Before the Fall

“Rock!” Frrrrddddhhhh... A fist-sized stone whistles past my shoulder. “That was close!” Frost is your friend on the Eiger Nordwand, cementing shattered blocks to the face. Last night we bivouacked beneath a pelmet of icy tassels. Come dawn, meltwater spattered our sleeping bags as a cloud blanket nuzzled up with treacherous warmth. As we climb, the bombardment continues: some of it speculative, like grenades tossed into a trench; the rest targeted, like sniper fire. A sulphurous smell hangs over this tilted no man’s land. We could retreat, abseiling down our spider threads to green pastures, then stroll shamefaced past Grindelwald cemetery where the fallen stay forever young. Instead, we advance – not as conscripts but as regulars, compelled by manly duty. Now the sky darkens from a fusillade of tumbling cornices, columns and corbels. A cathedral collapsing on its worshippers. Prayer is futile. “Rock!” my climbing partner yells, out of habit.
Steve Ashton
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