Harold Strachan's Last Word

Spiritual. Hell is about rocks


Well to be spiritual you don’t have to be religious. You don’t have to believe that way back then before the Universe started there was a sort of Moral Force composed of nothing but morality, when there was neither space nor time nor anybody to be moral. Space is the distance between things and there were no things, and time is an ingredient of space.

But Moral Force decreed an atomic table with assorted atoms which would sort of snuggle with each other to make molecules and molecules would sort of split up and replicate and then they started doing it sexually for mutations and the next step was evolution so as to bring about…about… voila! Us! Youman Beans! Vehicles of morality! Also MF decreed a place called Hell for those who were not moral, and appointed as supervisor of Hell an immoral no-good sonofabitch name of Satan who roasted everybody evermore like a piece of boerewors if they abandoned the Moral Force.

Well, sucks, I am spiritual all right and I know about Hell all right because I’ve seen it, and its not about boeries it’s about rocks. Shattered rocks the size of a battle tank, rocks as big as your head, your fingernail, all finely balanced in a 45° chute down the 2,000 metre face of the of the Drakensberg escarpment. It’s called the Ship’s Prow; in the middle is this great pointed basalt thing like a piece of marine wreckage, ugly, frightening. You don’t even want to look down there never mind go, the whole lot will hammer down to Hell and bury you forever.

If it’s the best English ever you’re looking for go to Shakespeare or the King James Bible. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… That’s Ship’s Prow.

But my laaitie Joe hits 16 and he thinks rugby is a bloody stupid way to behave but he’s heard me talking of Lorna Pierson who has first-ever climbed a certain sheer face in the ’berg, the face now named after her, and he wants some such triumph in the mountains. Nothing dainty, as for a beginner. He’s a big strong boy… so? So we’re off up Gray’s Pass, itself a steep bliksem of a climb, and yomp along the escarpment top to Ship’s Prow and looking down there is like looking down the barrel of a gun.

Joe falls silent awhile… he shudders… but rallies. Okay let’s go, says he. Tomorrow, say I, you can’t camp anywhere down there, there’s no flat place at all, and a flash flood is quite likely to pound you to death among the rocks.

But he is as youngsters are, he can’t wait, so we’re off against all common sense. And we’re not halfway down when I realise we might be in deepish kak if we don’t find a sleeping place soon. It’s getting dark, we can scramble neither up nor down, and at this time of the year even local baboons die of hypothermia.

We unbundle the wee two-place tent without the poles and bundle our sleeping bags in there and curl up together for a bit of warmth in this makeshift nest between the boulders.

First light and we stumble forth with frozen feet. An hour or two down the chute we’ve got a bit of circulation going and they warm up a bit and wow! a flattish little ledge and of all things, a small spindly bush growing there. We outspan for a cup of soup and warm our boots over the little gas cooker, and behold! the sun appears over the frozen cliff-sides of the gorge. We smile and look triumphantly about us.

See, says Joe, there are many of these spindly bushes down here and we’ve conquered Ship’s Prow. And what’s that blueish sort of thing dangling in that spindly bush over there?

We stumble over there and there it is: a piece of ripped-up anorak. Triumph fades. Bits of clothing festoon other spindly bushes and down among the rocks a little further on we spy half buried a sleeping bag, neatly rolled up but its outside scuffed and shredded to bits. We stand silent. I say we should take it to the Mountain Club people for investigation, certain students from Stellenbosch disappeared somewhere hereabouts last year and this may help an investigation.

No no, says Joe, we should cover it neatly with rocks and leave it here, this is a sacred place.

No no, say I, sacred places are for priests, this is a spiritual place. We collect the anorak shreds and fold them up neatly and place them with the sleeping bag.

Requiescat in Pace says Joe.

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