I always seem to have a project or two on the backburner – either climbing related or related to work – and sometimes both. At the moment my climbing related dreams (and nightmares) revolve around a couple of climbs. The first is an attempt at getting a paraplegic friend - wounded in Iraq – up El Cap (yes I do seem to be cornering the market for paraplegic El Cap climbing).
Phil Packer – like anyone who has to live day to day on a pair of wheels - is a remarkable guy, and not only has he just rowed the channel, but also has plans to do the London marathon as a warm-up for the Big Stone (and not in a racing chair, but in his leg braces!!!). Phil’s trying to raise a million pound for Headley court, a hospital that aims to put soldiers back together.
Whatever your politics, or views on modern warfare, I think it’s a pretty good cause, with Headley court’s impact going far beyond those who are injured, touching their families who suffer as well, and who is lifted by the hope of such treatment brings.
In the last few years, I’ve had a couple of contacts with the military, from guys in the SAS (the real SAS, people who look like fell runners and who whisper those three letters, not the Bear Grylls SAS territorial kind who shout it loud), to army teachers and officers who have to juggle the lives of their men, with the acts of bravery/cold-blooded murder that their nation demand.
In these meetings, three conversations really stand out.
The first was with a soldier who is at the very tip of the military spear, telling me that in the last ten years he has buried twenty-two of his friends.
Another told me how having his legs blown off wasn’t so bad, as the army took him back, the loss of limbs being nothing compared to the potential loss of his band of brothers.
The last was a conversation with a Royal Marine, describing how one goes about assassinating a suspected terrorist in Afghanistan, and the red tape that thankfully demands a set number of hours of observation and proof. This document or death warrant is named a “Proof of life”, probably one of the most sinister forms of military ‘death’ speak you can imagine.
Another dream is to make a one-day solo ascent of El Cap, something only a couple of dozen people have done. This dream has required something more than most climbs I’ve done, namely training, and I’ve been working with a local Iron Man (true in both scenes of the word) named Roddy, who’s agreed to make me as Huber’esqe as possible, as long as I take him climbing on lots of scary routes (his goal is to climb the Eiger North Face next winter).
In the past I’ve done my own version of training, namely very long runs for stamina, and rowing and weights and X-machines for everything else. Training with Roddy has been a shock – literally – pushing me harder than I imagined possible, and employing techniques that are straight out of Mark Twight’s Gym Jones.
By far the worst of these involves doing sprints with Roddy holding onto me with a rope, sprinting forwards and walking back until every ounce of juice is gone from my legs and lungs. It’s fun though - in a not-fun kind of way.
If I’m going to solo EL Cap in under 24 hours I’m going to need every ounce of speed I can muster from my body, with the benchmark probably being something like this.
Last time I tried to climb El Cap in a day I almost died of hypothermia (and lack of sleep), topping out on day 3!
Beyond that, I’m heading back to the Eiger some time, plus the Troll wall (Eiger will be second go at a solo, Troll wall will be my third attempt), so getting fitting and climbing more should be a bonus.