Monday, 5 November 2012

Life, Loss and The Uncertainty Principle - by Tom Peckitt

Climbing has nearly always governed what I do and when. It was one of my top priorities. It’s easy to fall into a false sense of security when your main thoughts are “what’s the weather like at the weekend” and “what project is next on my list”. This naivety left me vulnerable to the harsh realities of life.

Then your world turns upside down by a life changing event. My dad said to me a long time ago; “Tom, there’s one thing certain in life...and that’s uncertainty. Change is inevitable – for better or for worse”. Those words never really hit home until he was diagnosed with terminal cancer last June.  A huge reality check slapped me round the face with a vengeance.  I moved back to Cheltenham and spent several months caring for him, which I did not hesitate to do.

The following months were spent undergoing chemotherapy to extend his life and ease his symptoms. I had moved back to Leeds to start a career, after a lucky break, but spent all of my spare time travelling to see him and enjoying the limited time we had left together. 

Following a few courses of treatment and some decent quality of life, the tumours returned aggressively and the rapid decline began. He passed away in September after putting up one hell of a fight. It nearly seemed that cancer had met its match with dad. He had an unfathomable enthusiasm and zest for life which he never lost throughout his illness. Even the experts were dumbfounded by his independence and determination to carry on. I hope even one iota of his strength of character has passed to me.

And once again, dad’s words ring true. My life has changed. I have fledged a very interesting career and I’m climbing again. Don’t get me wrong, I have tried to get out when I’ve had some free time during dad’s illness but that time was limited. Climbing was pure therapy for mind, body and soul. It was absolute escapism where all that matters is conquering a piece of rock with mental ability and physical agility. It quashed the pressures of life, if even temporarily. I feel so lucky to have a passion to vent my frustrations and tension.

I somewhat fell off the radar over the last year. Whilst still climbing, I kept a low profile. Beyond Hope have been very understanding, which I wish to thank them for.  I managed to tick a lot of problems at Anston Stones over a few trips during the summer and made a few excursions to some Yorkshire and Lakes venues, ticking some good hard stuff. I was very pleased with the first ascent of One Love (7c) - a highball prow at Brimham, which I blogged about back in March.

I have been back in Leeds, working and climbing for a couple of months now. I started off weak, frustrated and, understandably, a bit fragile. It’s been an absolute joy to get climbing down the wall a couple of times a week and out on the grit at the weekend. I’m not back to full strength but I’m on the way I reckon. I’ve even been on a couple of lamping sessions. Check out the video below of Ilkley Rocky Valley bouldering by torch light.

I’ve taken advantage of the good weather of late and went to try an old project of mine at Lord’s Seat on Barden Fell, which has been at the top of my project list for quite some time. Situated in the same bay as the legendary McNab (7b+), the project climbs through a roof via strange body tension moves on twin cracks, up to a vertical wall on tiny holds. Having had a couple sessions last year I returned last weekend and quickly remembered the moves. This weekend I returned once again armed with a rope to suss the top section. This was the first time I had put a rope down it. Before, I had always tried climbing through the crux to try the top. The rope made all the difference and I had all the moves sorted. I composed myself and tried it from the start. One attempt saw me drop the final move and I had to hold back from throwing all my stuff in frustration.

As the light dwindled and the temperature dropped, the last attempt of the day saw me rattle through the start and nervously latch the final hard move. I cannot begin to describe the elation I felt. It’s a stunning line, pretty hard climbing and marks a return to form.  Check out the pics below. The video shows the ascent but doesn’t do the line justice. I always thought it would fall into the 8b category but these things always feel easier when they go. 8a+ seems appropriate but we’ll wait and see what future repeaters think. (Don’t forget people out there that Toe-Fu (8a+) is still unrepeated and screaming for a second ascent).

“The Uncertainty Principle” isn’t my hardest first ascent but it is certainly one of my proudest; not only for the climbing and the stunning line but what I have overcome and experienced over the last year to get here.

So, after all the trials and tribulations of the last 18 months, I feel a stronger person...more mentally than physically at the moment. Life is always changing. Sometimes it deals you a winning hand, sometimes a losing one. One thing is for sure - uncertainty is certain.

NOW...back to my priorities.....what’s the weather like at the weekend? What’s the next project?

Video of the first ascent of The Uncertainty Principle:


  1. Beautiful read, matches my recent life experiences very well.
    Would be nice to climb to climb together next time I visit UK.
    Thanks for being so open and sincere.

  2. Thanks for sharing such a deep and personal time in your life, it brings back memoires of when I looked after my grandma who was a second mum to be, she passed away 10 years ago after a very long battle with leukaemia and lung cancer.

  3. I'm glad that it has struck a chord. This horrid disease is everywhere and affects so many lives. I too gained comfort from listening to other people's expereinces so its nice to share a slice of mine.
    Dad really took the positives from a dire situation. sharing this is one such positive to come out of the whole thing.
    It's also very therapeutic. I have a lot more to share and might keep on doing so, if not on this climbing blog then somewhere else.

  4. Thanks Tom, you've struck a chord with me and my Dad's death too. He was as much a friend, mentor and example to me as your Dad seems to have been for you.
    If I can suggest it, look after yourself, not just mentally, but physically too. My Dad said before he died "Thank goodness you've got climbing to escape to when I've gone." And just before he died, injury stopped me climbing for some months. If I'd known how hard that was going to be, I would have been more than happy to back off a bit.