Ik dacht eerlijk gezegd dat de vorige column mijn laatste zou zijn. Maar van de zomer had ik een vlaag van inspiratie voor een ander soort column. Geinspireerd door supertopo klassiekers zoals deze: http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Continental-Drifting/t11224n.html is hier mijn poging tot een Trip Report:
“I’m sure we’ve seen this wall before”, Nick said with a sigh. British as he was, I could never quite tell if he was angry at me, disappointed or just sad. In this case, I was going for a mixture of all three. Angry, that I led hem into this misery, disappointed at seeing the familiar rockface again and sad because, well, he’s British.
“Maybe, if we follow this wall to either side, we at least have a 50 percent chance of getting somewhere?”. I found I hardly had the energy left to be sarcastic anymore. If you’ve known for a while, you might find that hard to imagine. Nick led us on, in the arbitrary direction we had chosen, wielding his trademark clipstick as a machete, leaving me wondering if he might be a direct ancestor of Dr Livingston. I was struggling with the sloppily coiled rope, getting stuck on every bit of jungle, like I was an American soldier trying to leave Vietnam. As we met another unscalable rockface and were forced to turn back in pretty much the direction we came from, I found myself cursing some of my decisions earlier that day.
“I think we have to go right and over that fallen tree Nick”. I gestured towards a dead tree, slightly right of the path, seeming to point us in the right direction. After two weeks in the Green Climber’s Home, I finally found someone stupid enough to take this rookie Dutch guy on his first multi-pitch. We had decided on a simple 3 pitch route, in a newly developed area slightly away from the camp. I had been climbing with Nick for a couple of days now and we had formed a sort of opportunistic friendship. Like Pi and his tiger, we were stuck in the same boat but didn’t particularly like each other.
Looking back, it was very optimistic to think that a fallen tree would be part of the approach. Especially since we later found out there was an actual sign pointing towards the correct valley only 100 meters further down the path. Instead, under my leadership, we chose to scramble into a different valley, looking for the promised wall. Instead, we found ferns. Lots of fucking ferns.
You see, I always imagined the jungle to be like Jungle Book, basically an urban park with oaks replaced by banana trees and the occasional singing bear. All plants and trees spaced out conveniently, to allow easy passage for humans, as is our god-given right. In the actual jungle, however, man-sized ferns occupy every bloody square millimeter of the undergrowth and your movement speed is limited to a crawl. Above you, the canopies of the trees block every ray of sunlight and every hope you had of orienting yourself.
After scrambling into the valley, we quickly found a wall that looked like it was meant for climbing. Unfortunately, it did not have any bolts. After some debate on the orientation of the wall (of course we did not take the guidebook with us, arrogant colonialists that we were) we decided that the wall must be on the opposite side of the valley. We simply had to cross this “tiny patch of jungle” to reach it and we would still be home in time for dinner.
Looking back, this was the second mistake that we made. It’s a classic example of a phenomenon I like to call “trail goggles”, but real scientists apparently call this “confirmation bias”. Once you have convinced your self of a direction, simply put on your trail goggles and a trail will magically appear. It might lead to a dead-end, or seem to disappear entirely, but these are only momentary challenges. Surely, after a couple more meters, there will be an opening in the forest and your wall will appear out of nowhere, complete with a picknick table and an ice cream stand.
Trudging into the jungle for the first time, I realized a couple of other mistakes. I was wearing flipflops for example. Nick was wearing a hat against the sun, but neither of us was wearing shirts or long pants. After only a couple meters, my shins looked like I had participated in an hedgehog-kicking competition and I was itching everywhere. Morale was starting to drop.
After reaching the third wall of the day without bolts, Nick dared to say out loud what both of us had been thinking for a while now: “I have no bloody idea where we are right now”, he said, after finishing off the last of our water. “If it gets dark and we are still not out of the jungle, we’re fucking dead”. It was around 4 PM, we were already three hours underway and we still didn’t get anywhere. We did not have phone reception, headlamps, warm clothes or a lot of food. Not even a bandaid. We decided to just keep traversing the valley from wall to wall until we eventually found the entry point with the fallen tree.
This turned out to be an effective but slow strategy. It is very hard to keep a straight line in the jungle. In total, we spent over six hours bushwacking. The total distance we covered can’t have been more than a few kilometres. When we finally arrived in camp, slightly after sunset, we were met with a hearty welcome of sarcastic comments and cold dinner. We never tried for that wall again. And the cuts on my leg ended up getting so infected that I had to go the hospital. And me and Nick? I dare to say over the course of the trip we ended up being friends, climbing in Thailand and China together as well.