When her life was thrown into turmoil, Athena Mellor found a connection and relief with climbing. For our latest film HERE, Athena invited us to the Peak District to understand why the journey she takes on the rock-face can help with her personal journey on the ground.
Words by Athena Mellor | @athenamellor
Film Stills by Sim Warren | @simwarren
I am stood at the bottom of a gritstone cliff-face, looking up wide-eyed at the protrusions in the dark, sedimentary rock. My freezing palms dip into the chalk bag laced around my waist, and then one foot steps up delicately followed closely by the other, leaving the soft yet solid soil and becoming reliant on the thin cracks, pockets, bulges and weaknesses of the rock face that my toes and fingers seek as I climb further and further from the earth and towards the sky.
My climbing journey thus far has been short and non-linear. I first touched a plastic hold in a gym in Scotland two years ago, and have essentially been addicted ever since. For me, climbing is much more than just a sport or something I do for physical exercise: it is a chance to explore my mind; to overcome challenges; it is something that takes me to the world’s most beautiful places; and a way to see the ground below from 100ft high. It is falling into a state of flow, it is fear that turns to relief, it is laughter with friends and complete, blissful solitude.
Earlier this year, my personal journey was thrown into turmoil when I lost two of my most cherished loved ones in a sudden and tragic accident. All of a sudden, nothing felt secure; life was fleeting and fickle, it was cruel and unfair. I left my job, moved out of my house and headed home, to the place where my heart felt it belonged; to where I needed to be. When everything changed, climbing was one of the only constants that remained in my life. I could still feel strong climbing a boulder, even when my mind was overwhelmed by grief. I could go outside and feel cold rock between my fingertips, wind on my cheeks and listen to the rustle of Peak District ferns as I climbed higher and higher from the ground, leaving my troubles as I went - even if just for a few moments.
When I climb, I become entirely absorbed in the moment. Nothing else enters my mind but where my next foot or hand placement might be. I become so focused on the very act of climbing, that I forget what ‘real life’ looks like. Climbing, in this way, also became an escape, a meditation, and a release. I could be myself again when I climbed, though everything else felt like it had been taken away. It has become an integral part of my personal journey, and a vital tool for my own mental wellbeing.
Today, when I stand at the bottom of a Dark Peak cliff-face and feel the cold, textured rock beneath my fingertips, I feel grateful for the solidness of the rock, for its almighty strength to allow me to climb it and for my own in the very act of climbing. But, I also realise the transience of life. I have witnessed nature’s cycles firsthand; in the changing seasons and in death. Climbing allows me to feel fully immersed in nature, appreciating its power yet respecting its own fleetingness.
When a cliff face falls, it may send destruction amongst neighbouring peaks, but they still stand, continuing to hold up the mountains alone. When I climb, I must carry myself upwards no matter the circumstances, and in my own personal journey I strive to do the same.