Hanged from a teeny tiny rope, like a little spider from a bunch of grapes, I feel already numb from immobility. Why am I here again?... I thought that climbing this classic route would be a piece of cake in October, when the weather is still summery. I kind of knew that I play with fire here, but I did it anyway.
The upcoming disaster was obvious since the morning. Our ropes got tangled in the few first meters, my climbing shoes were too tight and I had to take them off in every ‘arete’ while cursing myself for leaving the delicious cake in the back seat of the car so that I am ‘fast and light’.
Despite all that, we climbed courageously, with strength and confidence. No, until then it did not cross my mind that we were heading towards grave danger...not that I ever think of that!
After 400 meters of climbing we were very high up and completely vertical. With no sign of security or indication that someone had climbed here before. At this point, however, there is no way back and one thing is certain: I am out of the route and in deep shit! The rock is absolutely smooth without any cracks. I cannot attach a piton anywhere and even if I had tweezers for the eyebrows, still I could not place it as an anchor. I try to climb with full concentration and reverence so that I don’t make the slightest mistake, because I know that if I fall, in the best case scenario I will crash on the head of my rope-partner and in the worst case I will find myself hanged upside down 60 meters below with about 30 broken bones…
Just on time when I felt my heroism reserves run out and started losing faith in climbing without any security 500 meters over the ground, there where hordes of happy tourist admire the beauties of Samaria, I finally spot a crack. It felt like I found a ship anchor! That’s how secured I felt; however, as Murphy’s law dictates, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. I pick the best and straightest nail I have on me and as I catch the hammer, double catastrophe falls upon us. My frozen hands can’t grasp very well, so the hammer slides and falls….of course I forgot to tie it, so I just stand there dazzled, observing it going by just fine with another law, the one of gravity. Before I have time to recover from my aphasia and warn my partner 30 meters under to be careful, I hear the horrific sound of a flying hammer hitting a helmet… so, not only I lost the hammer and I had to find another solution, but it also had to hit the head of my rope-partner, who, fortunately was (still) well.
I climb just a bit more, flirting with death, until I finally manage to attach a belt in a hole I found on the rock. It felt like I was drinking coffee with the director of the best insurance company, shutting the door at Grim Reaper’s face!
It is almost nighttime and the top seems many hours away, thus we forget about the option of reaching it today. My rope-partner, Stefanos, approaches me with a hole in the helmet, souvenir from the flying hammer, and we start scheming and planning how we will spend this wonderful evening. Our supplies are abundant: half a chocolate bar, three little squares for each, and a few sips of water. My legs feel cemented, and not only that, Stefanos is 10 meters away because the same anchor cannot support us both. Communication soon breaks down as the wild wind blows and we sound like a broken telephone. I curl up as deep as I can in my t-shirt, cursing myself again for the light jacket I also left behind.
The night has fallen now and my legs become ice cream sticks, while the trembling suggests that I am not far from hypothermia. I’m having “a great time” in my misery and for one more time in my life I wonder: why am I doing this to myself? My (few) normal friends are now probably drinking beers and eating in a tavern, and here I am, hanged from the rocks, hungry, frozen, tied in a belt and with no guarantee that I will make it to the top alive….why, why am I doing this?
Philosophical questions start torturing my frozen brain and I reflect on the two basic instincts we have as human beings: survival and reproduction. We’ll talk about reproduction some other time (I cannot even think about it in this cold!), but in our times survival is somehow a given thing. Lions don’t go after us in the street, nor cannibals planning to cook us in a huge cauldron. The everyday certainty of being alive becomes more and more a given thing, perhaps even boring...and there is no fun to that. Danger is a way to affirm our existence, to feel alive and doubt the certainty of survival. I’m not saying that being alive and in one piece is not a good thing, but if you start doubting it by choice, then it becomes a more interesting experience. It’s like mocking death. No, I don’t believe I’m paranoid or suicidal. I love life and I appreciate its every second; but there is a priceless satisfaction of being alive and healthy after every dance with death. It is a way to discover your limits that keep moving to a higher level every time, in a game with an uncertain ending. We don’t need to know and analyze everything anyway, because in this way we exclude learning and we murder the element of surprise…
And I conclude my thoughts by enjoying the last little square of chocolate, with the certainty that at the end of the day, even under these conditions, it isn’t that bad….!