The sign held by the tall, fit-looking man at the airport in Krakow read “Jimmy, Kandersteg.” I figured there couldn’t be too many other people milling around the small terminal who fit that description, so I walked up to him and extended my hand.
“Hey, you must be a friend of Krzysztof’s!” I said. “How’s it going?”
He shook my hand slowly. “You are Jimmy?” he asked, his words precise but shaded by a thick Polish accent.
I nodded my assent.
He studied me for a second, and then uttered a single word: “Come.”
“Not the most talkative of guys,” I thought as I shouldered my heavy duffle and followed him out to the car. I didn’t know it then, but this stoic individual would be my climbing partner for most of the next two weeks and, by the end of the trip, a good friend.
Krzysztof (Kris) and Jan (pronounced “Yon”) drove me back to Kris’s place in Krakow for a quick shower while they worked to pack the rest of the gear into the Rav4. With Kris and Magdalena in the front seat and Jan and I sharing the backseat with a pile of ropes and packs, we set off on the fourteen hour drive to Kandersteg.
The trip went without incident, although my ass was less than appreciative of stacking a long drive on top of an international flight. The personalities in our group quickly became evident as we made our way through Germany on the way to Switzerland; Jan and Kris were the serious, quiet ones who didn’t mind silence or peace…and Magdalena and I were the fourteen year old boys with no filter or sense of maturity.
We arrived in Kandersteg at about 0200 on Sunday, too tired to do anything except unload the gear and food from the car and dump it in the foyer of our little apartment. Kris and Magdalena took one bedroom, and Jan and I claimed the other. After a few hours of sleep, I woke up to Kris yelling, “Wake up, you perverts!” and I stumbled outside, coffee in hand, for my first view of our surroundings.
We enjoyed a relaxing morning, eating breakfast and drinking tea and coffee as we unpacked and settled in to our home away from home. Just before noon, we left the apartment to warm up on Rattenpissoir (WI5). It’s a four-pitch route, but only the first two pitches are steep. Jan was kind enough to let me lead the first, second, and fourth pitches, and we quickly settled into a comfortable rhythm as we climbed together.
The next two weeks honestly passed in a blur. Certain moments stand out: avoiding being hit by an avalanche on Black Nova by two minutes because I needed a rest before the next pitch. The team rallying around me and supporting me when I was drunk and sobbing over the death of a friend who passed away years earlier. Leading the hardest, scariest ice pitch of my life on Rubezahl (or as I call it, Ruby-Booby) because I forgot where the belay was supposed to be and ventured onto shitty, overhanging ice. Having more fun than I have ever had in my entire life acting like an adolescent with my partner in crime, Magdalena (aka Turbo). There are a million memories from those two weeks, and the experiences were some of the most powerful of my life. I’ll let some of my favorite pictures tell the tale, but if you’re around and you want more stories, I can fill you in over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer.
The trip wasn’t perfect; no adventure ever is. What it was and always will be, though, is one of the best, most exciting and transformative experiences of my life. Thanks for reading!