The Biancograt on Piz Bernina, Italian Alps.

I stroll into my Monday morning lessons, my fingers well and truly shredded from a Sunday climbing sesh. Again. My students, as always, greet me with ironic and knowing smiles — in the few years that I’ve known them, they’ve come to expect little else.

“I just don’t get why you do it,” said one of my students that morning, ogling my fingers with a look of concern, “you risk injury, death, scare yourself silly, and every week turn your hands into bloody mush. Most people would want some kinda compensation for that! There’s something very Van Gogh about it…


Monday. I stroll into my morning lessons with my fingers well and truly shredded from a Sunday climbing sesh. Again. I once told an ex-girlfriend she was my favourite scar. I lied: these are my favourite scars. Each one is a reminder throughout the working week of the kindly solace from it I’ve so recently enjoyed and will enjoy again soon.

“I just don’t get why you do it,” said one of my students, ogling my slightly mangled fingers with a look of concern, “you risk injury, death, scare yourself silly and every week turn your hands into bloody mush…


El Capitan in Yosemite National Park

I left San Fran on the Greyhound bound for Merced. There, I walked to the edge of town, stuck a thumb out, and three rides later was stood at the foot of El Capitan, the 3,000-foot monolith that had occupied a large portion of real estate in my imagination for the best part of two decades.

I’d gone to Yosemite on a recon mission. To take in all of the valley’s other notable sights, sure, but primarily to gawp at the mythical monolith dominating Yosemite’s north-west flank and gauge as objectively as possible whether or not it was doable. I…


Many years after myself,
I see myself awakening
In the eye of a body unknown
And knowing then, as now,
In silence, in tranquility, in loss,
The impossibility of separation.
I wonder who awakens in me,
What lives with hopes and heartaches were shed and suffered
In preparation for this one?

In quiet moments, when I am only what is left when all That is needless ebbs, and all ambition stilled, I am haunted, gladly, by the memory Sprung through the guard of amnesia From a hearth of light, That shimmers quietly, always, behind the shroud of busyness and bother…


One needn’t travel terribly far to seek out critics of the age of political correctness. While to many the request that we not cause offense with our speech or actions is a perfectly justifiable one, to countless others it represents, at one end of the scale, a once-admissable cultural theme that the overdelicate ‘snowflake generation’ has now taken too far, and at the other an altogether unreasonable encroachment upon our freedom of expression.

Few would disagree, however, that in turning their attention to the presence or nomenclature of those landmarks that pay homage to some of the more dishonorable legacies…


When the fates determined that I’d be spending two months of my winter in the depths of New York City, my initial response was one marrying equal measures of apprehension and alarm. Cities have never been my thing, and the thought of leaving my largely unpopulated nook in the Italian Alps for one of the world’s largest metropolises failed to inspire me as it would most.

In spite of the undoubted magic I’d encountered there on previous visits, each of those had been short and sweet, long enough only for the happy haze of the honeymoon period to run its…


Zanskar, Ladakh

In the month I’d been there, India had wiped the floor with me. There had been the obligatory tummy-troubles, of course, but also a robbing at the hands of a police officer in Agra, a raid on my hotel room in Chandigarh, and several near-death experiences dodging traffic in Delhi and Jaipur streets.

During a phonecall home, my girlfriend had attempted to comfort me with some wisdom sourced from her Facebook newsfeed — ‘life will send you exactly the challenge you need exactly when you need it,’ or something of the sort. …


Corno Stella, Orobic Alps (Italy)

The summit ridge extended below me, a tapered line drawing the eye deep into a background of silhouetted peaks dotting the skyline like white-flamed candles. Behind me, the gentle southerly rising over the Orobic Alps from the plains of lower Bergamo whistled in the summit cross of Corno Stella, where I’d stood five minutes previously, chuffed with my day’s efforts.

The ascent had turned out to be straightforward barring the final hundred meters or so, where I’d been forced to crab-walk with both axes across a steep slab of crusted snow. I’d retraced my steps on the way down and…


Ben Franklin once said that those who choose security over liberty deserve neither. He was, granted, talking about matters of state, but his words hold true for relationships as much as they do politics.

Many of us reach that stage in our relationship where we have to make a decision — give it time or give up? A few years into our romance we are joined, suddenly, by a third member — the elephant in the room. Stick or twist?, the elephant asks.

Usually, the decision isn’t an easy one to make. The chances are that if we’ve spent so…

Kieran James Cunningham

Freelance writer and editor.

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