By Peter J Hill
I met Shona at a climbing wall event for charity, organized by an online forum dedicated to rock climbing. I’d not really engaged with her online: she described herself as a “lurker”—someone who logged on and read what others were saying—although she rarely contributed herself. Apparently, she’d had an unpleasant experience being trolled on another forum. I felt that she was much too nice to deserve being trolled, and, when I met her face-to-face, I told her so. I also said that she didn’t come across as the “lurking” type. I remember how she giggled in response. She was enchanting.
Actually, she was more than enchanting. Shona was drop-dead gorgeous, the most attractive and the most exciting woman I’ve ever known. Like me, she was in her late twenties.
We got on really well together on that first climb, and we started climbing together regularly—on walls, on rocks, and on mountains in England, Wales, and even in Scotland. I guess I was simply smitten. Maybe that’s why I was prepared to go along with her when she took up free-climbing: climbing without the usual ropes and safety tackle. In truth, I had my reservations about the practice and, a little ironically perhaps, I’d always balked at the idea of engaging romantically with a free-climber. I’d been quite scathing about them. A climbing colleague once told me about the time he’d been asked to break the news of a female free-climber’s death to her mother. It was a gut-wrenching tale. My colleague was scathing too, and I recall his words exactly.
“Bloody crazy free-climber!”
Our relationship was progressing. I was barmy about her and convinced that this was a woman with whom I’d cheerfully spend the rest of my life. I decided to broach the subject, to propose, in fact. I just needed to find the ideal time and place.
I’d worked my way to the top of the crag using a familiar and relatively safe route. I tried to get Shona to partner me on the climb. However, not for the first time, she was determined to solo free-climb a new and more challenging face. She’d checked it out, asked others about it, and decided it would be a piece of cake.
I got to the top before her and waited. I’d bought a ring and placed the little box on a rock close to the pinnacle. There was room there for us both to stand and look out over the surrounding hills and valleys. It was a sunny day, and surprisingly warm—even at that height—and the view was stunning. I felt it was a wonderfully romantic spot, and I was sure she’d accept.
I looked over the edge and could see Shona working skillfully and tirelessly towards me. She was an incredible climber. She grinned up at me as she wrapped her powerful fingers around a lump of smooth—but, as it turned out, not particularly securely embedded—slate.
She didn’t squeal. She simply dropped. I watched her descend, turning over gracefully, pirouetting around that same lump of smooth black slate, as she approached the valley floor almost three hundred feet below.
Even her fall was somehow impressive.
She was gone. I stepped back, and I kicked that little box—my future with Shona—into the abyss.
And I howled:
“Bloody crazy free-climber!”