The Climb

The Climb

A Story by BarryL

Introduction to backstory


There was nowhere else to go and nowhere left to hide. The wide span of the fast-flowing river thundered on his right and near vertical canyon walls ahead and on the other side extinguished any hopes of going forward. He would have to retrace his steps; there was no other choice.


He seemed to have been doing this his whole life. He chuckled hoarsely at the ironic thought, the first time he had heard his own voice in days.


His eyes moved restlessly across the cliff face around him. The option of turning back was as unattractive to him as drowning in the river or falling from the cliff. Any which way you looked at it dead was dead.


He dismissed the water out-of-hand; he’d never learned to swim but anyone could climb. All he had to do was find the most likely route. He figured he still had a couple of hours: Could he reach the top in a couple of hours? His mind calculated the likelihood, he thought it was possible; his tongue stuck out of the side of his mouth as he concentrated on the task at hand.


In his tired state he suddenly realised that he had made his choice without noticing; he would climb. Climbing he had a chance.


Now that he knew what he had to do, he focussed all of his faculties to the task at hand.  At first glance there was no easy route but three possibilities stood out.  He followed them with his eyes seeking out potential finger and toe holds, trying to see where they petered out; estimating his chances of success.


After a while, a clear favourite emerged.  At a point about halfway up what looked like a narrow chimney split created a narrow cleft that had potential to shorten his climb considerably, as long as it was neither too wide nor too narrow.  He chuckled again; the odds of it being just right for his six foot frame were slim to non-existent.


He double-checked the other two routes and, finally satisfied, took off his boots, stuffed his socks inside, and tied the laces together so he could string them around his neck. He drank the last of his water as he walked towards the river bank to refill his canteen.  He didn’t choose the closest point but rather moved back down the bank to a point where the river meandered slightly.  Here, on the inside of the bend, the water would flow more slowly and sand and sediment would have built up to make it easier to approach the water.


It was as he expected.  Having drunk his fill he lay down in the shallows, allowing the water to soak his clothing and the skin beneath.  The climb he was planning to undertake, in the heat of the afternoon, would sap him of strength and dehydrate him. He lay there relishing the flow of the lukewarm water over his body, allowing his muscles to relax in preparation for the daunting task ahead.


It was time.


As he made his way back to the escarpment he looped his shoes around his neck and rolled his shoulders to loosen them up.  His small backpack had been full when he began, but now it would not encumber him at all, it was so nearly empty. Still he would not throw it away.


To keep his shoulders free he tied it to his belt, opened the front pocket and filled it with dry sand collected at the river’s edge.


He stopped for a moment at the base of the cliff to orient himself and leaped up to secure his first nominated climbing hold, a pocket just big enough for two fingers of his right hand. His toes found purchase and he swung his left arm to grasp an outcrop straight above his head.


Once he got over the first 50 feet or so the climb had looked to become significantly easier, but to get there he would need to rely on every miniscule protrusion, every tiny fissure and every last ounce of luck he had not used up over the past six days.


Sweat broke out from his brow as he moved, crablike, along the rockface. Getting past this first part of the climb required lots of lateral movement with seemingly little upward progress.  He was almost surprised, therefore, when he found himself on the narrow ledge which he had registered from the ground as the starting point of the second, less-difficult, leg of the climb.


He rested for a moment and, taking a sip from his canteen, calculated the time he had taken from the position of the sun.  Between his preparations and the first part of the wall he reckoned at least a quarter of his two hour lead had been used up. He would have to move faster as he tackled this second stage.


He dusted his hands with the sand from his backpack and reached upwards…



© 2016 BarryL

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Added on August 10, 2016
Last Updated on August 10, 2016
Tags: challenge, thriller, drama



Dublin, Ireland

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