"You were on your own?!"
Yes it was a solo trip, but did I head out the with a death wish? Did I think it was going to be dangerous, scary or hard? To be be perfectly honest the answer to all these questions was emphatically no - I went out fitter than I've ever been, more competent than I've ever been and more prepared than I've ever been.
The problem was I was naive; the level of fitness required, the technical difficulty of the climbing (whilst not 'hard' it was outside of my comfort range to solo, particularly the down climbing elements) and I went out there with a very clear mental image of what to expect and when all of a sudden it wasn't what I had pictured, I had to react quickly to accept the reality alone, which isn't something I've had to do under pressure, much before.
All in all, it's the psychological milestones that have meant the most to me; finding I could manage the mindset change and that I had the ability to relax and adapt rather than panic and flounder, that I could still focus on task and prioritise when far out of my comfort zone was not just a relief but I genuinely felt impressed (and a little surprised) by myself.
Now enough of that Business School style jargon, here's another psychological experience I found curious whilst I was away, it's not going to be well worded, in fact I apologise in advance because the language is going to be coarse, but I have to tell it how it is ...
So, on one of the early abseils the rope shifted whilst I was descending, since the rope was resting behind a protrusion rather than a good horn of rock, this was alarming and could easily have been disastrous and for a fraction of a second I panicked and thought I was going to fall.
At this point my bowels loosened and I calmly accepted the fact that, yes, I had shat myself.
Given the severity of the situation, however, I didn't linger on this thought and continued my descent down the rope, hit terra firma, coiled my rope and got moving again. I think this day ended up about 14 hours long and I finally decided to settle in a snow slope, I dug out a trench (grave) to lay my sleeping bag in - so I wouldn't roll down the bank - and prepped water and food.
At this point I was quite accepting of the fact that I was very much the only person on the 'hills', as Omar my muleteer had said as he left me, "No-one ever comes up here". As such personal hygiene, self-consciousness and the like had crept down to a level very close to zero - I had a couple of wet wipes but I didn't see the point of wiping off the blood, sweat and dust; there was only going to be more the next day. However I did remember the abseil incident and here is when I realised quite how crazy, how Lord of the Flies, I had gotten ...
Standing there in the middle of the snowy cwm, I took my boots off, pulled my trousers down and then proceeded to take my boxer shorts off. Stark bollock naked I then proceeded - and I have no idea why - to hold them up high above my head to the sun, to inspect them and with genuine surprise I mused out loud:
"Oh wicked. I didn't shit myself."
With that that I pulled them back on, climbed into my sleeping bag and went to sleep; happy in the knowledge that there was one less complication to deal with.
The whole inspection was so blasé, so matter of fact and so natural at the time; now it seems absolute farce - how did that ever become reasonable behaviour?!