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Europe, Czechoslovakian Exchange

Czechoslovakian Exchange. A climbing exchange should show you more than just new climbers and new crags. It is equally important to live a new lifestyle. In a Socialist country there is no shortage of rules to keep you in line every step; as if there weren’t enough to worry about on those frightening sandstone towers. Alan Bartlett, Charles Fisher and David Knox arrived a week before I did. They were well entertained by our principal hosts: Vladimír Weigner, Petr Brzák and Standa Vanék. Sightseeing in Prague and climbing on local limestone cliffs were punctuated with rain. When I arrived on September 3, the terror started immediately at Adrspach-Teplice. We just were not used to 20- to 40-foot runouts on sandstone covered with ball bearings. Watching the Czechs run up those towers in their authentic bedroom slippers didn’t do much for the ego, until you realized that all shoes work the same on this funky rock. The Czechs climbed beautifully where we struggled to follow in marginal style. But the routes were steep, strenuous and committing. Our little group doubled in size with the arrival of Todd and Holly Skinner, Beth Wald and Dan Michael, who were on their way to the Soviet Union for the World Speed Climbing Championships. They brought with them to the Teplice Film Festival the film, On the Rocks, which was a tremendous success. Just a word about the Czech climbing culture: I refer of course to the pub or pohovinstnu, which we translated as “nasty, smoky, overcrowded, loud pub.” The Czechs have a saying: “As you drink, so shall you climb!” But it is not everywhere that you get to meet the man who has climbed K2 twice. Their climbing serves a real purpose: it is the one chance to express themselves in a society where free speech is a rare luxury. We moved on to Turnov and the climbing in the nearby Cesky Raj (“Czech Paradise”). The climbing on the sandstone towers was unique because we could actually use real gear. And we used it liberally. We also saw a 16-year-old hardman throw a dynamic up and out a good sized roof, first try, no sweat, hang-by-a-hand and howl. Leaving Tumov, our little group saw a drastic reduction. Fisher headed home to teach his NOLS course and Knox left to keep his business on track. Skinner and company went off to East Germany and the USSR, leaving just Alan Bartlett and me. We went to the Elbsandsteingebirge and climbed for one day and watched it rain for three. A memorable climb was a Bernd Arnold route, called “Big Wall.” Obviously there is more than one conception of big wall. This had its first bolt 70 feet up a 5.9 comer! The next stop was the High Tatras. After a 10-hour overnight train ride, we hauled ourselves up a three-hour slog to a beautiful hut at the head of a lovely valley surrounded by horrendous rock. We each did one route that day. Alan summed it up by declaring it “the worst route in the Universe.” The next morning he headed back for the sandstone towers, while I stayed on the granite to find something worthwhile, which I did. With my friend Roman Kamler, I did the best route of my life, a five-pitch finger crack at 7500 feet. Roman put it all in perspective when he said, “Paul, now we are friends for the life. We have done together the climb.” Agreed! We later did another fantastic climb, Sracka Wall, which was the first free ascent of a Bernd Arnold route, protected entirely by ancient fixed pins. The Czechs will be coming to the United States this summer. If you get the chance, climb with them.

Paul Kallmes