Somedays you wake and the world is full of hope. Yes it’s a challenge but you stride purposely towards the light.

Whether it’s the alignment of the stars, or the moon, or the lack of sleep or the weather or the cards are stacked against you or the demons have woken ….. but for whatever reason somedays the world appears different. You are alone and operating without a safety net. It’s is dark, cold and scary. Often I liken the feeling to a Tolkien like scene. You are stood on the ramparts of Helms Deep. It is cold and the rain pours. You are besieged by an evil army of Orcs. But this time you are stood alone and Gandalf isn’t riding over the hill top to save you that day. You feel like hope has deserted you. A battle you didn’t ask for and one you cannot win this day.

In climbing the dreaded word is cragfast. Basically you are stuck. You can’t go up, down or sideways. Less polite terms also exist for this ……

My mind drifts to The Eiger. Back to 1936. Four young climbers attempt to be the first to scale the infamous North Face.

Andreas Hinterstoisser, Edi Ranier, Willy Angerer and Toni Kurz.

On the ill fated ascent Hinterstoisser opened up the mountain with an astonishing traverse now named after him. Tragically they decided to remove the ropes they had fixed in that section. A huge storm set in so they tried to retreat. They discovered that the Hinterstoisser traverse could only be completed in reverse with the aid of fixed ropes. They were suddenly out of options. A suicidal decent was attempted. Over the next few hours three climbers died. Rescuers got close to the remaining climber Toni Kurz. But they did not have enough rope to reach him so they had to retreat leaving the young climber stranded. They left to the echos of a climber pleading not to be left alone. The next morning a second rescue attempt was launched but they found the young climber close to death. He quietly said “Ich Kann nicht mehr” – I cannot go on. He died feet from rescue.

The German 2008 movie of this tragedy “North Face” is one of the bleakest movies you will ever see. I have stood at the bottom of the North Face. Your mind can’t help thinking of those brave young climbers. Too many climbers have been lost here. It’s a truly cathartic experience.

What is the point of this post. I am not sure. Maybe it’s just about saying that life can be bleak and dark. You will come across times when you become stuck – cragfast. You find times when you are on the ramparts alone. You hope that when that happens people will come to save you. But rescues sometimes fail – even heroes stumble. These are the times you have to stand alone. Those are grim times. Times we must endure. You hope to just make it through the night. The morning may bring new light or a hero. Or you may have to struggle on for another day alone. It’s a sobering thought.

52 thoughts on “Cragfast

  1. What a great post. The story of the climbers rings a faint bell somewhere but I never heard of the movie “North Face” and will go find that one and watch. Made me think of “Touching the Void” which is another absolutely incredible story of a hopeless situation you would find too far fetched if it were written for a movie.

    One thing that really made me smile was when his delirium kicked in and “Brown Girl in the Ring” went on and on in an endless loop “I thought God… I’m going to die to Boney M”

    Demonstrated perfectly how sometimes despite being in a situation where things can’t get any worse, they can always get even worse because of something that really shouldn’t be a problem at all.

    Life has a way of helping us out when we need it most and that means days we’re up, others when we’re down but the days you really do need strength, you find it. Often in the weirdest of places but you find it 🙂

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      1. Yeah I believe has partner did really get a hammering afterwards which is an awful thing to have lumped on that guy. When I watched the movie my heart went out to him as he described getting ready to leave camp and hearing what sounded like his friend… seeing someone in the distance who kind of looked like him too and then realising it was him.

        Must have been the worst, most awful bittersweet emotion for that guy Elation and relief and sheer joy that “God he’s alive!”:D and then “oh God.. he’s alive. I left him and he was alive 😦 ”

        He could not possibly have done anything if he’d stayed and not cut that rope either way. They would both have to make the journey back only once they reached camp – if they even reached it – there would be nobody there to help either. Both would be dead and as it worked out, both lived.

        Humans are cruel and in situations where others have experienced what the rest of us can’t even begin to imagine they still like to take higher ground. Same with the survivors of the Andes crash who were shunned and ripped apart by members of the community too. We’re a strange species.

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  2. I really feel helpless for you. It is horrible when someone in your life is “cragfast” and there is nothing much anyone can do, just wait for the situation to evolve. I think and hope you have days when you do have hope, and see some light ahead. All the best.

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  3. This is a profound post and touched me deeply. I have felt that way in the past but – I don’t know if it was a sudden change or I just noticed after a long time – one day life stopped being like that. It would be insulting to say what worked for me will work for you – I don’t even know what the key was anyway – but what I do know is that life goes in cycles, whether it’s that you realise you don’t need the help or you find it, or maybe something else entirely different.

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    1. No I get that. I think the other thing is that it is also so difficult to force your mind to assess the actually reality. Those poor climbers were in hell. Someone like me sat in this chair with a cup of tea…. no that isn’t hell in any way – but in can feel like it.

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      1. I wouldn’t underestimate the position you are in. Of course, the situations are different in that you are not dependent on a rescue unit with a sufficiently long rope to save your life but you feel that life could be better, so until you feel it is better you won’t feel it is.

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  4. ‘Less polite terms also exist for this ……’ 🙂 Subtle! 😉

    One of our Ex Pm’s – Malcolm Fraser – is famous for one of his quotes: “Life wasn’t meant to be easy.” He actually took the quote as a challenge to do the hard things in life that truly needed doing, and not as a whinge about life’s troubles, though few think this when they quote him.

    Fraser was not the originator of course, it was George Bernard Shaw who gets the credit and his full quote was:
    ” Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful.”

    That’s quite true, life can at times be delightful and we should relish those times whenever possible… because there is always the opposite perspective that equally applies: it can be dreadful. Although statistically life tends to balance out, not all of us get the same ratio of good to bad and when we get Cragfast it can tend to reinforce in us a sense of doom for longer than we want or need or is good for anyone.

    I think the best thing anyone can do at those times is to find things that your positive emotions can relate to. Things that make you laugh or smile, things that warm your heart and bring joy, anything that breaks the downward spiral of negative emotion that really sucks.

    Take Courage, Life can be delightful.

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  5. Ooh, yes, I’ve done cragfast! Not fun at all! More panic than despair, though. And to pick up on the comment thread, yes, Simon Yates got a real hammering over that episode. Simpson never forgave him, as far as I know.

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  6. Oh my God. Those climbers. What a sad and sobering tale. That has gone deep into me.

    I know that cragfast feeling both literally and emotionally. We were once going up the Langdale Pikes in the Lake District and I got stuck. Could not go up or down. Just STUCK. An awful feeling.

    But yes, emotionally we get that way too. I feel like it often and I recognise exactly what you are saying. Bthey say these experiences strengthen us but they can totally wear us out too and we feel crushed by them. A really really really good post that I relate to so much. It’s such a godawful frightening feeling

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    1. I have just said something I wish I had added to the end. Me sat here with my iPad, sat in this chair with a hot drink. That’s not hell, that just isn’t – but sometimes it feels like it. Those climbers were in hell. Other people’s cragfast are so much scarier than mine. The way you cope with what was thrown at you is truly truly inspiring.

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      1. Oh gosh. Thankyou Gary. But I DO get scared. Truly. Just like when stuck on Langdale Pikes. People often say I am courageous. I am not really. I holler and holler sometimes lol. Your words are very kind indeed. And your own situation is very difficult too. To lose one’s life partner is truly horrible. And to have the sole responsibilty of bringing up your son. That must be scary at times. Just the pure grief and loneliness of your situation is enough. You too are doing an AMAZING job. X

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      2. Oh gosh. What a hirrbile experience. It is lovely to talk to someone else who has done this climbing thing! Ialways wanted t climb Everest, and told my chemo nurse that and she replied that I was climbing my Everest NOW. It is true. And I DO get cragfast lol

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      3. I loved reading the actor, Brian Blessed’s book. Like us he wanted to climb Everest, it charted his attempts later in life. He got within a couple of thousand feet but never managed it in 3 attempts. I used to know a lad who was a serious climber, he did get to climb it. Maybe one day. But as he said it – unless your prepared to sacrifice everything then it’s not worth it.

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  7. This one is resonating with me today; as the last few days too. Thank you for putting a voice to it. But one must remember, that the darkness in our lives is there to remind us how bright and brilliant the light is. Darkness is simply the absence of light – sometimes we can light a small candle ourselves, and sometimes someone lights us a glorious fire. Context and perspective are wonderful things, even if they are sometimes painful.

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