What would you say is your preferred environment….beach, forest, jungle, desert or mountain?
My Mum & Dad have always been drawn to the sea, escaping from suburbia to buy a hotel in Margate in the 1960s, living on the south coast in later life and spending long winter holidays in Spain & Portugal, as close to the sea as they could find.
But my own addiction is definitely mountains. Climbing up or skiing down them, or just admiring from afar, I marvel at their infinite variety and the constant challenge they provide.
Fortunately, my adventurous wife Gill feels the same. We have been lucky to enjoy many holidays in the mountains – the Swiss and French Alps, Spanish Pyrenees, Italian Dolomites, the Majella in Abruzzo, and more. And still not sated, I summited the Big One – Kilimanjaro – for my 50th birthday.
But I’m definitely a walker, rather than a climber of mountains. Climbing is a vastly different technical skill and an altogether greater challenge. Just watch films like Everest or Touching the Void to begin to understand the sharp contrast.
Joe Simpson, a renowned mountaineer, wrote the book Touching the Void, turned into a memorable docudrama film in 2003.
I have just finished reading his novel, The Sound of Gravity, published in 2011.
An unnamed man and his wife get caught in a terrible storm, high up a mountain, somewhere in the Alps. The man’s wife dies and he is haunted with guilt.
The first part of the book is told almost in real-time, describing with hypnotic detail events leading to her death, and how he ultimately survives the devastating storm.
The narrative is compelling, but even for mountain lovers the amount of climbing jargon and flowery language could prove as challenging as a difficult summit.
In the second part – 25 years later – the man – now known to be Patrick – spends summers in the hut, close to where his wife’s body fell. The story becomes more human and readable, in my opinion, as other characters and story lines are introduced.
But the mountain remains the main protagonist, and despite some issues with the narrative, I enjoyed the book. How could a mountain-lover not, with descriptions like this:
The ice cliffs had changed in the waning shades of dusk. Where before they had been sharp-lit and bright-edged, they now glistened in faceted aquamarine. The colours had intensified, highlighting the dark, deep blue caverns yawning at their feet.
The encircling mountains threw up a snow-capped palisade to guard the glacier bay below him. Sinister layers of bruised purple veined the advancing storm front. In the shadowed valleys beyond he glimpsed the sheen of a distant lake, bright-sparkled by a flash of weak sunlight.