Each month through to September, we will be asking one of our Pro-Team judges from this year’s #MEclimbing competition to share a photo that signifies a significant moment to them from their climbing journey so far. This month is the turn of Natalie Berry, and the route, Dalriada, The Cobbler, in the Arrochar Alps, Scotland.
Natalie discovered climbing at the age of nine and it quickly took over her life. Having joined the Glasgow Climbing Centre kid’s club she soon progressed into competition climbing where following numerous comp wins she was asked to join the GB Youth Climbing Team (aged 11). Now aged 25 and based out of Chamonix, Natalie continues to push her climbing by focussing on trad and winter disciplines. Natalie is also editor at ukclimbing.com.
A week ago, I failed. Too much expectation, too much pressure. Conditions had been perfect: clear blue skies, mild temperatures, a gentle breeze, and dry rock. My mind, however, had been fatigued from overthinking, and the tiring walk up to the climb was an unwelcome prelude.
The imposing schist prow of Dalriada on the North Peak of the Cobbler in the Arrochar Alps, Scotland, is an iconic climb that sees relatively few ascents given the many stories it has to tell and the breathtaking images captured there over the years. Dalriada is, for me, the epitome of hard, adventurous climbing in Scotland. And I had failed.
A week ago, I made the long walk down to the car in a dark mood, full of threats never to return. Conditions the week after looked poor and my confidence had taken a severe hit. It’s early October, and time is running out. Soon the winter will arrive and dash all hope of success this season. Not to mention the ever-present and impending deadline for our two-year film project, ‘Transition’.
So here I am again, just seven days later. A different day, a different person. Conditions aren’t perfect, but my attitude towards the challenge is curiously upbeat given the events of last week – a mix of blasé detachment and determined optimism.
I accidentally rip out a piece of gear in my determination and it startles me. Throws me off. I force myself back into a zone of calm reassurance. I have enough gear and the next section is much tamer. I reach a rest point below a steep, imposing roof before the hardest move of the climb. So far I’ve surprised myself, surpassed my expectations. Part of me relaxes, thinking I have already overcome the biggest hurdle.
Suddenly, a thick veil of mist envelops and swirls around me – a further layer of complication bringing poor visibility, dampness and cold.
The temperature drops and I begin shivering uncontrollably. My resolve to complete the route hardens, despite the weather’s almost comically poor timing. Twenty minutes pass. I attempt to regain my composure, but my body is shaking. Don’t think of the outcome, I tell myself; think of each move in isolation. My breathing settles to a calmer pace and I decide to go for it, surrounded by this looming mist that refuses to subside.
Executing move after move, almost without thinking, I approach the final headwall and utter soft words of reassurance, trying not to contemplate the possibility of success. I’m not afraid of falling off; deep down I’m more terrified of failure in this moment than I’ve ever been in my life. I blank it out. Ignore it. Still shaking, I arrive just below the top, physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. ‘You’re kidding me!’ I whisper as I pull gingerly onto the safety of a ledge.
Photo Credit: Chris Prescott/Hot Aches