Uncaging the Tiger

Today’s post is something special. I’ve never posted anything that I didn’t personally write; I have a very specific vision and desire for the voice and direction of my blog, and I’m an incurable control freak. That said, Magdalena’s story is one that needs to be told. It’s a story of self-discovery that I hope everyone is fortunate enough to experience personally. English is her second language as she’s native Polish, but you’d never guess it when reading her writing. Enjoy!

Magdalena at the top of the  stellar fourth pitch of Namenloss.

Magdalena at the top of the stellar fourth pitch of Namenlos.

“Hey Turbo, why don’t you lead that next pitch? I think you should because you have bigger balls than the three of us combined!”

The shout came from the curly-haired American that I had met only twenty-four hours before. I was just about to finish following my partner on the second pitch of Rattenpissoir on our first day of our ice climbing trip to Kandersteg. Following with a top rope again, as it almost always used to be. Too many excuses, too little courage, or whatever else it was that stopped me from believing I actually could be more than just a self-propelled belay device when ice climbing. A simple question from a guy I barely knew changed it all. 

I knew I was not going to find any excuse for backing off this time. Tempting as it was, the thought of rappelling down and getting a glass of hot wine in the fancy Randez-Vous restaurant, as my partner suggested, had just lost meaning. I wanted to lead for the first time in my ice climbing career. I actually wanted to lead a pitch, and it felt like the only right thing to do.

Magdalena with a smooth lead on the steep first pitch of Namenlos.

Me leading the steep first pitch of Namenlos in Kandersteg.

“Yeah, why not..?” I murmured, seeing from the corner of my eye the most startled look on my partner’s face. He wasn’t used to me taking charge.

I was not scared. Not for a second. All of a sudden I knew I was able to climb it without a problem. For the last several years, I had been climbing on many grade six ice pitches – following of course, but still doing pretty fine (except for the first trip to Kandersteg five years before, when I had been taken on a grade six route on my first ever day of ice climbing. I’m pretty sure the cute little Kandersteg valley has never heard so much Polish cursing as they did on that memorable day). 

Still, I had never dared to lead more than perhaps three easy pitches during all those years of ice climbing. Leading ice routes used to scare the shit out of me, for no good reason. I guess it was always easier to be scared and give up than try and succeed. Or fail. This time was different though. This time changed everything.

The third pitch on Rattenpissoir is easy; most parties climb only the first two because the upper part is full of snow-covered ledges. It wasn’t hard, but it was enough to remind me of a Tibetan maxim that I chose to be my one and only life philosophy a long time ago.

Better to live one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep.”

Most of us live as sheep these days. We eat, drink, sleep, and follow our shepherd, whoever or whatever the hell he is. I chose this maxim to be mine because I wanted to be wild and free like a tiger instead of going through life on autopilot. I chose to follow these words, and then I forgot about them. Pathetic and ridiculous, but it actually happened. Why? Because it was easier to be just growing wool like a sheep than being fierce and self-sufficient like a tiger. Now, however, I was slowly gaining courage and uncaging the tiger that had been slumbering inside me for too damn long. 

Was it that simple? I guess so, because all that happened after that first fully-aware lead only proved it. I became a real climbing partner, willing and even demanding to always lead the first pitch on each route. This led me to sending the hardest pitch I had ever done before – the first grade six pitch on Rubezahl. I couldn’t describe how special and magical this moment was and how much it meant to me, even if I tried for a hundred years. There are times in your life when you feel truly alive without even trying, and that was one of them.

Turbo living up to her nickname on Rubezahl, WI6. Her lead on the first crux pitch was her hardest to date.

Following the second pitch of Rubezahl, WI6. My lead on the crux first pitch was my hardest to date and one of the proudest moments of my life.

My tiger is awake now, and I am well aware of the fact that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. You just have to get your ass off your comfy chair, deal with the consequences and move on. Stop simply existing and start living. Even if – as the proverb says – that life lasts for just one day.


image2 (2)Magdalena (aka Turbo) is a Polish rock and ice climber trying to make her dreams of great alpine adventures come true. She currently lives in Krakow, Poland where polluted air, endless winters, slippery rocks, an absolute lack of ice climbs, and murderously potent vodka make for quite an interesting existence. When she’s not working as a marketing manager in an IT corporation, she devotes her time to training, climbing, hiking, and trying to live her life full speed. She’s proud to have the maturity level of a fourteen year old boy and hopes to never grow up.