The End of the Road

In November I kept thinking I would settle down in Portugal, where many roads end at (or seemingly in) waves, as pictured above in Espinho, just south of Porto.

But before that, I wanted to go on one last mission – to Morocco:

Marrakech

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Emersing myself once more in an exotic culture. The shapes of Marrakech reminded of the setting of biblical stories

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Something is rotten in the kingdom of Morocco. A student protest is answered by heavy police presence

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Rainfall tempered the overly touristic atmosphere of Marrakech’s central square Djeema el Fna, whose name can be interpreted as the “congregation of the dead”

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Cliché Morocco

Essaouira

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Medina life

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This hostel is actually better indicated than most in the medinas of Moroccan towns. Faulty google maps locations add to the confusion

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Rooftop sunrise in Essaouira

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The medina awakens

Imsouane

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Imsouane is one of the longest waves in the area. Towering over they bay is a little mosque (left)

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It’s called a point break for a reason

Taghazout

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Anchor Point seen from Taghazout village

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Anchor Point on a bigger day. Ripper and photographer are both local talent – (c)  Rachid Africaspirit

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La Source

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One of too many tourists, here at Desert Point

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The best way to go on a Morocco mission

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Unfortunately, I failed to find a suitable van in Lisbon, and so I got these views only as a curious guest on this ideal vehicle from close to Vienna

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Offroad luxury version

Taghazout jobs

Taghazout jobs: “Car park management” and sales of traditional goods

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Locals playing soccer at low tide in Taghazout

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Tourism is unbearably strong in Taghazout, both for international crowds and Moroccan city dwellers

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Preparing a meal at home for 1.60 EUR

The South

If you decide to go south of Agadir, things become more authentic and less touristy. Mirleft and Sidi-Ifni are certainly worth a trip. The waves may not be as famous as Anchor Point & Co., but you get a lot less crowded peaks and a lot more of the Morocco you wanted to see. Get guiding from Bohcin in Mirleft, it’s very(!) affordable and your best way to find the best wave in any condition.

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On the road down south

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The old Kasbah ruins at Mirleft

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Mirleft

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Dinner at the local market

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No hen or egg problem here in this inland town shop: If you want chicken, choose yours, get the head chopped off and take it home

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Keeps the crows away, and the evil eye too

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A modern oasis? Tourism development projects will ruin the Moroccan coastline

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Bad luck with the surf in Sidi Ifni. Strong winds can be a problem in the south

The Atlas

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Apparently the Atlas had a bigger snowpack than the Tyrolean Alps last December

The Moon

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I guess this was it for now with my life enjoying the view from a blue moon

 

 

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Back to (Co)work

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Ponte 25 de Abril / LX factory

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Lisbon city of street art

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My own interpretation of street art

 

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Sunrise on the Tejo

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Sunrise on the world

 

Cowork

I started renting a desk at a co-work space (http://www.coworkcentral.pt/en/),  for the first time ever. The space is right in Lisbon downtown in Cais do Sodré. The place hums with people that have realized what I am trying to achieve: a location-independent style of work. The atmosphere of new stimuli is great, and I asked myself why I had not tried that earlier already in places of the world. (Good question indeed).

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Impermanent nomads (www.inomads.hk) in their natural habitat, looking out for the rising supermoon.

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Working in a room with a view over the Tejo is also quite fantastic.

Riding waves. My Indo primer.

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Indo changed me. I know now that I will be a surfer for the rest of my life. Maybe always a shitty surfer, but who cares? I can’t get enough of the rush of the drop and the beauty of this liquid landscape that only exists for fractions of a second before collapsing into foam.

Chapter 1: Nias. At the bottom of the food chain

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Arrival in Sorake, Nias after five flights and three hours drive. My first glance at one of the world’s finest rights. Not that it would have been a suitable wave for me.

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Aloha Surf Camp. In the background, “indicators”. If Sorake already was a wave way to heavy to for me, this one is too heavy for most of the surfers that handle Sorake well: It breaks right on the reef.

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Doesn’t mean nobody can ride it, but it didn’t happen very often. Local Anthony in a display of balls of steel and ability.

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The early bird catches the wave. With the wave within 3min walk from most guesthouses, the peak gets crowded easily.

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Sorake explodes after another barrel ride. Having a wave crash on my head and getting held under for two waves on a bigger day wasn’t exactly fun. Have you ever had to use our leash to find the way up? Lesson: Choose waves you can handle.

The wave in Nias is famous among surfers. It is one of the world’s finest right-hander barrels. Since the reef over which it breaks is – despite an earthquake that lifted it by a foot in 2005 – relatively deep under water, it is also considered a pretty safe wave to get wiped out by. Unless the waves are eight feet or more, and the arriving wave sucks up all the water in front of it as it jacks up, it is difficult to hit the reef very hard.

As I experienced, it doesn’t mean you don’t touch it at all, and it doesn’t mean at all that a wipe-out is an enjoyable experience at Nias. In fact, it was the first time since I picked up surfing about a year ago that I had two follow the advice of big wave surfers in case a wave holds you down:

  1. Stay calm, no matter what
  2. If you don’t know where up is, open your eyes and look for the light; or grab your leash and pull yourself along on it – on the other side of it is something that floats much better than you: your surfboard. (To be fair, this method is only necessary if the water is so murky or dark that you cannot discern up and down by the light.)

I had the pleasure of not making it out quick enough against the incoming set. As I desperately tried to pierce through the glassy wall, I was picked up together with my board and violently twisted around by the angrily curling lip of the wave. I have seen this happen to others from a safe distance, it looks as if you put somebody into a washing machine in tumbling mode. What follows is a long time of that tumbling mode, already before it loses its steam completely, I felt an urge to fill my lungs with oxygen again. Being still way under water and without orientation, I recurred to nr 1 and nr 2. When I finally poked my head out of the whitewater, my surroundings looked as if an atomic bomb had flattened everything in its way. Worse: I had no clue where the shore and where the next wave was. I turned around, and there was the next wave of the set, ready to crush right on my head. I barely had time to take one more desperate breath, and down I was again. Tumbler. Stay calm. Grab leash. Pull.

What have I learned from this experience: There are beginner, intermediate and expert waves for a reason. Nevertheless, I managed to ride the famous Nias wave, if only for a very, very short time.

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This is what Nias is famous for in the world of surfing.

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Activities in Nias are limited. Ping Pong was a fan favourite. But hey, what else does a (good) surfer need when he has a world class barrel out his doorstep every day?

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Bintang time with the Brazilians.

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Other evening pass times involve chewing bethel nuts. Locals do it all the time and lose their gingiva and teeth over it. It gives you a bright red tongue and a short rush to the head, similar to your first cigarette when you were fifteen.

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The smell of Indo is: Burning wood and a bit of burning plastic. In Bali, add incense sticks.

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Driving around with my scooter in Western Nias revealed a still very rural culture and landscape almost untouched by international tourism. As the grave left of the road suggests, the island of Nias is dominated by Christian faith.

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Many people live from cultivating rice. Some house don’t have electricity.

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Evil powers are everywhere, even if you don’t see them. Or too late, like in this case.

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One of the inhabitants of the neighboring house, a local brothel, enjoys the sun.

Chapter 2: Bali. Return to civilization.

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Old Man’s Beach. Can’t not be blown away by the liveliness of this place after almost two weeks in Nias. And girls! There were only about 3 three Western girls in Nias… in total.

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Finally I could surf again in the mellow waves of hipster-capital Canggu after the brutal wipeouts in Nias.

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Every village, every family has their own temple on Bali. Even the wave at Old Man’s has one.

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Canggu, hipster capital of the island. Ride a stylish retro motorbike instead of a crappy scooter. Make sure you have a respective driving license though, Bali cops are known to rip off innocent tourists.

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Cruising around Bali with my personal imstagram reporter Ottavia.

Chapter 3: Lombok. Surf till you drop

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Lombok. Home to pirates and thieves. Even these days, you are warned not to drive at night. A 17-year old guy supposedly got his hand chopped off by a machete for holding on to his scooter some years ago.

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Your typical indo gas station.

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Wave taxi.

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Grupuk Inside.

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Sunset session.

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The takeoff, the source of the addiction I guess.

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There you go

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User-friendlyness. Don-don was perfect when I got there, absolute laboratory conditions for somebody my level. I was the fourth guy in the water.

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Anthony going big.

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Morning session in Grupuk inside with the crew.

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Grupuk by night.

So, can you really surf now, Gipsy Banker?

No. But I have some fun already. Just have a look for yourself…

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I think one board was 7.6 and the other 8 feet. (In Costa Rica I still rode a 9.6…)

 

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Indonesia, you will be missed.

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Don’t be sad buddy

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I’ll be back!

 

Island of Sirens

Only afterwards can you realize that you stayed too long.

Leave

Leaving when you don’t want to

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As ridiculous as it is, the easiest way to get new climbing shoes in my size was flying back home and collecting my online order there (no delivery to Greece…)

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Home. Serles towering over Wipptal in the morning sun. Shot taken from my parents’ house

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Back to the island

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I like this shot from the inside of the ferry because it reminds of the opening scene of “Zorba the Greek”. Note the huge spray of the wave outside the window while the mother watches over the sleep of her baby

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Back at it with new shoes (and unfortunately, a new haircut too)

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Hannes bolts a new route. I was the first to try some moves on this virgin 6b+.

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Sailing to Kos in the early morning sun.

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Hunting a Mermaid

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The new Arginonta Valley sector at dawn

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Morning breaks over Kalymnos and Telendos. Entering my first multipitch ‘3 Stripes’ with Justin

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The climb ahead of us

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A few crucial explanations on multi-pitch rope technique before we start… what could possibly go wrong?!

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Half way up ‘3 stripes’

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Belaying Justin while he leads…

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…and while he finishes the last pitch

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I took an eight meter fall as I slipped while I tried to clip the very last bolt of the route. I hit my heel on the way down, but there appeared to be no fracture

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Γεώργιος chilling in “his” pool, embodying archaic Greek coolness to perfection

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“I’m drunken like a seasick dream/ In this dream I am awake/ I am awake” (Jack Johnson, “Seasick dream”)

 

Grace under pressure

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Masuri, the climbing capital of Kalymnos and Telendos island, ca. 1970… ah no 2016. It’s just a red pol filter ( i.e. my sunglasses…) that make the picture look old.

The skin around my fingertips has become hard. When I put them together and press them slightly, the touch and feel reminds me of a football not properly inflated. On some fingers, the tips are still a bit numb, which exacerbates the impression. The skin is peeling off from all of them. The veins in my underarms are bigger and more distinctively visible than ever before. When I walk, my calve muscles feel sore. This is what happens after a month of climbing. Today is my sixth or seventh rest day. My body may be exhausted, but my mind is so even more.

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Arrival in Kalymnos by boat on May 5.

I am not a natural rock climber. Since I was twelve years old and started growing like a mushroom, I have developed a more or less mild form of fear of heights. Nevertheless, rock climbing has been fascinating me for about a decade, although mostly from afar. It always used to scare me, so I never really got into it. I just top-roped for a few months in the gym about ten years ago. Then, about two years ago, I started doing some vie ferrate occasionally. Thereafter, I paid maybe twenty-five visits to the boulder gym in Frankfurt and took a two-day course in multi-pitch climbing about a year ago. Through these activities, I found out that I could overcome my fear of heights. Psychologists call this de-sensibilisation, a mountain guide simply commented: You don’t really suffer fear of heights. I had never reached clarity on this. I still remember turning around at the beginning of quite a few vie ferrate. By beginning I mean: 2.5 to 4m off the ground! Yet I made all of them in a second attempt and halfway through I usually had lost my fear.

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On a deep water solo attempt near Vathy, Kalymnos.

Therefore it somehow seemed logical to dedicate some time to the obvious challenge of rock-climbing. And as my life currently comes without responsibilities and duties, I flew from Vancouver, Canada to Kalymnos, Greece to explore climbing, and my reaction to daily climbing. All I had done before coming to Kalymnos was top-roping, mostly more than ten years ago and indoors. Now I had to lead-climb on rock, belayed by a total novice.

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Moment of truth. Lead climbing was a totally new experience for me.

I go through a lot of fears as I start climbing, every day. The most natural one is the one of falling, from which I believe the fear of heights derives. Fear of falling manifests itself in a serious of doubts in the setup that allows you to climb safely in heights that would make any fall your certain death: the belayer, the rope, the quickdraws, the anchor, the bolts, the knot that connects the rope to my harness and the harness itself. And especially if you are the lead climber, doubts in your holds as well as your hands and your feet placed on them. Ultimately, they are doubts in yourself and your ability.

Since May 6, I almost went through a full circle. When I came here with Denia, we looked for grade four routes. On our very first day, I climbed a 5b+ or something like that as well. Initially, my fear was mostly directed towards the equipment: Was the rope still good enough? (Yes, absolutely. It was barely used.) Would the quickdraws and the bolts be strong enough? The belay device? The harness? In hindsight, all these elements are in the very rarest cases the reason for sport climbing accidents.

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The Dharma bums chilling between climbs. Leading on a rock climb is predominantly mentally exhausting at my level.

As we moved on, I became more aware of the risks inherent to having a lighter belayer secured to the ground by a sling. Some practice falls gave me back the necessary confidence in our setup. Denia left, and I started to have varying belayers, of different abilities (always above mine) and weights (always below mine). Joe Vallone, a US mountain guide from La Grave, was a lot lighter than me, yet he pushed me to my very best route in terms of grades: A probably quite overrated 6a+ of 30m which I managed to ‚flash‘. (‚Flashing‘ means finishing a route in your first attempt ever without resting in the rope or falling, whereas ‚onsighting‘ means that you flash a route that you have never seen anybody climb on before and haven’t received any detailed information about either. All further attempts are referred to as „projecting“, until you finally make your way through the route without falling or resting in the rope, which will then count as a „redpoint“.)

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I hoped copying Reinhold Messner’s hairstyle would make me a better climber, and I was surprised to find out it didn’t.

After Joe I climbed with a Candian couple much better than me and forced myself onto some guys from Texas as well. I found this slutting for  climbing partners quite exhausting and was not willing to do it another day, when I ran into Antoine, a buddy from my days with the Frankfurt Ski Club at the local bakery shop. He introduced me to his climbing group with their instructor Lukas and I was sorted for another week. After the group left I had the privilege to climb with Lucas every day, which certainly helped my technique a lot. Until one bright morning on a 6a+ slab route, I took my first involuntary fall as a lead climber.

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Belaying Lukas on ‘Lolita’ (7a) in the world-famous Sicati cave.

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A fellow Austrian climbing ‘Mort aux chevre’ (7a) in Sicati cave.

That changed my young climbing. The fall went well, although I did it wrong and landed on the wall sideways. But it triggered something in my mind. All of a sudden, I was scared. The next day, I had to force myself incredibly to lead a 5c, and for the first time I experienced the wish to quit at every single bolt that I clipped. Unfortunately, things stayed like this. Meanwhile Lukas left and after a couple of rest days, I started climbing with Englishman, yacht owner, sailor and oil & gas contractor Chris. On every route I was struggling, even on something as easy as 5a once. Most of the times, I forced myself not to give up. I still climbed a few 5c and 5c+ routes, but in no style: Crawling from bolt to bolt, resting in the rope for a long time at the cruxy sections. And considering to shout down to Chris to lower me at every single bolt.

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The classic ‘Guillot Corner’ (5c+), one of the first routes where I discovered the consequences of the loss of my virginity in falling as a leader.

After three or four days of climbing like this, I was ready to accept the fact that climbing was simply not for me. Then,  one evening I happened to hang out with some very dedicated and experienced climbers. They were both Greeks and foreigners who had either permanently or temporarily moved to Kalymnos or had re-arranged their lives to be able to climb more in some other meaningful way. By power of their authority, they made me understand that every climber goes through such periods. So I kept climbing on, although under disproportionate mental stress. One day on Chris’ boat, I discovered a book in the shelf called ‚The Rock Warrior’s Way – Mental Training for Climbers‘‚ by Arno Ilgner. The book is a revelation. Never before have I read such a good analysis of the mental processes we all know from situations outside of our comfort zone and the methods we might have applied unconsciously to succeed or the mistakes we might have made that kept us from succeeding. Now I had a toolkit to use during the dozens of moments in which I wanted to quit and get lowered down on every climb.

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Chris sending ‘Anna Maria’ (6c).

With Chris’ help, I devised a strategy to narrow the gap between what I could physically climb and what I could mentally climb as the leader: I would second and top-rope on hard routes (6a to 6b) and take a few falls everyday while doing this. Then, I would lead some easier routes afterwards (5b to 5c+). I think this strategy is working… Yet, some days ago I seconded a route I had led two weeks ago. After double-checking in my notes, I was impressed with myself that I really had managed and dared to do that. On the other hand, this tells me with little room for misunderstanding, that I have not fully recovered my former capability yet.

It is getting hotter every day here in Kalymnos. While the evenings become more and more enjoyable, climbers need to get up at 6am to make it a worthwhile day. Soon it will be too hot, and I will probably have to leave without having achieved my stated goal of leading a 6b route. Not that it would matter: Pre-defined categories of success and failure only hamper the ‘Rock Warrior’s’ learning experience according to Ilgner.

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Early starts are essential as it gets hotter.

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Picking up the Englishman in the morning. He’s late, as usual…

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The Frankfurt crew in ‘Kastri’.

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Grande Grotta. Tony sending ‘DNA’ (7a, left), Liz working on ‘Ivi’ (7a+, right).

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Everyday climbing companions: the goats.

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Mediterranean flair, anyone?

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Chilling with Dimitri and friends on the speed boat (for rent here) on a rest day.

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Shopping with/like a local.

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Kalymnos’ winding roads are best travelled on with scooters. The stereotypical Kalymnos climbers ride scooters in pairs of two with their climbing helmets on.

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Essential post-climbing restorage: beer, kalamari and wifi at Teo’s.

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Evening glow. There never is a lack of stunning views on Kalymnos.

Afterword

‚Grace under pressure’ is an expression I had first come across in Alan C. Weisbecker’s ‚In Search for Captain Zero‘, referring to the mental condition necessary to surf big and fast waves with style. Graceful climbers are those who move efficiently. You only can move efficiently if you are able to dissociate yourself from the risk of falling and open your eyes and mind to the many subtle possibilities to move offered by a rock face. While I find the term applicable to many situations in most sports and a multitude of social life ranging from work to private, I find that rock-climbing by its essence produces with the utmost consistence situations that require us to act at the edge of our capability in the face of threatening consequences in a calm yet alert way.

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‘Death is our “advisor” … it reminds us that every action matters, and thus directs our actions toward what’s really important, valuable, and purposeful in our lives. Death reminds us that we have no time to waste.’ – Arno Ilgner, “The Rock Warrior’s Way”.

Winter epilogue

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And then, my first ever black bear 100km north of Terrace signaled the beginning of spring in British Columbia in an unambiguous fashion. Yet this long-awaited encounter did a great deal of reconciling me with the end of this remarkable winter:

Chasing spines

(The AK experience part 2)

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Flying between Haines’ jagged peaks.

It’s a good thing the peak season for Alaska backcountry skiing is towards the end of winter. You don’t come to Alaska for practice or play. You want to come here on top of your game, thoroughly fit and with a good amount of (demanding) skiing already under your belt for the season. The reasons: The mountains are steep and the weather is shitty. So shitty that you will not be able to get out for many days… but when it opens up, you need to go from zero to hero in nothing because you will ski the gnarliest lines of your season. That being said, the mountains here are damn beautiful, too.

The most beautiful and most desired features of Alaskan mountains are the so-called ‘spines’ (sometimes also referred to as ‘curtains’). A spine is a convex structure, similar to an A-frame roof of a house. Only, the roof would be very long and would have to be lifted at one end so that the ridge of the roof has an angle of 45 degrees or more along its length. And now what you want to do is ski along the ridge of the roof by changing from one side to the other as you turn. Soon we would start hunting these structures throughout the Southern part of the 49th state. Unfortunately, we were not granted full redemption of our ambition.

Thompson Pass

Thomson Pass, just 35 miles inland from legendary small harbour town Valdez, is the stuff that Alaskan dreams are made of. Many of the classic lines you know from ski movies are in this area. Many of them are accessible right from the highway for ski mountaineers, although using a motor sled would provide a great advantage. And so over time, we managed to slay some of the most emblematic lines on Thompson Pass one after the other: Girls Mountain, Berlin Wall, Python, The Books, Mount Dimond.

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One last breath on top of Python.

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Earning turns the hard way on Python.

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Daniel ripping the Python’s west face.

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Hammering Berlin Wall with a German.

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Balancing on the Wall for another ride.

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On the way to German reunion!

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Working hard again – Mount Dimond

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Slicing the Dimond…

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…in golden evening light.

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Tailgate crazyness. Hundreds of snowmobilers and skiers gather on Thompson Pass every April. Some are both. Usually you can tell by a person’s skinniness how they usually get up the mountain…

The Books

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The promised land.

We developed our own little obsessions over time. The first one, belonging to the Thompson Pass area near Valdez, was called THE BOOKS. It is a beautiful mountain ridge surrounding a glacier, perfectly observable from the highway up to Thompson Pass, but yet so remote without motor power. We tried to hire a plane, snowmobiles and even inquired about a heli dropoff to that (at least for us) mystified area. Between the weather and the pilots, riders and prices, none of it worked out. So we decided to do it on our own, just on leg power. Only on the second tentative did we actually make it there. It ended up being the longest day I’ve ever spent on skis with 14 hours, possible only due to the long Alaskan daylight period.

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To get the books, we had to take off our boots and cross a river barefoot as the ice had receded too much and some of our bridges built the day before had collapsed.

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Daniel bows down as we approach our holy grail. (OK, maybe he was just putting his splitboard back together for the next descent…)

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Postcard time! The team at the entry to the valley of the “Books”.

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Bottomless beauty. 101 colouirs can be found by the dedicated – and skilled – skier.

 

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Finishing an important chapter on deteriorating weather.

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The Books decide to grimly greet us farewell after we already had packed up due to wind and snowfall setting in.

Here’s a little time lapse video from our day in the books:

Hatcher Pass

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‘Government Peak’, the sexiest spiny stuff we saw at Hatcher.

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And boy did we hike a lot to get there.

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About to drop into ‘Mermaid’.

Haines

Haines is hailed as the mecca of freeriding. It is also the most demanding place I have seen. You practically need airborne support to get into the mountains to start with. And if you do not heli-ski, then you will have to deal with mean glaciers full of crevasses and seracs.

In hope of riding a face called ‘Sexy Spines’, we found a satellite phone and suitable camping gear to rent and hired the famous Drake to fly us on a nearby glacier. Unfortunately, I was sick and didn’t get better while up there. Daniel tried his luck alone but crevasses, ice fall and et avalanches forced him to retreat as well.

Haines remains unfulfilled project. I will have to return to get things done here.

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Flying from Haines with Drake, as have many much better and more famous riders like Jeremy Jones and their film crews done before us.

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It’s a big country out there.

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Camping on the glacier, tens of miles away from the next human soul.

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Except for (occasionally snoring) Daniel, that is.

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The smartest smart phone I have used. (I know, it doesn’t look like it.)

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That’s it, that’s all, folks. This is how my 2015/2016 season ended.

Learning to fly with Mr Menke

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6m drop – seemingly right onto the roof of our majestic RV.

(The AK experience part 1: down days)

At the end of the ‘long drive up north’ I met up with Daniel Menke, a German snowboarder from Cologne. Daniel’s focus is much more on hitting backcountry kickers, parks and single radical lines. Ideal for me, because that’s where I want to get better while I already have plenty of backcountry experience and duracell-like stamina. He is also on of the most well-travelled surfers/snowboarders I have met – just check out his blog to verify.

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My new ski buddy Daniel in the AK white room, after digging himself out of a slab avalanche the very first day we went touring together.

We got along well pretty immediately as we both know a lot about the flaws of each others’ cultures – he lived in Innsbruck (even speaks formidable Tyrolean) and I in Germany – and we both love to make fun of both of them. Also, moving from my car into our huge RV added greatly to my quality of life.

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A typical night in the RV.

Our AK experience started with the classic down day streak. Six days of whiteout, snow and eventually rain. Nevertheless we made it great time by focusing on building a kicker, shooting pillow lines and drops right off the Richardson highway or even rails right in the town of Valdez.

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The good version of a down day. Snowfall always makes me happy.

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The ‘Fat Mermaid’ right on the snowed-in harbour – our classic hangout for the next two weeks.

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Hitting the rails.

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Daniel givin’er on our backcountry kicker. The grey behind the trees is the sea, not the sky.

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Entering the pillow realm.

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Ouch.

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Second try.

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Another day, another pillow line.

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Getting ready for work. On the highway, the RV, Daniel and the camera.

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Action.

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Daniel at work.

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Walking away happy and stoked!

Cracks in the dream. Or: (Too much) time to think on the long road to Alaska

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The long and dusty road up north, somewhere in Yukon, close to the Alaskan border. Is climate change screwing the dream?

I am sitting in my car on the side of the highway 3 to Haines, Alaska, at an elevation of 890m over sea level while I am typing this. The old snow on the road has melted and left it wet in some spots, while it is mostly already dry. It is pure coincidence that I have just been listening to a very recent TED talk by Al Gore on climate change when I decided to pull over and stop. It has now been a full week since I last skied.

I had doubts about leaving Terrace. Something in me didn’t want to go, and it was quite strong. I attributed it to the usual resistance that I had been encountering over and over again when the time had come to leave dear new friends – in this case, Will and Jen. Once I find a piece of home away from home I – still – don’t give it up easily.

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The long drive up north lasted seven days in my case, with only one day of skiing in Haines Pass.

Alaska had always lingered in my mind as the place where dreams of perfect winter come true. The only reasons not to go there right away seemed to be the existence of British Columbia, the shortage of daylight up there too early in the season and the strength of the US dollar. And now that I was getting very close to its borders, the promise of almost endless winter and an undefeatable snowpack just didn’t hold up. Climate change is real, and it is taking its toll even up here, 63 degrees of Northern latitude – the same as Norway’s Trondheim, further up north than Finland’s capital Helsinki.

Ever since I had left Terrace in pursuit of this utopian place, the disappointment had almost increased with every kilometer driven up north. My first stop at Stewart, including a brief touch with Alaska in Hyder was a strong sign of things to come in hindsight. I drove a long way to reach Salmon Glacier on a gravel road flanked by old, wet and crusted snow. Shortly before getting to Salmon Glacier, I found the road blocked by a chain for avalanche danger. No skiing that day.

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My first stop at Stewart, including a brief touch with Alaska in Hyder was a strong sign of things to come in hindsight. No skiing happened that day…

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Why is everything melting already?! Bear Pass, close to Stewart, BC – a place known for ultra-thick snowpacks.

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Alaska. A first encounter with my personal utopia at its very southern tip in Hyder.

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Continental Alaska, as far up north as I’ve gotten yet. The lonely, dry and dull road through tundra style scenery reminded me of the hostile landscapes in the ‘Lord of the Rings’.

I pressed on towards Bell2, a place heralded by many skiers as a deep snow mecca. When I got there, the picture was no different from Stewart. So I went on and on on the long and lonely highway 37, called the Cassiar highway, on the way up north.

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I stopped at Bob Quinn Lake, a gravel landing strip next to the highway, to cook my dinner. It was then when I felt the loneliest I’ve ever felt on this trip. So I decided to drive on.

There was no snow on the ground here and the mountains around me looked windblown, making me feel purposeless with the possibility of a good day of hard work skinning and skiing all of a sudden so out of reach.

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The third day included driving on very old ice and snow crusts for hours.

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You sure want your tires to be alright. At the gas station in Dease Lake, Northern BC.

I got my hopes slightly up when strong snowfall was wearing my eyes out quickly just ahead of Iskut, my designated place to spend the night. And while I spent most of the next day driving on snow and ice, I couldn’t close my eyes to one harsh reality: The last snowfall, maybe even the last rainshower must have been a long time ago. The further north I got, the truer this seemed to become.

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Days later, shortly before Haynes Junction, I would give a hitch to an old first nation, who would tell me that the last snowfall had been a month ago. Then a moment of epiphany happened shortly after I had dropped him off when this cyclist came shooting down the highway from Haines Pass.

Throughout my journey, I had started to listen to TED talk podcasts back in Costa Rica when driving for a longer period of time. Here in Canada I had gotten back to this habit: I am huge fan and can only recommend to everyone to listen to TED talks extensively. They truly open our eyes, inspire as well as broaden and deepen our view on the world.

I also listened to a few of these talks on the European migrant crisis and I had learnt a lot about it this way. On of the most useful and interesting things I have found in this regard come from Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who likened the reactions of European politicians to the crisis to the five stages of dealing with terminal illness of Kübler-Ross (denial, anger, bargaining, resignation, acceptance). I felt that this also neatly represented the emotional rollercoaster I had experienced for myself about this issue, especially when I was home in Vienna in October and November, and the Paris terrorist attacks made my blood boil with anger.

it was some 300km ahead of Whitehorse, Yukon on highway 1, called the Alaska highway when I reflected over a TED talk I had just listened to and thought to myself that at least the raw feelings after the terrorist attack in Paris had subsided when dealing with the migrant crisis, both within me and the media. I stopped at a place called the Rancheria, the first place to offer coffee since Mesiadian Junction 800km ago. I found the owner watching the latest news of the terrorist attack in Brussels. He was quick to point out that Canada should not have let 25,000 (seemed to be a lot to him) migrants come into the county. He was also quite sure that there would terrorists among them.

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Me unsuccessfully trying to smile for the camera an hour after I learned about the terrorist attack in Brussels. The migrant crisis, terrorism and the erosion of monetary value (hence also my savings) by the ECB (while fueling a real estate price surge at the same time) make it hard to keep an optimistic view on my beloved Europe. And then there are CETA and TTIP of course, which apparently corrupted politicians like German vice-chancellor Gabriel intend to push through undemocratically behind the European electorate (well-distracted by the omnipresent migrant crisis), much to the detriment of work forces and consumers both in the EU and North America.

A good old friend of mine had recently asked me in one of our sporadic email conversations whether I was aware at all how the migrant crisis was overshadowing everything in Europe. Yes, I answered. My brother’s visit – and some TED talks – had pointed my attention to the topic once again, after I had gladly left it behind me upon leaving Europe on December 3. So I took the opportunity to get beyond the emotional confusion that caused me to find myself defending almost diametral positions at different times and put in writing what I thought about it.

One thing I’ve learned on this journey via TED talks: Understanding is created by broadening our knowledge. Also, a rational, well-informed discussion of any topic tends to decrease emotional and sentimental arousal. I used TED podcasts to stop my state of self-pity after my brother had flown home and earlier I had realized how listening to Zizek’s sophisticated talk had totally wiped out any appetite to drink and party another night. My conclusion is that whenever a topic like the migrant crisis stirs our emotions heavily, we should strive for the best and most comprehensive information representing different viewpoints on the topic at hand.

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Approaching Whitehorse after a full day of driving. TED talks and the Black Keys helped me cover the 12 hours on the road. (And some ultra-sweet and tasty cinnamon buns right on Teslin Lake.)

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that „Wir schaffen das“. To use a probably macabre metaphor, every boat sinks if you overload it. Obviously, Europe is a boat hard to sink by bringing more people on board. But our social standards, social peace and coherence are much more fragile and will drown much earlier. So I am not favoring an unrestricted open welcome policy. Neither do I let myself be deceived by Merkel’s dirty treaty with Turkey – financial engineers would call her policy a synthetic Obergrenze instead of a real one. Nevertheless, she has the audacity to criticize Austria for introducing one. In banking speak: She didn’t buy the cash bond, she entered some sort of swap instead, by asking Turkey to do the dirty work. And the spread of that swap, the premium is very high – accepting Erdogan’s totalitarian and suppressive regime more and more and reopening EU membership discussions despite its politics.

I don’t believe we can welcome an unlimited number of people without significant collateral damage. I don’t believe that Merkel was ever doing the right thing by letting people come without restriction, and even worse without registration(!). Actually, she was breaking EU treaties unilaterally against the opposition of other countries and even her own party. If she had wanted to do it right, she should have given asylum seekers a chance to apply for asylum in Syria, Irak or Afghanistan so that they could take a reasonably priced and safe flight instead of a costly and often deadly trip across Turkey, the Mediterrean sea and the Balkans. And what was that stupid talk about the impossibility of registrating all arrivals at the Austrian border anyway? I remember very well how the security measures for the G7 summit in Ellmau, Bavaria in 2015 barred me from traveling home to Tyrol one weekend. 360 million EUR were quickly dispensed by the Bund and other public entities to over-secure the area with an army of 20,000 police. But when the biggest storm of the decade hits the German border, it can’t be secured?

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Dr. Faust and the latest spirit she has cited. Her commands, the spirits ignore.

But I learnt another thing by waking up in my car all by myself freezing, hungry and feeling lonely somehwhere along the Cassiar highway: Compassion is acquired by experience. We can overcome our fears and learn to better balance our own needs and wishes against the more urgent needs of other people, be it migrants, poor or homeless people among „our own“ or those who are too weak and poor to make their way to the European borders, if we either expose ourselves to hardships or, more useful, get in contact with people in desperate need of help, even if it is just for a brief period of time. It is much easier to open your heart to the suffering of other people when they are right in front of you than when they are just a miserable mob on the news.

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It maybe food from GMO crops, but it still is a warm meal. And as we never have shortage of it, we deliberately judge people craving it in the camps along our borders. I am no exception: I fear Europe will move further and further away from the rosy place it appeared to be in the 80s of my childhood. I envy Canadians who don’t need to lock their front doors or their cars in the street. But is this fear rational? Does it justify fencing people out? There is no appetizing solution on the table.

Ultimately, we are best at feeling compassion for ourselves. When I woke up in the car freezing, hungry and feeling lonely said morning, it was a lot easier for me to imagine how it must feel for someone who experienced this every day. Just that little bit of suffering enabled me to imagine better how much more miserable I would feel if I was war traumatized instead of having certainties like where I was going, a place that I could go back to, family and friends that are safe and care about me.

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Eventually, some skiing (on the steroids of motor sled lifts) lifted my spirits for a day at Haines Pass.

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Sledders’ camp at Haines Pass. Any thoughts on fuel consumption were certainly not prompted by worries on climate change there. Thanks to Trevor and James for the adrenalin-kicking rides up the mountain though!

***SHAMES Mountain*** Pt. 2!

PHIL0055.jpgI went back to Shames parking lot after I had dropped my brother off at the airport and had done my laundry in Terrace. It was already getting dark, nobody else was around and it was cold – a perfect setup for some self-pity. At least it was snowing.

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The next morning, the sun woke me up. The surrounding mountains werd so beautiful, I could not stop taking pictures for a while after breakfast. Eventually, I put my ski gear on and started yet another – athough solitary – day of skiing on the empty hill.

When I got up to the top of the T-bar, i found two kickers somebody must have put in on the one day we had ‘t skied. And there were two guys getting ready to hit them. Will and Ben had about as little routine in doing this as I. We just got better with every try.

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Pushing my (quite tight) limits! Felt great nevertheless.

Will and his girlfriend ended up hosting me for a few days in Terrace. They are extraordinary young people: At 25, they bought a sailing boat and cruised the Bahamas for five months. Right now, they are getting ready for another five months on the Pacific Crest Trail by dehydrating tons of food everyday… Since it was Will’s birthday, I got them an Italian espresso maker to take along the road. It took Will only an afternoon to fall prey to Italy’s most common vice.

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Will pushing my guitar skills (and probably his patience) to the limit.

My last day in Shames was spectacular. Total bluebird.

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Richard and Dan took me along to ride the northside of the Zymacord ridge. The two seniors knew all the stories behind those funny names of the runs in Shames. That’s what you get from 25 years of riding a mountain!

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Spot my line.

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I am grateful every day that I am given the gift of my eyes and the privilege to see such things of impeccable beauty.

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I couldn’t stop until after the sun was down.

I left Shames too early, as I soon would find out.