Friday, 3 May 2013

The 7 Commandments and The Flying Loutuses


It was 6:00am in Antalya, Turkey and I couldn't sleep. Dreaming of climbing perfect orange and black limestone wasn't  helping my insomnia. I don't sleep much even at home, this can last for days or even weeks, then I'll have one big blow out where I can't stay awake. I relaxed, took deep breaths and watched the Turkish sunrise as I lay in bed. This was one of life's pleasures, today was going to be a good day ... I drifted off to sleep.

An hour later my wife tried to sneak in the bedroom bringing smiles and positivity for breakfast. I knew she was coming, the usual foot dexterity of an elephant with concrete boots on had given it away. I stretched and pretended she had woken me up gently.





I walked outside to stretch by the pool and stare in awe at the morning sun. As I rolled my arms I felt like every bone in my body cracked, a quick roll of the head and the final crack of my neck released a flood of nerves. I'm always nervous before climbing. I'm not sure if its adrenaline, fear, or fear of failure but this was different. Maybe today's  nerves were intuition, maybe they were the result of some obscure quantum theory, maybe good old common sense was niggling at me? I'm not sure but some days just don't feel right from the start.


While my son Jay and I  packed our gear into the hire car we noticed a large grasshopper clinging to the wind-shield wiper. It sat relaxed, as if ready for adventure, it flexed an awesome pair of leg muscles which any would-be climber could only dream of. Strange to look at an insect in such a way but that's the nature of this new-found obsession. My wife began to drive with no concern for this powerful creature, Jay and I wanted to set it free claiming it would lose it's family on the 90 minute drive  to the mountains. My wife claimed it was a male whore who was cheating on his wife and that he wanted to hitch a ride because he needed new women to slay in some far off town. Yes ... this was a real conversation ... and it only got worse.



Andrea asked " is it a grasshopper? Or a flying Lotus?"
I burst out laughing, "a flying Lotus?"
"Yeah, a Lotus," all the while she's trying to shake this awesome being off by flicking the wiper switch, " You know the flying Lotuses, with God and all that."
More fits of laughter from me, " God and flying Lotuses?"
"Well, Yeah, God  invented the Lotus didn't he?'
"No love that was some bloke from England, you know, the cars in that James Bond films."
"Oh you know what I mean , in the 7 commandments he sent all those flying Lotuses out."
In between tears of laughter I joked, " The 7 Commandments and the flying Lotuses, there must be a story in that somewhere."

1st Commandment ... Thou shalt not dis-respect any creature no matter their size and stature on this planet. 



We arrived in the mountains of Geyikbayiri and were surrounded by Cypress trees and magical limestone caves. Herds of mountain goats were out for morning feeds taking over the roads, but for the hum of air-con and screaming gears from cars scaling steep inclines you could be back in time a 100 years. A chubby, black haired goat stumbled descending a small hill which was pretty comical, it was going to be one of those days.





We got to the Kebab sector ... no I didn't make that up and incidentally if you ever climb at Geyikbayiri I would recommend starting there first.

 We were going to let Jay lead his first ever route. As Jay was gearing up to learn the Sharp End we noticed an old Turkish lady staring at us. She was a goat herder wearing traditional big furry boots, the most intricate  blue flowered  head scarf and matching Mc Hammer trousers. This seemingly fashion faux par has probably been passed down for 3 generations, we were the alien folk around here wearing branded nylon and sparkling climbing gear. She couldn't take her eyes off us but focused mainly on Jay, we could see the confusion in her eye's, this pale skinned, blonde haired kid was about to commit suicide on this rock. Why? Even the old ladies herd became interested in this peculiarity, a procession of single file goats passed us and peered over small boulders to witness the spectacle.



 I was half expecting the old woman to put a curse on us for forcing this child to climb this rock. She kept walking away then peering round the corner as if she couldn't believe her eyes.

 We waited until the audience had left and then started to climb. Jay started well and was leading his first route with ease, everything was going to plan. He got 1 bolt away from the top out and fear (or common sense) got the better of him. Usually I would have encouraged him to carry on but maybe the old woman's eyes were right. 

2nd Commandment ... Thou shalt not endanger child's life for sport. 



Jay was keen to try another route. The plan was to let him top rope a route until he could climb it with his eye's closed before attempting another lead.. We wandered over to Gizmo sector and there it was. A lovely little route about 9m in the guidebook. It was sheltered from the heat and had a lovely inspiring tree sticking out of the wall where the anchor would be. This was perfect, it was inspiring, it was asthetically pleasing and within Jay's capability. The route had it all, including a small chimney, the rock was also littered with pockets and foot holds.



 There was just one problem, the first bolt was pretty run out, about 3 metres up the route.This being Turkey I wasn't shocked, things are never as they should be here and health and safety issues are worthy of an encyclopedia. Jay was excited, this would be his time. I climbed up to the 1st bolt and clipped on, I carried on clipping and climbing to the anchor below the tree. The anchor wasn't there, I was gutted for Jay, this lead wasn't going to happen either. I climbed down taking the draws out as I went but when it came to the bolt 3 metres up I was unsure.




  I didn't want to descend the last few metres without a rope, a fall may have stopped the day's climbing before it had even started. I left a carabiner clipped to the first bolt and climbed down safely. 

3rd Commandment ... Thou shalt not exceed thy limitations too far when climbing. 



Undeterred we decided to go back to Kebab Sector, we were going to get some decent climbing in somehow, giving up wasn't an option. Jay was a little disheartened by now and just wanted to watch me climb for a while. We enjoyed the view and tried to hunt down a reasonable route. Eventually the most inspiring route was a  6a+ with a lovely tree to sit under and even a wooden bench if you fancied some sun.



 Considering my previous climbing experience consisted of  maybe 6 days over a 2 month period this was a pretty mammoth task for a novice. I knew it was a risk, I had only ever been belayed by experienced climbers before and the fact that Andrea had let me climb without clipping her belay device the day before didn't fill me with confidence. I have to admit this was 100% my fault for not checking properly, a lesson learned there I Think! I had taken a decent fall and acquired some cuts that looked much worse (hence cooler) than they actually were. The thoughts of "is she really clipped in now" and "am I actually on belay or not?" were still fresh in my mind.



I also knew that she would struggle to know what was happening 25m up the wall.

4th Commandment ... Thou salt not climb if  you don't trust yourself and your belayer implicitly.  



Hungry for some success I started to climb before over thinking could put me off. I really wanted this route, I felt the climbing wasn't beyond me but yesterday's fall was still in the back of my mind. As I climbed higher I struggled to keep calm while dreaming of a fall-free top out, luckily my body was more confident than my brain was. A very experienced climber told me not to trust my brain as it's unreliable, this seemed good advice for now. I joked to myself and wondered if I should have taken my top off for this route just to enhance my strength and power? For the first time in my life I almost felt like a real climber.





Around 25 metres up I clipped my draw to the last bolt before the anchor. It had been too far away to see from the ground but a Prusik had been tied to this bolt. I looked up and the Anchor was a hairy overhang but had lots of hand holds. I looked down and saw the Prusik beneath my feet again. I looked further down and could barely see Andrea on belay. Maybe this wasn't a good idea, this was the crux, no wonder the rest of the route had seemed reasonable. The overhang looked possible but if I fell I was going to hit a ledge and I didn't fancy that. Eventually I didn't go for it, my brain lied to me and blamed my mistrust of Andrea's belay ability. That was a bad lie and a lame excuse ... in truth it was the distrust of my own climbing ability which held me back.

I told myself it didn't matter, I was happy with the climb. I hadn't been the first person to retreat from this point or the Prusik wouldn't tied on the bolt below. This was a lie too, I was upset with myself really.




I made my self safe and threaded my rope through the Prusik to lower off.

For non-climbers (or novices such as me) I will attempt (probably wrongly) to explain what a Prusik is ...  Basically it's a 6mm piece of cord used by climbers to get out of sticky situations. I say a piece of cord for dramatic purposes. This cord could easily hold my weight but the knot which ties the cord together may not hold a small kitten if tied wrongly.

 Trust me, this piece of cord is pretty  dramatic when your going to entrust your life to it. Just as I was going to lower off I realised I didn't know how long this cord had been there. I didn't know if a small child had been lowered off it or if the old lady we saw earlier had used it to get her goats down the mountain.

5th Commandment ... Thou shalt never trust an old piece of string if you don't need to.




So I decided to waste another carabiner, this was going to be the second loss in succession. At this rate I'd be funding the local climbing community with ease. I laughed and considered engraving my name and address on the back. I have been taught you can never have enough carabiners ... wise advice!

I re-attched my sling, I retied my harness, I untied my rope, I clipped a carabiner, I tied on, I tied off, I untied the Prusik, I unclipped a carabiner, I screwed it up, I placed another carabiner, I tied my rope.

Confused?

 I was completely baffled!

 The bolt I was tied to started to wobble ... in  confusion I had managed to get two carabiners wedged inside and trying to remove one made the bolt move more. I was trapped, this was dangerous, what was I doing here?



6th Commandment ... Thou shalt not panic in a sticky situation. 



An irrational, unhealthy fear began to tie my knots for me, I didn't dare lean my weight back because the bolt kept moving, remember that Turkish health and safety issue? I knew Andrea was panicking, I had been up there at least 30 minutes. I tried to shout down assuring her everything was O.K.

 I could just imagine the newspaper headlines ... novice climber falls to his death though stupidity. I had two carabiners still locked in the bolt, one was thinner than the other, so there was hope. I had bought this on purpose for this exact kind of situation. I will always carry 2 small carabiners from now on.

 Why didn't I go for the top out? It wasn't beyond me. I untied from my harness and watched the rope drop ... oh shit ... it's gonna hit the deck ... I caught it ... in reality the rope wasn't going to hit the ground. It was tied to my harness with another 2 knots! For a split-second I  had thought the rope was lost. I was scared and confused and becoming a danger to myself.

We were going to have to get someone to rescue me, I was stuck, confused and riddled with fear. Clinging to a  shaky steel bolt 25-30 metres high is not good for one's confidence.

 I was stood on good footholds so I could have stood there for hours if I had to. The Locust gripping the wiper may have been my metaphor for the day and a subtle warning. My brain took over, "what the hell am I doing?  I don't know how to climb, I'm just pretending I do. That's it, I'm never climbing again, I don't like this feeling, its not worth the risk."





My screaming brain wanted me to quit climbing and cry for help ... then I remembered, "you can't always trust your brain!"

I calmed down, breathed deep and trusting my own ability I looked for a way out. Only a minute later  I was on my way back down to earth in more ways than one. I got to terra firmer and kissed the limestone rock in front of me, this was my thank you to the climbing Gods for keeping me safe. 

In reality this "Epic" was mainly created in my imagination. I had panicked and made my situation dangerous through fear and lack of experience.  

That night we laughed over a few beers and reminisced over our day which had generally consisted of failure and bad news. I couldn't stop thinking how scared I had been earlier but in a strange way this felt like a mini initiation into climbing. I re-told my death defying feats and admitted to my panic and fear to Andrea and Jay probably more times than they wished to listen to!

But what of the 7th commandment?  Maybe we didn't need one? Maybe the 7 Commandments and the flying lotuses were not to be!

None of us had realised till a beer or two later when Jay finally stumbled on the answer.

"Dad?" Jay looked confused and worried.
"Yes son."  I boomed, all proud and ready to re-tell the story for the umpteenth time. .
"That bolt that was loose?"
"Yes son." Still proud of cheating death and idiotically impressed with my false awesomeness.
"You let me top rope it after you came down."
"Shit!!!"

7th Commandment ...

I'll let you decide! 












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