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Jules Lines is Britain's most accomplished free solo climber. His quiet demeanour and natural technique have earned him the unofficial title of 'The Dark Horse' in Scottish climbing circles. In this, his first book, he recounts adventures and misadventures worldwide, from early achievements - completing all 277 Munros (1987) whilst still at school - to the continuing challenges of the present day. Spanning more than three decades of extreme climbing, his reflections reveal the drive and determination required for a human being to repeatedly gamble with his own existence, and for it to become not only a way of life, but his entire raison d'etre.
The sky appeared infinitely grey, burdened with its own unwanted moisture as it moulded round the summits of Beinn Eighe and Liathach, two creatively carved and complex mountains, perhaps Scotland’s finest. Gradually it descended further, smothering their naked profiles, transforming them into celestial ghosts.
The first term at Gordonstoun, in December of 1982, was a turning point in my life. On my 14th birthday, I donned appropriate ‘going out’ school uniform, took the bus into Elgin and with my pocket money bought ‘Munro’s Tables’ for the princely sum of £5.95. In this book was the list of all of the mountains in Scotland of 3,000 ft and above, as defined by Sir Hugh T Munro in 1891; there were 276 of them in the edition that I bought. I became so infatuated with Munro’s Tables that I could recite the whole list and knew the heights of each and every one of them.
The distant, primal groan of a rutting stag echoed in the night. Strangely, it was heartening to hear; it proved there was life out there. I was on my back, staring blankly into the dark expanse of the sky. My limbs were strapped tight, and some tubes were hanging out of my veins. I tried not to dwell on the pain too much…
I took a breather from my work and looked down into the bottom of the vast, concrete dry dock, 150ft below, where workmen were running around like busy ants. Above me towered the top half of the drilling derrick, from which I was hanging by two ropes. Living surrounded by this world of noise and machines, I felt like a cyborg embryo, attached to its steel mother by two precious nylon umbilicals.
I met up with Johnny Dawes on the boulders at Stanage and we talked a little about The Angels' Share. I mentioned that I thought it was fourth dimensional slab climbing, which questions its very possibility, as one’s balance and centre of gravity have to be of the utmost precision for a successful ascent. Johnny looked at me deeply with his wide, inquisitive eyes, studying what I had just said. Possibly I had caught him on his wavelength – moving in a world on a hidden dimensional plane.
Or perhaps it was more fantastical than that, and we were fictional characters living amongst a playground of grit, playing out our dreams without destinies.
The plain beneath me swept away for miles. Washed out colours began to intensify. Then, as the sun bobbed onto the horizon, some lethargic shrouds of fog began to vaporise from around the scattered copses of eucalyptus, and some kangaroos hopped across my screen. My life was blissful as I sat there, absorbing the sense of freedom, the landscape, the sky, the lifestyle, and the newfound warmth of the sun in the tranquil scene, like a Dalai Lama without destiny.
I could hear all of the normal late afternoon noises going on in the street five stories below - they were alien to me. There was a TV in one corner - it was on - with the volume turned down and Portuguese subtitles on the screen. I felt as though I were in a cell in a foreign country, infused in a foreign language, with no one to talk to. My colleagues were away and working and, as I came to properly, the lethargy of boredom overtook me. I loathed boredom. I picked up my paper knife, brain idling, bringing the blade to my chest, slicing through my skin in a neat line, thinking perhaps to see my heart beating. Crimson tears trickled down my chest.
Author: Jules Lines
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