W. H. Murray tells it like it is

Sometimes you read a book which reaches far inside your soul and carves out a lasting place. Reading Mountaineering in Scotland is one of those wonderful, exciting and extremely humbling experiences that can’t help but enliven one’s spirit as to the worth of life. A bit like some of the passages which describe fishing in Chris Yates’s book, How to Fish, you’re left with the strongest feeling that it would be impossible for anyone to ever write words to better express the beauty of mountaineering.

Tonight’s passage comes from Murray’s final climb on the Beauchille in 1941, before he went off to Egypt for the war years. It’s impossible to read the account without imagining the tinge of sadness that must have accompanied him as he climbed, in the full knowledge that he might never return to Scotland. He did of course, and went on to write many of the accounts described in Undiscovered Scotland.

The mountain looked like a fortress of ice, its summit diamond cut deep into a royal blue sky.

It was this last that held us there. It was not along the confusion of snow-turret and bastions, nor even the ridges racing up and up, drawing in to the white blaze where the last rocks leaped against the blue; not grace of design, nor colour, nor height – none of these things alone – that charged our minds with wonder. These beauties were indeed endless, but were brought to unity and fulfilled in that austere and remote line dividing snow from sky. It was the signature of all things. It held us spellbound. It is hard to know why, until we know that it is the most simple things that most deeply impress a man. Until we know that we shall not hope to know the true beauty. Up there, nothing stirred. Not even ‘the sigh that silence heaves’; only a breathless stillness. A bright light. A pureness of beauty above all that the eye can see, or ear hear, or it can enter into the heart of man to conceive. One may say nothing of it that is not somehow false or misleading. For the truth that can be spoken is not the truth. Yet on the heights of truth one never climbs in vain.