A mountain guide friend of mine has a personal statute he follows this time of year: when the snowpack shrinks and the sun strengthens, he packs up his family and goes on vacation. The concept of holiday time is universal, of course, but his reason for the timing differs from most—he does it for safety.
The seasonal arc of Northeastern ice climbing starts in November with unpredictable, wet ice climbing conditions, and we are out of shape and scared. Then the ice builds and temperatures plummet, conditions improve, as do our levels of fitness and confidence. We peak physically and mentally in late Feb / early March, and we are suddenly in a rush to get in our last sends before the season is over (that ephemerality is part of what draws many of us to this silly sport to begin with, after all).
Knowing his own tendencies, my friend takes a vacation, so he is not tempted to climb or guide in hazardous conditions.
Taking a note from his book, I am headed with some friends to the Greek island of Kalymnos for a spring sport climbing “vacation”. I have to admit that the gritty, adversity-prone mountain climber in me has had a hard time accepting just how easy life is going to be.
I feel somewhat guilty and unsure of myself if my travel and climbing plans don’t involve some level of suffering.
What I do know though is that the long winter of climbing and guiding takes its toll. The skin on my feet is raw from long hours in rigid boots and crampons. My headspace for leading is a mess because the cardinal rule of ice climbing is that the leader does not fall. My spine is out of whack from long belays, and I am itching to shed my ‘winter coat’ of long underwear, thick socks and a knit hat that I’ve worn everywhere but in the shower for several months straight.
The doctor would prescribe, I think, a dose of sunshine that includes some time in flip flops, some long, safe falls on overhanging terrain, and lots of stretching and dozing. I packed light: a single Juggernaut roller bag with a bunch of quick draws and a 70 meter rope, and a yoga mat and a Theracane for good curative measure. My core temperature might still be a little low, or perhaps I can’t fully stretch out from my winter cocoon yet, as I augmented the selection of shorts and t-shirts with a surplus of fluffy layers to absolutely ensure my comfort.
After three flights and a scenic ferry ride, we arrived at our rented villa in Panormos, Kalymnos, set among orchards and gardens with an ocean view. The brightly painted cinderblock buildings are grouped in villages along the coast, with one loop road connecting them. The grape leaves just broke bud and the lemons and oranges are plump and juicy on the trees.
We wake to the concerto sounds of roosters, goats, barking dogs and droning scooters, and eat real Greek yogurt with local honey and fresh fruit on our sunny porch while taking in the morning routine. My fingers feel soft and raw, and sensing the rock through climbing shoes almost tickles. My internal dialogue is nonsensical, moving into panic mode if I lead out beyond a bolt, so I force myself to take some falls to reorient. I can’t stifle my girly-sounding screams of joy from the stomach dropping feeling of falling and being caught.
Suffering? Who said I needed to suffer? Sport climbing vacations are just right for me. Yamas!
To be continued…
Author: Mountain Hardwear athlete, Janet Wilkinson