The way you carried two compasses
in case one failed,
spare batteries for the GPS,
and wrote out each leg of the journey
in an angular scrawl
that no-one but you could decipher.
The way you turned back
from the summit ridge of Wyvis
as clouds were glooming
and my friend’s pack was a dead weight
of hairbrushes and spare socks;
tackled the Buachaille and the Ben
by the least boggy and least craggy routes,
shunned cliffs and snow cornices.
(I was the one who tobogganed
down June snowfields, whooping.)
You rushed to save your camera first
when you fell chest-deep
into a stinking peat-marsh
and kept all your Ordnance Surveys
going back to 1976.
The way what came back
was a map, still legible
despite the bleeding ink.
A survival bag. Your damp wool hat and gloves.
On the Alaskan Peak We’ve Never Climbed
you dodge a cottage-sized boulder
of splintering granite:
“Tuck your head in!” to me below,
“Hang on!” my left fingers scrabbling for holds,
right hand clawing a rusty cam
as the groaning rockfall
dims the sun overhead.
Earth shudders to a standstill
and I haul myself to join you
on the cropped grass of the col,
hand quaking in yours.
There, to the west, is your mountain –
its horseneck ridge crested with pines,
head in a cowl of storm.
Your hair has grown
from grizzled to deep brown
and death has washed you of fear
in the mapless land we track in my sleep.
A path winds westward
through barbed spruces –
you walk ahead, carrying the compass
that hangs on my wall,
turn back to beckon me, questioningly,
along the one path I can’t follow.
From Steall Falls
and Coire Eoghainn,
up Jacob’s Ladder,
to Coire an Sneachda,
and the ice chandeliers
in Surgeon’s Gully,
all the dead come striding –
shoulder to shoulder
up the Hill of the Creel
and the Cliff of the Stag,
the Aonach Eagach
and Trotternish Ridge.
They rise from their falls,
with spindrift hair
and mica-gleam eyes,
shed their twisted crampons
and shivered bones
until they stand
on a single summit –
a snowlit land
rolls out before them
and the whiteout
lifts into light
Yvonne Reddick is a poet and academic researcher. She was a Wordsworth Trust mentee in 2014 and won a Northern Writer’s Award in 2016. She has published poetry pamphlets with Seapressed and with Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. Her collaborative art and poetry exhibition Deerhart has toured to galleries in Cambridge and Preston, and will travel to Edinburgh in late 2017.