbing he was good at. His agile mind could grasp almost anything, and he was always beside me with an encouraging word helping me along, correcting my mistakes. It was only after he died I really appreciated what he meant to me.

My mother never recovered from the shock. She was killed six months later in a car accident. I sometimes wondered if a deliberate turn of the wheel took her car under the wheels of the lorry that night. So, partly out of guilt, partly out of curiosity I took up climbing. Now I know the attraction it held – the rush of sheer adrenaline when you swing across a sheer rock face, the joy of reaching the summit. I stopped, hammered another hook into the rock and passed the rope through it. I adjusted my helmet, pulled at my gloves and continued.

The Wind began to tug at me as I went up, getting stronger as the minutes passed. Rain began to thunder down, blinding me and slowing me down. I began to have doubts and glanced around, but great sheets of rain were hammering down and I could see glanced around. I put my foot down searching for a foothold.

Suddenly my boot slipped on the wet rock. For one brief, terrible second, I hung motionless, then I plunged earthwards. The mountain flashed past in a grey blur, then BANG! I passed my last hook the rope caught and held. My downward plummet was stopped violently and I was smashed against the rock face.

I had no time to be scared. My hands and feet scrambled over the rock desperately looking for any hold. My helmet fell off and bumped down four hundred feet in a series of ghastly bumps and thuds. Now I was terrified. The wind pushed me to and fro, the rope creaked ominously and stones began to hit me on the way down. I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable fall. Nothing happened.

I opened one eye slowly and looked around cautiously. Glancing up, I could see the hook that my life depended on beginning to work loose. After staring in disbelief for a few moments, I redoubled my efforts to get free. Then fate lent a hand. The wind pushed me against a rock ledge. I reached out, but it was just beyond my grasp. If I could grab that, I would have a chance. With survival within my reach, I threw myself at the ledge, swinging myself violently, reaching out with both arms.

The hook was now leaning out at an alarming dangerous angle. I had one more chance. I pushed myself off the rock face, and threw myself into one last effort, arms reaching out – and to my astonishment another hand emerged from the grey mist. With a shocked gasp, I clasped it firmly and scrambled up onto that ledge. I fell down, panting for air, trying to calm my racing pulse. I turned towards my saviour. “Who are you?”

He was kneeling in the tunnel with his back towards me. He wore crampons and beside him lay a hack. He had no other gear. My heart lurched and a wild thought struck me. I gaped at him in amazement. “I think you know”. he said without turning around. I tore my eyes away from him for a moment as I unfastened my harness. I whirled around to face him and the puzzled smile I had, died away. He was gone!

I sat up and rubbed my aching bones. I let my head lie against the rock and the rain washed down over my face. I smiled again. Yes, I knew who it was. My father had helped me one last time …

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About this record

Written by Bernard Kelly

Published here 08 Mar 2023 and originally published Summer 1998

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