The Coolest Climbing Festivals in Europe to Get You Stoked for 2019

Climbing trips are one of the perks of the sport: You get to go to beautiful destinations, nosh on new terrain, and hang out with friends.

Sometimes the hardest part can be choosing where to go. I mean, 8a.nu lists over 3,000 crags around the world.

Well, my friend, let me offer a heuristic: Plan your 2019 travels around The Coolest Climbing Festivals in Europe!

Each festival offers “climbing and…” a little something extra:

Climbing and… neon Lyrca and fresh terry headbands. Check!
Climbing and… developing lines in a post-communist country. Check!!
Climbing and… partying with 700 other people in one of the most stunning places on earth. Check!!!

Doesn’t really work if you can still read the digits… Photo source: Reader’s Digest


I’m not saying only go to climbing festivals…

But I am saying you might want to put your credit card on ice now because it will be hard not to sign up for the lot.

Without further adieu, read on for The Coolest Climbing Festivals in Europe.



February

Photo source: Morten Johansen

La Sportiva Rjukan Icefestival

Ice climbing reigns supreme in the Norwegian town of Rjukan, which boasts 170 waterfalls (frozen in winter, of course).

This festival is packed with learning workshops covering topics such as an introduction to randonee skiing (or as the Norweigans would say, “topptur”), avalanche awareness, steep skiing technique, alpine climbing and winter aid climbing, drytooling, and much, much more.

Facebook Page / Registration

Additional Information:

  • Date: February 8 – 10.
  • Cost: Varies by activity.
  • Food: Available in town.
  • Accommodation: Stay in town.
  • What to Bring: Ice climbing equipment.
  • How to Get There: The closest major airport is in Oslo. Car is easiest, or you can take a bus (~4.5 hours).


Check out the cave climbing starting at 3:12!


Ísklifurfestival ÍSALP (Ísalp‘s Ice Climbing Festival) – Iceland

The Icelandic Alpine Club‘s annual event visits popular and remote ice climbing spots across the country. In 2018, they climbed at Breiðdalur and Berufjörður in the east, which ÍSALP described as “the least explored quarter of Iceland.” These festivals offer the opportunity to climb classic lines and forge new ones.

Please note: The weather has been warm this season and ice formation has been poor. The organizers may not be able to hold the event this year.

Event website (2018) / ÍSALP (Organizer)

Additional Information:

  • Date: February 14 – 16.
  • Cost: Information coming soon.
  • Food: Breakfast and Dinner offered by hut. Bring additional food.
  • Accommodation: Mountain hut.
  • What to Bring: Mountaineering equipment.
  • How to Get There: Reykjavík–Keflavík Airport is the main international and domestic hub in the country.




March

Climb and slackline high above this gorgeous terrain. Photo source: JoSiTo


Turkish Highline Carnival – Turkey

Though not exclusively a climbing festival, the 7th international highline meeting takes place in Geyikbayiri, one of the premiere locales in the Mediterranean (over 1,300 climbing routes ranging from 5a to 8c+).

The festival is 8 days long and will be rigged up with 20 highlines from 15 to 100+ meters long (woo wee!). All of the lines are within walking distance of the camps; Once you get yourself to Geyik all you have to do is step out the door of your dorm (or tent, or guesthouse) and you’ll be mere minutes from climbing.

Remember: Bring a costume — it’s a CARNIVAL after all!

Links: Facebook Page /FAQ

Additional Information:

  • Date: March 2 – 9
  • Cost: Suggested donation of 25 EUR / 29 USD.
    Food: The closest village, Akdamlar, has several markets to stock up on produce, meat, and other foods. Hitchhiking is commonly practiced here.
  • Accommodation: There are plenty of campsites and bungalows for rent. I’ve personally stayed at the Flying Goat and would recommend them. Wild camping is strictly forbidden.
  • What to Bring: A rack of 12 to 15 quickdraws and a 80m rope.
  • How to Get There: There are cheap flights to Antalya. Transfers from the airport can be arranged with the camps. Car rentals are cheap at the airport. More information here.




April

Climb in one of Europe’s premier crags. Photo source: Up-Climbing


Paklenica International Climbers Meeting – Croatia

Paklenica is considered one of the top European climbing destinations. With over 600 routes the limestone cliffs of the Velebit Mountain range offer routes from 40m single pitch to big wall up to 350m long.

Photo source: Climb-Europe

Heading into its 20th year, this festival features unique challenges including the Big Wall Speed Climbing, a Kid’s Speed competition, the “From Dawn to Dusk” climbing marathon, and the Paklenica Film Festival, an amateur films showing about, what else, climbing.

Need a rest day? There are over 150 km of hiking and trail running paths.

Links: Event website (2018) /Facebook Page

Additional Information:

  • Date: April 26 – 28
  • Cost: Park entrance is 2.6 EUR / 3 USD and 7 EUR / 8 USD.
  • Accommodation: A variety of camps are available in the area.
  • What to Bring: A rack of 12 to 15 quickdraws and a 70m rope.
  • How to Get There: Located about 46 km/ 28.5 mi from Zadar.




Calgary ‘88 (7A+, V7). Hundreds of boulders to explore. Photo Source: Tomaz Bradesko


Prilep Boulder Fest – Macedonia

Tucked away in the south of Macedonia, Prilep is the fourth largest city in the country (with just over 70,000 inhabitants). The Boulder Fest itself is entering its ninth year, and the event has grown in attendance as has the number of new lines.

Complete with a new guidebook, feast on over 400 projects (or go about setting new ones). The area is quickly becoming one of the premiere bouldering destinations and was one of the sites for the Petzl RocTrip through Eastern Europe in 2014. Expect crimpy holds on sharp granite.

Links: Event organizerPrilep Bouldering / Facebook Page (2018)

Map of Macedonia. Photo source: Prilep Bouldering

Additional Information:

  • Date: April 26 – 28
  • Cost: 5 EUR / 5.75 USD
  • Accommodation: Camping or stay in town.
  • What to Bring: A crash pad!
  • How to Get There: Skopje is the closest major city (about 130km away). You can take a bus or train to Prilep.




May

Jaw-dropping beauty in Albania. Photo source: Patagonia


Albanian Climbing Festival – Albania

Help develop climbing in Albania!

Albania is a small mountainous coastal country lying on the Adriadic Sea, north of Greece and south of Montenegro and Kosovo. Climbing is young here and this festival — celebrating its fourth iteration — was started to develop the community and showcase the country’s potential. For perspective, the first climbing gym in the country was opened in 2012 and according to the article, “Five years ago, one could have counted nearly every rock-climbing-Albanian on two hands.” Things are changing.

The festival moves around in order to show off the best that Albania has to offer from locales like Gjipe, Përmet and Bovilla. Many of these places are remote, have stunning natural beauty, and limited economic investment for the villages. Through the promotion of adventure tourism, the organizers hope to empower small local businesses and communities.

Climbing routes range in difficulty from 5a – 8b+, from single pitch (12 – 35m) to big walls. All the money from the festival fee goes to equip new routes. And for your money you will get a guidebook, swag, yoga, and a party on the beach.

Oh, and Adam Ondra climbed here in 2018.

Links: Event website / Facebook Page / Climbing Albania

Additional Information:

  • Date: May 3 – 5
  • Cost: 25 EUR / 29 USD.
  • Food: Bring your own.
  • Accommodation: Camping on the beach!
  • What to Bring: A rack of 12 – 15 quickdraws and a 70m rope .
  • How to Get There: Tirana has an international airport. Take a bus to the festival.




The stickers are nice, but the climbing is fantastic.

Integrowanie Przez Wspinanie (Integration Through Climbing) – Poland

Poland’s biggest climbing festival takes place in the Będkowska Valley, less than 20km north-west of Kraków. The setting is fantastic, simply wake up at the campground and walk 100m down the road to start climbing. There are dozens of crags and hundreds of routes all within a 30 minute walk.

At the festival you’ll find workshops for beginners and advanced climbers, extreme rope games, climbing competitions, mountain running, and a focus on activities for children this year. There’s a great guidebook you can pick up at the E-Pamir Mountain Shop in Krakow or use the super helpful online topo repo, Portal Górski.

Links: Event website / Facebook Page / Additional information on climbing in Poland here and here

Camping right at the base of this lovely multi-pitch. Photo source: Gory Online

Additional Information:

  • Date: May 23 – 26
  • Cost: 21 EUR / 24 USD
  • Food: Eat at the campground or bring your own.
  • Accommodation: Camping at Brandysówka. I’ve personally stayed here before and loved it.
  • What to Bring: A rack of 10 – 15 quickdraws and a 60m rope.
  • How to Get There: Closest airports are Kraków and Katowice. 20-30 minutes by car from Kraków, about an hour by bus.




Hard to beat the view. Photo source: Dolorock Climbingfestival


Dolorock Climbingfestival – Italy

2019 will mark the seventh year for the event organized by the Alta Pusteria climbing club, Gamatzn. The festival takes place in the Landro Valley, which combines natural beauty and rock climbing history as the area has been under development since the 1980s. The Höhlenstein valley sits near the famous Three Peaks (Tre Cime), some of the most photographed mountains in the world.

The Redpoint Fight is a competition for fun and personal challenge. Climbers are awarded points for their five hardest routes, based on criteria such as on-sighting, flashing and redpointing. There are four categories for competitors: Youth (under 18, F+M); Professionals (F+M); 50+; Amateurs, with awards for each. Yoga, kids climbing, dancing and talks round out the festivities.

Grades here range from 3 to 8c+ and consist of slab, flat wall and overhang climbing. The length of routes vary between 8 and 35 meters.

Links: Event website / Facebook Page

Additional Information:

  • Date: May 24 – 26
  • Cost: 25 – 40 EUR / 29 – 46 USD (depending on when you register).
  • Food: Restaurants nearby.
  • Accommodation: Free camping.
  • What to Bring: A rack of 10 – 15 quickdraws and a 70m rope.
  • How to Get There: Closest airports are Innsbruck to the north, Venice and Verona to the south. Plenty of transport options listed here.




The Legends of Lycra live on


King of Kanzi – Austria

This Lake Faak festival is all about celebrating the joy of climbing in some sweet, sweet spandex style and flashy terry headbands. A nod to history, the 5th edition celebrates the Lycra tights and colourful outfits worn by the early climbers in the area in the ’80’s.

These crags offer over 300 routes, which means you’ll get to sample plenty during the 8 hour climbing marathon as you try and earn as many points as you can. Kings and Queens will be crowned at the evening party, and awards will be given to the team with the most routes complete and team with the hardest route (among other awards). Of course, the place is buzzing with the one question on everyone’s mind: Who will win the “Golden Lycra Award”?!?!? (The trophy for the best outfit.)

Other features include: Climbing workshops with Alex Megos’ Coaches, acro yoga, via ferrata hiking, bouldering, slacklining and talks by professional climbers.

Links: Event Website / Facebook Page / UKClimbing

Additional Information:

  • Date: May 30 – June 2
  • Cost: 69 EUR / 79 USD (Early Bird Ticket).
  • Food: Grocery stores in the area but they close at 6.50pm.
  • Accommodation: Hotels and apartments in the area.
  • What to Bring: A rack of 15 quickdraws and a 70m rope.
  • How to Get There: The closest airports are in Salzburg and Ljubljana (just over the border). Hire a car as crags are spread out.




Check out the featureful terrain!


Pecka Rock Climbing Festival – Bosnia and Herzegovina

May is reserved for the oldest sports climbing festival in B&H. Held at the largest collection of rock routes in the country, Pecka features “a kingdom of the pockets” and fantastic local food. This is a combo event, teaming up with the Forest Party, the Forest Cinema, and the Pecka Outdoor Festival.

Enjoy more than 120 routes from 5a to 8b, with lengths between 15 and 35 meters. For the low price of 15 EUR, receive a printed guidebook and a Pecka Rock Climbing shirt. The event organizers like to keep things simple: “Come, climb and have fun!”

Links: Event Website / Facebook Page (2018)

Additional Information:

  • Date: Information coming soon (May 18 – 20 in 2018)
  • Cost: 15 EUR / 17 USD
  • Food: Not provided. There is a shop ~5km away, on the way to the camp. Possible to buy local goods like bread, kajmak, eggs, rakija and meals in the village (5 minutes walking from the campsite).
  • Accommodation: A camping place is reserved with your registration. There is no electricity (but you can charge devices in the village).
  • What to Bring: A rack of 12 – 15 quickdraws and a 70m rope.
  • How to Get There: Fly into Zagreb and rent a car. You can get a bus from Sarajevo. More details on the event website.




August

Welcoming multiple generations of trad climbers. Photo source: UKClimbing


Women’s Trad Festival (WTF) – UK

Last year tickets sold out in 180 seconds, or faster than Glastonbury, according to event organizers.

Heading into their 4th year, the festival aims to promote participation in climbing and encourage a community of support. Their stated aims are: To help beginners transition from indoor to outdoor climbing; facilitate women in outdoor leadership; and to create a network of female climbers

In 2018, they had 200 participants from as young as 8 to over 60 years old. Everyone is welcome, even if you’ve never climbed before!

Links: Event website / Facebook Page

Additional Information:

  • Date: August 2 – 4
  • Cost: Ticket release date being announced soon.
  • Accommodation: Information coming soon (location changes each year).
  • What to Bring: Trad rack (if you have it).
  • How to Get There: Information coming soon (location changes each year).




September

Thousands of boulder problems at your finger tips!


Women’s Bouldering Festival in Fontainebleau – France

2018 marked the first year for this festival at the world’s premier bouldering destination.

The event has the expressed mission to, “be a platform that allows female climbers to meet likeminded individuals in our sport” and to promote the idea of sustainable recreation.

The festival feature workshops on route-setting (by setters on the French National team!), forest conservation, morning yoga and afternoon parkour sessions, evening talks, and a focus on mentorship. And of course, best-in-class climbing. Attendees last year included the likes of Caroline Sinno, who has done multiple 8B (V13) ascents, and Alice Hafer, a former Blokfest champion.

Links: Event Website / Facebook Page

Additional Information:

  • Date: Information coming soon.
  • Cost: 75 EUR / 88 USD.
  • Route-Setting Workshop: 50 EUR / 59 USD.
  • Accommodation: Camping (price included in cost of ticket).
  • What to Bring: Crashpad, yoga mat, camping gear.
  • How to Get There: Only 55.5 km/34.5 miles from Paris. Take a train or rent a car.




The over-hanging route at 5:27 looks fun. Check out the varied rock face at 6:49


Herculane Climbing Open – Romania

Herculane was a Petzl Rock Trip 2014 stop which has put this crag on the world stage. It’s still off-the-beaten track but good enough climbing for Adam Ondra to visit in 2018, and free the first 9a in Romania.

In other words, if you’re looking for high-quality climbing (Cerna Valley has hosted the National Rock Climbing Championship) and economical value, all without the hordes, you’ve found your place. 2019 will offer up the 17th edition of this festival with three days of climbing and 30 designated routes for the competition. Movies, yoga, and celebration are in store for the off-wall hours.

Links: Event Website / Facebook Page

Additional Information:




Make your mark in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo source: Drill & Chill


Drill & Chill Climbing And Highlining Festival – Bosnia and Herzegovina

Who knew Bosnia and Herzegovina had such a strong climbing culture?! This marks the second festival from B&H on the list.

Join in to make your mark (literally) with ten days of bolting, climbing, and highlining. Organized by Climbing club Extreme Banja Luka, they set out to “playfully combat the status quo.” If you like to travel and climb off the beaten paths, Bosnia and Herzegovina offers a diverse landscape of forested mountains and an abundance of untamed limestone

Last year the festival focused on the development of the Tijesno canyon, which is nestled in alpine terrain and offers a plethora of multi-pitch climbing.

Please note: Be aware of anti-government tension in Banja Luka as protests have swelled to over 40,000 people at times. It won’t stop me from attending, but something to consider.

Links: Event Website / Facebook Page

Additional Information:

  • Date: Information coming soon (Usually in September).
  • Cost: 5 days package: 30 EUR / 34.50 USD. 6+ day package: 50 EUR / 57 USD (climbing guide and t-shirt included in price).
  • Food: Nightly dinner for 3 EUR/3.50 USD.
  • Accommodation: The camp includes electricity, water, shower, toilets. Basic private accommodation can be arranged. Village house option.
  • What to Bring: Everything you need for bolting.
  • How to Get There: Fly to Zagreb or Split then take a bus to Banja Luka. More travel details on event website.




October

The production value of that video! And Kalymnos looks pretty swell too…


Kalymnos International Climbing Festival – Greece

The Gods shine bright on this rock climbing Adonis of crag and sea.

(Just don’t piss off Poseidon or he’ll blow you straight back to Troy — where the climbing isn’t quite as nice.)

Today, the island has over 2,500 sport routes on Mediterranean limestone. The majority of the routes are single pitch, around 20 to 30m, with some 3-5 pitch climbs as well. You won’t be able to cover it all during the three day festival, naturally. Like laying eyes on Helen, you may find yourself drooling uncontrollably… at the anchors staring out at the breathtaking blue Aegean.

The festival features a Climbing Rally, clinics, the chance to chat with pros, deep water soloing, traditional Greek dancing lessons and, of course, parties.

In the words of Rock and Ice, “The search for climbing paradise ends at the greek isle of Kalymnos” (Feb 2001).

Links: Event Website / Facebook Page / More Climbing Information

Additional Information:

  • Date: Information coming soon (October 5 – 7 in 2018).
  • Cost: Information coming soon.
  • Accommodation: A variety of hotels and guesthouses are available in each village.
  • What to Bring: A rack of 12 – 15 quickdraws and a 70m rope
  • How to Get There: Easiest to fly to Kos (via Athens) then take a ferry over.





Reiff Climbing Festival – UK

Perched in the North West Highlands of Scotland this festival offers some of the best scenery and landscapes in the UK — plus pure dead brilliant climbing!

Organized by Hamlet Mountaineering, they cater to all your Scottish needs: Salt water, clean lines and a pub two minutes on from the campsite. Workshops are offered for those who want to improve their skills or deepen your understanding (and appreciation) of the sport you love with the “Geology for Climbers” talk. Want some evening entertainment? Rope up in your Highland dress for the Saturday night Ceilidh with accordion accompaniment.

Other activities include a half-marathon, kayaking and yoga. Gie it laldy!

Stellar trad lines and ocean spray. Photo source: Hamlet Mountaineering

Links: Event Website (2018) / Facebook Page

Additional Information:

  • Date: Information coming soon (October 12 – 14 in 2018).
  • Cost: £45 / 58 USD (covers 3 nights camping at Port a Bhaigh Campsite and a Ceilidh ticket for the dance on Saturday night).
  • Food: Grocery shop in Achiltibuie.
  • Add-Ons: Workshops range from £30 – £90/38.50 – 115.50 USD.
  • Accommodation: Camping.
  • What to Bring: Ask the organizers for what you’ll need in your trad rack. There are top ropes set up for beginners.
  • How to Get There: Details can be found here.




November

Salivating. Climbing shown at 1:45


San Vito Climbing Festival – Italy

Four days in Mediterranean sun. In November? Yes, please. The tenth edition just wrapped up, for what has become a hallmark event in Sicily, Italy and around Europe. The festival features big names, big sponsors, and big crowds (hundreds of people attend) in this idyllic setting of beach, history, and climbing.

Activities include the “Baby speed climb” (for 6-10 year olds) and the main draw, the “Crazy Idea Boulder Event” where competitors can go against national athletes. For non-climbers there is mountain biking, trail running, slacklining (including a 160m line), stunning beaches, and the opportunity to test new gear, in addition to film screenings, live music, and social hours. Of course, if you want more climbing there are over 600 routes in the area.

Links: Event Website / Facebook Page (English)

Additional Information:

  • Date: Information coming soon (November 1 – 4 in 2018).
  • Cost: 25 EUR / 29 USD (covers camping for 3 nights and t-shirt).
  • Crazy Idea Boulder Contest Participation Cost: 25 EUR/29 USD.
  • Accommodation: Timbuktu Hostel. Camping at El Bahira, La Pineta. A whole list of options on the website.
  • What to Bring: A rack of 12 – 15 quickdraws and a 70m rope
  • How to Get There: Cheap flights to Palermo. Rent a car or take a bus to San Vito.




Alex Megos approved. “The landscape looks amazing.” Indeed.


Leonidio Climbing Festival – Greece

Can you name the three most popular crags in Europe for 2018?

If 8a.nu’s Tick List is the be-all-end-all, we have 1) Frankenjura, 2) Kalymnos, and rounding in to form, 3) Leonidio (which saw more ascents in 2018 than the beloved Rodellar, Arco and Railay Beach combined).

Just three hours south of Athens, Leonidio is sheltered along the Peloponnese coastline and surrounded by red and grey cliffs that keep temperatures warm and wind down, making it an idyllic winter climbing destination.

The festival itself is only entering its fourth year, yet attendance skyrocketed with over 700 participants in 2018. Come to enjoy more than 1,000 routes from single pitch to multi-pitch up to 250m high, ranging from 5a to 9a.

You can also steep yourself in history by visiting the Unesco World Heritage sites of Mycenae and Tiryns, which are just over an hour away.

Links: Event Website / Facebook Page / New Climbing Guide

Additional Information:

  • Date: Information coming soon (November 1 – 4 in 2018).
  • Cost: Free!
  • Food: 2 small supermarkets in town, many bakeries, bodegas, and plenty of restaurants.
  • Accommodation: A comprehensive list can be found on the Climb Leonidio website.
  • What to Bring: A rack of 12 – 15+ quickdraws and an 80m rope (you can get by with 60m).
  • How to Get There: The best option is to fly to Athens and then rent a car. There are options to take a bus.




May the Stoke Shine Brightly on Your 2019!

Hopefully you found the list useful (and even signed up for one or two!).

If you have been to one of these events or are planning on attending, I’d be keen to hear about your experience.

Any festivals that we missed?


Please note: The aim wasn’t to be comprehensive, but rather to focus on interesting festivals. I was hoping for more ice climbing and from places like Scandinavia, Ukraine, Poland, the Baltics, Macedonia, Bulgaria, etc. And nothing for Spain? Really?!

If you have any festivals to add, please share them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.




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An Expedition for Life: Why I’m Volunteering with Outward Bound Romania

Wish me luck, Tabby urged. 

She looked at me with the composure that comes from hours of practice and a tinge of anxiety. It was the big day after all.

You don’t need it, you’ve got this, I encouraged. She smiled and walked on stage.

When I first met Tabby six months before, she was a self-assured, albeit timid public speaker. You could sense her strength of character, she just needed a little guidance and support.

She nailed the pitch and went on to raise $50,000 to build her company, Ghalani

Tabby was a special one, but her story rings true for the 60 young entrepreneurs we worked with that year. 

Startup Weekend and the formation of Zazu, The Smartest Damn Alarm Clock (Photo source:facebook.com/getZazu/)

You never know until you try

Sometimes we just need an opportunity to find out what we’re capable of. Sometimes a small experience can change the trajectory of a life

If I can pin-point one moment when things really shifted for me, it was participating in a Startup Weekend in Boston in 2010. A friend dragged me to it. I didn’t really know what startups were. We ended up taking 3rd place (and bought Indian food with our winnings).

*That video makes me cringe. But hey, the memories*

Since then I’ve been lucky to have some wide-ranging experiences, from teaching entrepreneurship in Ghana to working on a farm to growing a venture-backed startup.

This exposure has taught me one simple truth: You only learn by interacting with the world.

… And you never know where you might end up. Okay, two truths.

Gordonstoun students on an expedition in the 1980s. (Photo source: americanradioworks.org/segments/kurt-hahn-expeditionary-learning/)

Training through the sea

In large part, my thinking around education has been shaped by Kurt Hahn, the Founder of Outward Bound (OB). 

He promoted the concept of “expeditionary learning”, a model of education-by-doing and self-discovery.

His story is interesting in its own right. I’ll share a truncated version below:

Kurt Hahn was a German Jew who spoke out against the rise of Hitler. At the time, he was the founder and headmaster of the Salem School, and he made his stance clear in a letter to alumni:

“Salem cannot remain neutral. I ask the members of the Salem Union who are active in S. A. or S. S. to break with Salem or break with Hitler.”

Salem School focused on character development and Hahn led by example.

He was jailed, naturally.

Only through the appeal by British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald was he released and promptly expelled. He then made his way to Britain where he trained young British seamen who were performing poorly in the war.

His educational model is captured in the quote, “less training for the sea than through the sea.” 

He called the program “Outward Bound”, which is the nautical term to describe a ship leaving the safety of its harbor to head for the open seas.

Artist: Norman Rockwell, American (1894 – 1978)
Title: Outward Bound
Year: circa 1973

The call to action

Today, OB offers over 1,000 expedition-based programs and focuses on personal development. They work with cohorts from struggling youth to veterans to those interested in developing wilderness skills, and more. 

I first learned about OB in university while researching leadership and educational training. Their structure for experiential learning was so different (and more interesting) than my experience in class. I enjoyed science labs because they had an integrative function, but my greatest education about science came from my coops (internships) working in real biotech labs. 

When I came to entrepreneurship, I knew this wasn’t something you could download from a book, you had to go through the gauntlet. So I did.

Outward Bound Romania training program. (Photo source:facebook.com/outwardbound.ro/)

Which brings me to today

I’m committed to giving more of myself in 2019 so I wanted to find a way to use my strength (marketing) to support an organization with an important mission.

OB offers a model for education that I believe in and which has played a formative role in my own growth — without ever participating in their programming (yet!). Go figure.

As luck would have it, Outward Bound Romania had an opening so here I am in Târgu Mureș (Marosvásárhely).

I’m about to wrap up my first week and am excited to hit the “open sea” with the crew.

How to Survive Poland’s Most Dangerous Trail: It Starts With a Very Bad Stay in Zakopane (Part 1)

Before Taking Flight on Orla Perć… My Not Very Good Stay in Zakopane

Orla Perć is known as the most difficult and dangerous hiking trail in Poland. According to Wikipedia more than 140 people have lost their lives on the route. For the 4.5km stretch of hiking/ scrambling/ climbing, that comes out to 31.11 people dead/ km.

Not bad.

IMG_4731
Much of the ridge-line of Orla Perć looked like this.

The hike itself is a ridge traverse that consists of rock scrambling, metal chains, and the occasional slick ladder. The peaks are thin and jagged, rising and falling like sharp spires. To move horizontally across the path requires ascending and descending hundreds of feet (or, like, many meters) — down then up then down then up. As a result, while the line is only a few kilometers long, you end up doing much more with the vertical movement.

The trip I had planned was to take 13 hours, consisting of 16km of distance (about 10 miles) and 3,183m (10,443 total feet) of elevation gain and loss.

I never trust these estimates and figured it would take me about 10 hours.

Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 7.31.38 AM.png
The route I had planned. Source link.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, The Lead Up

The “Eagle’s Path” came onto my radar via S, someone with whom I have an “it’s complicated” relationship. Which is really neither here nor there.

We were on one of our upswings and decided to spend a long weekend together. We were deliberating between four days of climbing in the Będkowska Valley or hiking in the High Tatras, both in Poland.

“I’ve wanted to do Orla Perć for awhile, want to do that? It’s supposed to be pretty dangerous. But I think you can do it,” She offered.

“It’s probably not so bad, you just have to be careful. People do die every year, though.” She can be rather matter of fact.

“Uhh, are you trying to get me to have an accident?” I mean, we have had our ups-and-downs…

Logistically, the Tatras were going to be a challenge. This was high season in the mountains and rooms at the huts had been booked out months in advance (I had called and emailed several of the lodges, and thanks to internety magic (google translate) determined there was nothing available. That is zero. Zilch.). There’s also no camping in the park.

(Later, I’d learn the huts have a rule that prevents them from turning you away. You can show up in the evening and sleep on the floor, wherever you can find space. It’s supposed to be for safety in case of inclement weather, but they don’t seem to make a fuss of it. This would come in handy in a few days.)

In the end, we went to Będkowska.

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Climbing is 👍👍

We camped, we climbed, ate pierogi, had fun. Our transitory, back-and-forth relationship-thingy continued and I followed her to Budapest to stay for a few days. When the going’s good keep it going, I guess.

Now or Never to Hike Rysy and (Maybe) Orla Perć

Rysy, the highest peak on the Polish side of the Tatras, had been firmly on my radar since July. This was the mountain I was excited for. Orla Perć, not so much.

I only had a few free days before flying home for my sister’s wedding, and I wasn’t sure if or when I’d ever be back in Poland. It was now or neverish.

And what the hell, Orla Perć is right there, so I added it to the itinerary.

But but but #YERGONNADIE!, you say?

Well ya, but the pictures look cool.

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Let’s go!

I took an overnight bus from Budapest to Krakow and would leave for the Tatras the next day.

Morning Delays

Day One of the Tatras was a parade of minor frustrations.

I arrived in Krakow at 7am, groggy and achy. The bus had been light of fellow passengers and I’d wrangled the back row to myself. I was able lie down completely. Lovely! If not for the belt buckles gouging my ribs it would have been quite accommodating.

The first step was to gather my gear from an airbnb host who had been holding on to it (thank you again!). I needed to wait for them to wake up, and it was unclear when that would be.

The hope was to leave Krakow by 9am and attempt Orla Perć that day. She’d been responsive the night before and knew I was getting in early. There was a chance.

In the meantime, I wandered through empty squares in the Old Town. Tranquility emanated from huddled walls while the cobblestone streets hummed softly. On the sidewalk, an elderly sweeper gathered dust with gentle strokes from a straw broom.

Around the corner a club was closing up. There was a throng of partiers carousing on the sidewalk surrounded by a moat of cigarette butts. I felt like a grumpy old man. I sat along the Vistula River for awhile and waited.

By 10am I was arranging my pack and made it on the bus to Zakopane at 11. I’d arrive around 1pm which meant I would have to put off the long hike for the next day. Oh well.

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Cutesy. Photo source: sportstourspoland.com

Zakopane, You Obtrusive Impediment to Wonderful Mountains

Zakopane is a mountain resort town. It’s full of annoying tourists doing annoying touristy things like clogging up the trails and eating smoked cheese. Stuff I would never do.

That night, I’d have to find a place to stay alongside them. Yuck.

During the bus ride down, I scanned my options on HostelWorld (nothing!), made a desperate plea to a hostel on Facebook (could I sleep on the floor?), and felt disheartened by the listings on Booking.com (every place had “only one room left!”) and was expensive.

While I waited to hear back from the hostel I took a nap in lieu of making a decision.

An hour later, I still hadn’t heard from the hostel and hotel listings were disappearing. I’d be in Zakopane in half an hour.

I bit the bullet and choose a place with good enough ratings at a reasonable enough price. On the map, it wasn’t too far from the bus station.

A Mountain Town

We pulled in around 1pm as expected. I disembarked and made my way towards the bnb. The route zigzagged along traffic circles, up into a residential neighborhood and onto a hiking path. Interesting.

Then the rain started.

Turns out the place was located at the top of a small mountain, a 1,000 feet up (or 300m if I’m staying consistent with units of measurement). By now it was pouring and the trail was muddy. I’d get a hike in after all.

The path passed through spotty tree cover, fields and farm land. 45 minutes later, one last damp road veered to the left and opened into a clearing.

The map said this was my destination. I stared about at a chained compound featuring, seemingly, a ski lift. Huh. I walked around, poked my head this way and that then moved to an awning. Nope. Nah. Didn’t appear to be the place. No sir.

I double checked the confirmation email and, lo and behold, it listed two addresses. The Polish instructions were still unreadable. I plugged the other coordinates into me map and made like Keanu Reeves in Constantine (to get the hell out of here).

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“See you in Hell.” Photo source: comicbook.com

Well, I’m Bad at Reading Maps

It looked like I had to follow the road away from the lift. The rain soaked street was flagged by a procession of quaint shops and restaurants. It felt like an empty carnival. A group of kids were splattered over with neon paint, for some reason.

A few hundred meters down things didn’t feel right. I checked my phone and it was the wrong direction. Then where was this place? There was only that sharp left at the top of the hiking trail… I backtracked anyways, found a smaller trail (aha!) that did indeed head to the right, tip-toed across downed branches and came to a field clearing. Map said that a-way. I passed by cows that “moo’d.”

A Quiet, Quiet Place. Except for the Screaming

A mere hour-fifteen after getting off the bus I came to a three-building complex that appeared empty. There was a car in the driveway. I walked into the building closest to the road. No reception. This too appeared empty. I entered the dining room. The place was empty(!), save an open laptop and a disarray of receipts on a table in the corner.

I called out, “dzień dobry!,” and a wraith-like woman slithered in from the shadows.

“Czy mówisz po angielsku?”

“Nie.”

“Nie mówię po polsku.” We stared at each other.

But she was a professional and knew the routine. She fished some keys out of a plastic bag all jumbled and clanking with metal. I was guided to the other side of the complex where I saw shoes drying outside a door. Signs of life! On the second floor there were more booties around the corner from mine.

Ah. Home sweet home. We entered my residence, a cold room with a lot of exposed wood. I was ready for a quiet evening when… Noise! Noise like banging and screaming. I noticed. She seemed to willfully ignore the sadistic groans above.

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Cerberus was lodging above me. Photo source: protothema.gr

She proceeded to give me a tour consisting of a dirty shower stall, a kitchen counter, and the flicking of some lights this way and that. I just wanted her to leave. She made to the door and gestured concernedly about the keys in the lock and other sorts of handwaving. She wanted to make sure I understood so I nodded like I did.

Her vaporous body shuffled down the hall and slipped into the floorboards.

Finally alone, I began to take my wet clothes off to dry. The compound had been dead silent until now. The only noise was being summoned from hell directly above my room. It was a sort of thumping, cackling horror film blaring with overactive teenagers jumping from bed to bed.

This would be a good night.


Join us for Part 2, my riveting account of (actually) hiking Orla Perć!

Note: All photos are by the author unless specifically stated otherwise.

For the Sake of Self-Interest and Re: The Return to Europe

Europe, Round 3, began as a non-start. 

 

I arrived at Logan on Saturday night nervous about the next leg of my trip. Terminal E is laid out in a long corridor, and I began distractedly searching for Primera Air to check in. I walked down the length of the counters, back and forth. No signs. Nothing.

 

This seemed normal because when I flew with Primera in September, they had set up a temporary desk for check in. I watched the process in action and figured this might be the case again.

 

Impatience got the best of me and I decided to confirm (or discredit) my hunch. I approached a Virgin Air attendant and inquired, “I know this isn’t any of your (bloody*) concern, but where do I find Primera Air?”

 

He said, “They don’t operate here anymore.”

 

I says to the guy, I says, “Oh, you mean I’m in the wrong terminal?” My thoughts immediately concentrated on the logistics of a transfer and the remaining time until boarding.

 

“No,” he emphasized the word, “they are no longer in business. Didn’t you read the news?”

 

“Ummm.”

 

“You can talk to British Airways or Norwegian, they are offering discount tickets…” He failed to mention that Virgin was offering a similar deal.

 

Turns out, Primera Air had declared bankruptcy on October 2 (two weeks before my departure). Apparently, they decided it was unimportant to alert paid passengers that their tickets were now good for kindling.

 

Thus my attempt to leave the country crashed with a thud.

 

Inside Boulder Bar, Prague.
Inside Boulder Bar, Prague. Climbing is fun. So I went during a layover.

 

This scene was fitting for how I was feeling: The trip isn’t as easily navigable; I am ambivalent.

 

My main jam for the next few months is to focus on climbing.

 

Continuing the theme of 2017 and 2018, I’m pursuing activities that have long been of interest (but which remained neglected). Specifically, farming and traveling.

 

I believe you need to pursue interesting — the notions that you get truly excited by — because this teaches you about yourself.

 

Yet, there has been an associated compunction with these endeavors, that self-interest is a thin distance from selfishness.

 

I am grappling with two concepts that focus one’s energy in opposing directions:

 

1) To understand myself better while 2) broadening my concern for others.

 

One lens is angled inward, while the other enlarges your circle of care. My hunch is that expanding this circle from misguided principles leads to disdain and burnout. Or, you need to know yourself in order to truly care for and help others.

 

In advance of boarding the plane (eventually, on Sunday night), I kept deliberating:

 

What does a life focused around pursuit of self-interest and connection to community look like for me? 

 

That is now the central question of this trip.

 

*Because British

 

The Delta Between Expectations and Reality: Anxiety in Lviv

I started to feel anxious in Lviv.

 

The month-long stay was coming to an end and I didn’t know much more about the city than when I arrived.

 

The only “museum” I visited was the masochism-themed bar, Masoch, eponymously named for Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the 1800s Lviv author and sexual submissive (obviously). There were no information placards and I didn’t learn much more than he wrote Venus in Furs (about his trip to Italy as a subservient to his mistress). I did see some people get whipped (and took a few licks myself), though.

Whipped at Masoch
Two lads, shirts off, whipped by the local tavern dom.

Reflecting upon my stay in the city, I began formulating answers to “what did you do in Lviv?”. I concluded that I hadn’t “seen” much objectively, relative to the time spent there (and especially compared to the TripAdvisor lists).

 

Yet, my goals had been achieved:
  • Climb 3x per week. Check
  • Hike in the Carpathian Mountains. Check
  • Try salo (cured back fat from pigs) and varenyky (Ukrainian pierogi). Check
  • See a play at the Lviv Opera. Check
Still, I kept thinking, “I should have done more.”

 

The anxiety arose from the delta between what I “thought” I should be doing and what I actually felt like doing. 
I should have gone to the observation tower at the top of City Hall, explored the former site of the ghetto (and sneak into the sewers?), perambulated through the various historical museums and art galleries. But I didn’t.

 

Admittedly, I felt lethargic during my stay and didn’t love the vibe of the city. I spent quite a bit of time on the internet, meandering, and reading. Yes, there was an “exotic” world outside, but I just didn’t feel like seeing more of it.

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Advertising copy from Lviv’s first brewery. Consumers were disappointed with the mis-set expectations.

Expectations shape your experience.

 

This incident is a microcosm of the larger chain of reactions that occurs in every day life. We adapt to and incorporate expectations, whether self-imposed or from outside forces (we see this in experiments with lab rats, in-group/ out-group, etc.). We don’t typically analyze how we are making decisions or where our ideas about how things should be come from.

 

The notion that I need to see a lot of a place is not how I like to travel, and yet it was on my mind. I knew this consciously and yet it still proved to be a nuisance.

 

What else is guiding my behavior away from what I know I want?

 

Upon further review (in writing this piece) I did actually see a lot in Lviv (thank you very much)…

 

Yet the point stands that anxiety crops up when reality doesn’t meet expectations, and the gnawing imposition from this generic-expectation-from-ambiguous-other actually influenced how I felt I experienced the city. It can feel like you’re a race horse but your feet are tied…

 

That’s some expectation-based jedi mind trick shit right there.

Travel and the Pursuit of Simplicity

For me, the objective is simplicity.

 

The aim of my travels has been about the pursuit of freedom, especially mentally. I want to live in a manner that feels authentic to who I am.

 

When I add undue complexity to my life angst and uncertainty are sure to follow. In this context, complexity is an accretive process that obfuscates the core of who and what you are.

 

Think: What do you really care about? What is truly of interest to you? Then move away from that… That’s complexity.

 

This process is like carrying extra baggage on a trip which adds physical and mental clutter; It is heavy and each thing has a way of wanting to be accounted for. (Oh no, did you leave your el ten eleven t-shirt behind? Where did my extra usb cable go? What happened to your adorable cable-knit gloves?).

 

We tend to hold tightly to the things we already have and focus on what we’ve lost. What if we instead appreciated the lighter load?

 

Robert Persig, in Lila, gives a helpful analogy to a cup of tea:

 

If you want to drink new tea you have to get rid of the old tea that’s in your cup, otherwise your cup just overflows and you get a wet mess. Your head is like that cup. It has a limited capacity and if you want to learn something about the world you should keep your head empty in order to learn it. It’s very easy to spend your whole life swishing old tea around in your cup thinking it’s great stuff because you’ve never really tried anything new…

 

When my mind is filled up, it is hard to think and see clearly, like trying to find something in a messy room. The “mess” tends to hover in the background of my consciousness, feeding into uncertainty and overwhelm because it’s one more thing to worry about.

 

For me, mental freedom is having the space to explore ideas/ events/ interactions as they arise, to be able to consider what is there, and process as needed.

 

With psychic openness comes clarity and with less obligations comes the ability to pursue interesting.

 

The key will be to take this manner forward and transpose it into new situations, for example, if/ when I get back to a “normal” life. (Gotta practice like you play, brah!).