I felt a tap on my shoulder on the airport bus after a ten-hour flight from Chicago to Istanbul. I was well on my way to my final destination of Geyikbayiri, Turkey to meet up with Petzl for the last leg of the Roc Trip. I turned to see a familiar face, but it took me a few extra seconds to recognize him in my jet-lagged haze. Jon Cardwell’s big bright smile and kind brown eyes greeted me and I relaxed a bit knowing I had a travel companion for the last flight into Antalya.
Waiting for our connecting flight, we enjoyed Turkish tea in the airport of Istanbul. Once in Antalya, we would meet up with Daniel Woods and take a bus to the climbing area of Geyikbayiri.
Two hours later we landed in Antalya and nervously waited for our checked bags with all our essential gear. Among the square black totes we noticed a North Face duffel passing by multiple times on the carousel and thought- huh, must be another climber’s. It was reassuring to see the possession of one of “our kind” in such an unfamiliar place.
Luckily, both our bags arrived and we headed outside to find a man holding a sign with Daniel Woods (actually ‘Wood’ which made us giggle) on it as we were instructed. Sure enough, our driver was there, but there was no Daniel. Seconds later, a frazzled Woods approached us- he couldn’t find his bag. We laughed and pointed him in the direction of the duffel we had been eyeing moments earlier.
To our surprise, our driver led us to a plush Mercedes bus that would take us to the camping called Rido in Geyikbayiri. With all white leather interior, a TV, snacks and drinks, and mood lighting, it was fancier than my rented limo on prom night. So this is how it feels to be a rock star!
At camp I was happy to see another familiar face- the Spanish goddess of climbing- Daila Ojeda. She had brought her good friend, Lola, who was also from the Canary Islands in Spain. These guapas brought Latina energy and even more spice to Turkey.
There were many new faces as well, including Mumin Karabas, a local climber and coordinator for the Turkish section of the Roc Trip.
I thanked Mumin for all his help and told him how much I love Turkey.
“You love Turkey or you love me, or you love both?” Once I realized he was extremely competent with English and there was no language barrier all I could do was laugh- he is quite the ladies’ man.
Mumin and I climbed together at Trebenna the first day of the trip, and with his long dark hair flying behind him he easily warmed up on my project I had sent earlier this year, an 8a+ called Freedom is a Battle. Without warning he skipped the last 2 clips and jumped off the top, taking a 30-foot whipper and as the belayer I shot off the ground to the first bolt.
Well, that’s one way to wake the hell up and snap out of my jetlag.
The next day we were headed to Citdibi. The Petzl crew had bolted this crag a few months prior, and so the routes were practically brand new.
We took the bus, or dolmus (like the rice dish wrapped in grape leaves) as it is called in Turkey, literally meaning “stuffed” (ie with people) up the mountain about 30 minutes, reaching the new crag at a much higher elevation.
A 20-minute hike later, I looked up the hundreds of feet of sheer, blue-streaked limestone spattered with bolts with my jaw dropped. I’ve never been to Ceuse in France but I can imagine it would rival in comparison.
It’s a little intimidating at first climbing with some of the most elite climbers in the world. I was one of forty Petzl athletes from 15 different countries picked to join this leg of the Roc Trip- I felt so lucky. But at first part of me felt like an imposter, like I didn’t quite belong.
I remember feeling the same way when I had just graduated from veterinary school and started working in general practice. I knew I’d had the proper training and passed all the rigorous tests, but I kind of felt like I was faking it at first. One of the vets I worked with told me she felt the same way. It’s funny- one day you’re a student and the next you’re a doctor- just like that.
And with climbing I can’t help but think similarly. I remember just a few years ago the people I’m now climbing with were my idols (they still are). I’d watch them in videos over and over again. Now I’m climbing with them and it doesn’t feel real; I feel like an imposter. But just like in veterinary medicine- I have the credentials with climbing, yet it feels like a dream that I’m destined to wake up from.
I took a moment to watch Dave Graham wrestle his way up one of the many striking tufa lines. The sound of swarming wasps echoed throughout the canyon; a drone holding a video camera hovered nearby capturing footage the photographers on their static lines could not.
I tried a number of climbs in the canyon and failed at many, but was able to send a wonderful little steep 7c (12d) second try. It was my favorite climb of the trip. The holds seemed perfectly formed for a climber’s hand, varying between tufa pinches, pockets, and crimps.
Next we were off to Olympos, just southwest of Geyikbayiri nestled along the Mediterranean coast.
A tourist destination not only for us but for the local Turks as well, Olympos is stunningly beautiful and has an island feel with its pebbled beaches, clear blue sea, and white limestone cliff bands.
We arrived late in the day and it was getting dark, but I couldn’t help heading to the beach. Daila and Lola were resting at camp and so my new friend Dani and I headed off to the Med. The French legend Daniel Dulac- despite his coveted climbing resume – was more importantly a smiley and helpful guide that didn’t take himself too seriously- choosing to sport fedoras, speedos, and a handle-bar mustache.
The night air was cool on our 20-minute walk to the beach, but we jumped in to the sea anyways. To our surprise it felt like a bathtub! This place was getting better and better every minute.
My favorite day in Olympos was the deep water soloing. I had never been before but had always dreamed of going ever since the movie King Lines came out. I watched Sharma in Mallorca over 50 times from my living room in the desert of Las Vegas and thought- one day I have to do this.
And so, we took our look-a-like pirate ship to the cliff- an expanse of orange and blue streaked limestone jutting out from the sea about 60 feet. Daila had been deep water soloing a few times before, so I followed her lead- I didn’t know what to expect.
We got off the boat and headed to the easier section of the wall, a mellow traverse to ease into the idea of being above water without ropes. I was just starting to feel comfortable when I felt a strong downward yank on my leg.
Enzo Oddo laughed and soon my scream was muffled by my splash as I plummeted into the sea. Well, that’s one way to get used to falling into the ocean. Thanks Enzo.
Daila and I headed to the steeper section of the cliff, preparing for our first big jump.
“It helps to count to three and just yell a little,” Daila said to me from 30 feet up.
Daila is one of those really special people that even though she is super talented and beautiful, you’d never know she was a celebrity of the climbing world. She is as real, sweet, and down-to-earth as they come, and genuinely concerned for others’ success.
And so on the count of three we jumped.
Looking from the boat to the cliff at a point of 30 feet up doesn’t look like it would be that far of a drop. But when you are on the rock looking down, the distance to the sea is super intimidating. And when you fall it feels like a really long time. I felt like one of those cartoon characters with my feet spinning frantically below me, trying to right myself before crashing into the sea.
It was exhilarating!
Deep water soloing feels like a whole different sport because everything is against you as far as climbing performance goes. Your shoes and hands are wet, the rock gets wet, the chalk doesn’t stick to your hands…but it makes you feel alive! For a moment we’re little kids again- playing in the water and on the rocks and just having fun.
My last jump of the day I fell with a slight forward lean. My head smacked the water and I felt like I got punched. I surfaced and everyone was staring at me asking me if I was okay.
“I’m okay, I’m okay…” as I gave a thumbs up above the water.
I was lucky.
My Belgian friend, Sean, was not so lucky. It was his first time deep water soloing as well and his first jump he smacked his ribs super hard. He was in so much pain that he couldn’t climb for the rest of the trip. I asked him if he needed any Ibuprofen.
“No…I prefer to feel the pain.” That’s an alpinist for you. He’s also the only gluten-free, non-beer drinking Belgian in the country.
It was a wake-up call that this stuff (as fun as it is) can be dangerous.
There was a party every night, and like the deep water soloing- this could be dangerous. However, the last night of the trip no one hesitated- everyone jumped right in and had a blast.
After a presentation of the athletes there was a traditional Turkish dance and instrument playing, followed by a surprise at the bar. Many of the staff and athletes came out in costume and danced. My roommate of the trip, Argie from Greece, took the stage with her belly-dance solo.
A free-spirit and a mid-twenties Julia Roberts look-a-like, she is bold and focused on the rock. But when she isn’t climbing, she is silly and a little aloof- losing everything from her sandals to her dog. You can’t help but love her.
We all danced until the wee-hours and said our goodbyes later that same morning. I wasn’t expecting to have to suppress a few tears. Leaving all the faces (most of them new) that now felt like family made me sad.
As climbers we have an extended family all over the world with a common bond- that’s one of the best things about our sport. And although we might not see each other for a few years or decades, one day we’ll meet again.
And we hope it will be on the rocks.