Time on Rock by Anna Fleming review – dizzying adventures | Autobiography and memory

VSLimbing, says Anna Fleming, is “a form of dance”, an intensely physical ballet between oneself and rock. This book traces his difficult path to mastering the art of traditional rock climbing, from the status of “terrified novice” to that of “competent leader”. Unlike sport climbing, where bolts are left in the rock for others to use, traditional rock climbing involves a lead climber inserting metal objects into cracks in the rock, to which safety ropes are attached. These are then collected by the climber’s partner.

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Leading, Fleming admits, terrified her. But what she describes as the “electrifying charge” of risk is an essential part of learning to climb. Falling and being caught by the rope is a necessary experience. Climbing the Cuillin on Skye in her early twenties, she was saved by her rope from the “edge of a deadly abyss” when a large boulder she grabbed came loose. “I left feeling deeply humiliated, carrying increased respect for the gravity of these lofty places,” she wrote. It was only when she returned four years later to complete the course that she felt that her “mountain learning” had really been served.

As an undergraduate student, she started climbing indoors: “On the wall I became a network of muscles, limbs, senses, nerves, cells and neurons; an active, thinking and sensitive being. Climbing gave him “a new map of my body.” In the early 2000s, a woman could find herself alone among men on an indoor climbing wall. Now they’re full of women and girls, and the rock climbing community feels different: “Looks like a quiet revolution has happened in the last 10 years.

Climbing was a different challenge, with its changing conditions and the need for absolute attention. It took an intense focus on the world at his fingertips – cracks, surface texture, rock scales – to find a route to the top. In this heightened state of consciousness, “thousands of years pass away and I hear the acute sensitivity of my ancestors.”

But at the top, a new perspective opens up, revealing distant landscapes and wildlife. These two perspectives – the micro and the macro – offer a transformative sense of its place in the scheme of things.

For Fleming, climbing is not about “reducing landscapes and immense environments to heights that must be conquered”. It is a more personal and deeper experience, offering “a direct route to the bewitching power of the place”. Nan Shepherd described “coming out of my body and going into the mountain”. Fleming, too, notes that by climbing, the ego disappears, “lost for movement and the environment”.

She describes how the “physical contact and bodily perception” of rock climbing offers her both a “rock trip” and a deep connection to the landscape, an existential rooting in nature that echoes the current writing of the rock climbing. ‘Elizabeth-Jane Burnett and Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Fleming wrote a wonderfully intimate account of climbing, filled with the rough texture of rocks and the hard-earned exhilaration of reaching for the sky. It is a book about geology and place, individuality and nature – a rich celebration of “stony matter” and our relationship with it through the ages.

Time on Rock: A Climber’s Route into the Mountains is published by Canongate (£ 16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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