The only sign of life was the other idiots descending and ascending. The only sound the clattering of rocks loosened by one, and his cries of warning to the others below. Closer to, the natural amphitheater made it possible to hear the words of encouragement and advice of one team member helping another over a particularly bad patch.
As we chewed gorp and girded our loins, an experienced-looking German team did not inspire me with confidence as they produced ropes and discussed lashing themselves together. We had no rope. I rationalized: we don't know how to use rope, so tying ourselves together would be madness. At least as individuals we would not all be dragged down together.
An older English couple arrived on the scene. Chirpy with confidence, they chatted about this being their third attempt to cross. The previous year they had run out of time, and the previous day the weather had been unfavorable. Now they were going over, having tea and then coming back, as they had a car parked at the skiing station. It seemed to me that their years of hiking had taken its toll. To use a well-known simile, they were obviously no longer playing with full decks.
Alf looked as if he'd lost a couple of cards too, so casual (not to say keen) did he look, and there was no way I was going to bottle out first, so reminding myself that this was a public footpath after all, and that there were a lot of people in there already, none of whom had announced the loss of any troops, I sacked up.
The English couple chickened out almost immediately. Very encouraging. For the first few cliff-faces, there were chain ropes to aid and abet. Soon these ran out and we were reduced to real rock climbing. I tried to remember advice I'd heard on TV documentaries: only let go with one limb at a time, make sure the other three have good, firm contact. Well, that was easy to say, and doubtless was solid enough as a rule of thumb, but the fact was that all too often I was grateful to have one limb lodged with any security. My legs and arms began to shake from being constantly tensed, and the sweat trickled down all limbs, both from exertion and from fear.