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An extract from After the Crash and other stories

Wednesday, 30 September 2015
Former professional climber and acclaimed writer and photographer David Pickford will be touring schools around the country in 2015/16 with an exciting new lecture for young adults called 'The Higher Path'. It is a practical and philosophical introduction to the complex issues all young people face of choosing the right Higher Education course for them (and, soon after, the right career) in a world with more options and complexities than ever before. 
 
The lecture uses examples from David's own experiences as an author, professional athlete, outdoor photographer and Editor-in-Chief of the UK’s leading climbing and mountaineering magazine, Climb, to show how – with the right approach – it is possible for young people to find a career they love and excel in. 
 
The lecture also uses fascinating examples from the life and work stories of other prominent individuals around the world in interesting and unusual fields of endeavour.
 
As part of the lecture, David will also give a reading from his new collection of short fiction, After The Crash and other stories. Here is an excerpt from one of the story, The Cirque of the Unfallen
 
On her belay down at the stunted pine, the girl glanced up towards the edge of the cirque as he disappeared from sight high on the arête above. Why did the tiny hairs on the bare skin of her arms and at the back of her neck rise up as soon as she was alone here? And was she really alone here?
 
She didn’t know.
 
He ran out the ropes to a tiny ledge perched on the apex of the upper arête; a lonely eyrie that looked out across the cirque and over the world below. The sun had fallen behind the ridge now and the sky was shifting from blue to indigo. Long ribbons of dark cirrostratus were floating around the higher crags and were interspersed by vagrant rafts of rising vapour that blew opaque and strange through the low notch, where the cirque dipped before the cliffs rose again to the north.
 
As she followed the pitch, a light wind picked up, blowing in slow gusts through the notch in the ridge. Far below, the surface of the lake hovered at the edge of the forest. The quicksilver film of the dead-calm water spread out like a slick of split mercury across the darkening fathoms of the mountains about him.
 
As he belayed her up, he shivered slightly in his windproof. He knew of all the stories that other climbers had told about this place, about the strange things that happened after dark up here in the cirque. The sudden shadows moving on the ridge. The lost voices in the cloud. The presence in the air. The whistle of the nightwind from all directions.
 
She reached the ledge where he was belayed after twenty minutes of climbing in a flurry of laughter and curses. The lines of his face looked pale now in the fading light, she thought, and as keen as a hunting wolf. As she clipped in to the sling at the belay, he turned to her.
‘See the inscription, just down there?’ He pointed to the words etched into the granite at the base of the ledge.
 
In the cirque of the unfallen
they who passed this way
will rise again
 
‘What the hell is that?’ Her eyes darkened as she looked down at the inscription.
 
‘It’s kinda creepy.’
 
‘It dates back to the early 1970s. Two climbers disappeared somewhere on the ridge over there. It was the beginning of winter. There was a freak ice storm that came out of nowhere, apparently. Neither of the bodies was ever found. The inscription was cut by one of their friends, one of the old pioneers of the cirque, the following summer. Nobody knows who. The old guy who lives in that tumbledown shack by the road-head told me about it. It’s a legend among the older folk in the high Sierra. That’s why the local climbers are afraid of staying too late here. They think the dead climbers haunt this place at night.’
 
She stared at a gap in the cloud just above the notch in the ridge. The wind blew in quick eddies around them, back and forth, shifting and starting, then falling away before it rose up suddenly in a series of gusts that made a low whistle as they passed over the crest of the ridge above.
 
‘We better get going, then,’ she said as she grabbed the gear that was hanging from a sling on the belay. ‘I don’t believe in any of that ghost story stuff. I’m a scientist, remember. Occam’s Razor suggests it’s all bullshit. As does the last 500 years of human progress. Anyway, enough storytelling. Time to climb!’
 
‘Okay, go for it,’ he said, glancing upward with a raised eyebrow.
 
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