Monday, November 03, 2008

Poland, Travel, Training


Leave Calgary at 6:00 p.m., change planes a bunch,  (you know you've spent to much time in airports when you know which lounge to go to at the Frankfurt airport, and recognize some of the servers...), get off last plane in Krakow, Poland. Surprisingly, it looks pretty much like Germany or something. Massive construction, nice houses, very Western European feel. Locals drag me off to dinner in the nicest wooden building I've ever seen, then somewhere else, and then it's 7:00 in the morning and I'm drytooling up the side of an obscure quarry so jet-lagged I can barely lift my tools. But it's fun. The weather is supposedly too shitty to go alpine climbing in the Tatras, then the sun comes out and we go sport climbing in another quarry somewhere.

There's a really obvious cool roof crack line, but I end up on some bouldery 7a (11d) in the shade and fall off in a frozen haze. Then it's onto the roof crack, which the local master (serious master--this Micah dude can PULL) absolutely hikes without jamming once. I spool up, fall off the opening move before I even get to any bolts, laugh, then trash my hands in the crack 'cause if you don't jam it's 7b+ or something. I jam like a mofo on the serrated edges and get to the anchor with everyone asking me exactly what the hell I was doing with my hands in the crack--"there are no holds in there?" Then we meet more great people, do an impromptu movie night with the best scotch I've ever tasted,  and then drive somewhere else and then it's off to bed in a haze. 

Morning strikes (it doesn't rise when I'm jet-lagged, it strikes me in the forehead like a snake), and it's more driving. Somehow, despite the distances never being more than a few hundred K, we drive hours and hours each day. This time only drive an hour, and then ride a tram up into the Tatra Mountains, which are incredibly beautiful peaks. My handlers tell me these mountains are small, not so nice, not so many good climbs, etc. By the end of the trip I figure out that if anyone in Poland says something is going to be not so nice then it's going to be great. It's a national characteristic among Poles to talk down everything Polish. Sort of Canadian in a way, I feel right at home. I also suspect there was some serious sandbagging going on with the grades, but payback on that one will be fun when the team comes over to Canada.

Anyhow, we hike up to the top of a peak from the tram, and it's just gorgeous. I spy a long granite ridge running off into the distance and immediately have to do it, it's just too cool looking. My handlers decline my offer to come, and we have no rope anyhow, so it's a solo game. One side of the ridge is in beaming sun and so warm I have to take off everything, the other side is -10 with ice, snow, and frozen turf everywhere. After cruising around some rocky bits I'm into some mixed on the north side, and go for the crampons. Unfortunately they aren't in my pack. All I have is a huge loaf of bread, two pounds of cheese, an empty water bottle, and an mp3 player with broken headphones. I do have one ice tool, so I keep going, ripping my hands up some more jamming in the cracks with added force 'cause, well, I don't have crampons and falling off would be bad. It's a mega couple of hours of breathing hard, going the wrong way, going the right way, climbing past rap anchors, being horrified on the dry sunny grass, being horrified on the frozen grass, and eventually making it back to the tram after one of the coolest ridge traverses I've ever done. Yep, these Polish Tatras are not so nice... Lying Poles, these mountains are fantastic. There were some really nice mixed lines to do if one had two ice tools, some crampons, some gear, a rope and a partner. But no complaints, absolutely a great afternoon of it.

Then it's off on a mad tour of Poland for the Black Diamond slide shows. My translator (Adam) can climb 8c, the guy I'm doing the shows with has done 13 of the fourteen 8,000m (Piotr) peaks, then there's me stuffed in the backseat for at least five hours a day between gigs. I've driven all over the world, but I gotta say that the Polish roads and drivers are far more engaging than I'd expected. The shows go well, nobody dies on the road, and we're back in Krakow in one piece. Adam suggests we visit a local crag that's, "Not so nice," and of course it's a great little crag with perfect grass at the base. We would KILL for a crag like this here in Canada! One more show and then it's off to the after-event party, where I survive one of the all-time greatest attempts on my life. Many people have tried to kill me in foreign countries with drinking games, but this was seriously a world-class effort. I had to use every Jedi mind trick I knew to make it out alive, and still the next morning barely qualified as "alive."

My overall impression of Poland is nothing like what I'd expected. I grew up listening to the radio reports from Poland in the late seventies, when Lech Walesa was leading strikes and the government was pretty aggressive to the people. But what I found was a country a lot more like Germany and Austria than the other countries I've visited in the former "east" European block. Construction everywhere, good infrastructure (good in general, the roads could use some more time in finished state and less under construction), and a generally optimistic people. The "communism" years are ancient history for anyone under 30, and many of the older people simply don't want to look back. I kept digging for information about what the country was like when I was a kid and hearing about the strikes on the radio, but it's a chapter of life that's just less interesting for the Poles than the future. I admire that outlook, and the results show in the country. The Tatras are fantastic and worth visiting again, there are some really big walls with mixed routes to do (maybe already done, no idea, but they look great).

My deepest and sincere thanks to Michal, Adam, Maciev (sorry, you're welcome at my house anytime but I never did figure out how to spell your name!), all the Piotrs and the many stellar people who put us up in their houses and truly went out of the way to help me have a great Polish experience. Sometimes slideshow trips are pretty industrial; this one had industrial moments, but it was without a doubt the most enjoyable week of travel I've had in a long time. I know I'll see some of the people I met in the future, either at my house in Canada or around the world somewhere. I look forward to that. And if some of my hosts show up at my house I'll do my best to show them some things in Canada that, "Aren't so nice..." Right. Thanks also to Raphael for recording the video segments for the shows in Poland, they worked well.


PS--Training: Two days of sport climbing, one day of mountain beating, one day of gym climbing/training, some hiking. Not ideal, but I feel pretty good about getting all that in while on the road so much. Back at it here now!

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