Milestones: The Ill-Fated Summer of 2013

This is part nine of a series of posts all about the turning points in my climbing career (and it’s a good one!). From single moves to huge time spans, these are the events that shaped me into the climber and person i am today. 

I’ll be posting a new one every few days so keep an eye on the blog for the latest or, if not, they will appear in one beast of an article at the end of the series. Feel free to comment and let me know of some of your own highlights, i’d greatly enjoy hearing some of your own. 

The ill-fated summer of 2013


Things go wrong when travelling; that’s part of the fun, in a weird slightly sadistic way. And i’ve had plenty of things go wrong on me over the years. What i haven’t had is for everything to go wrong on the same trip. Well, hadn’t until 2013.

With a poor recruitment drive, i was left to find budding boulderers from further afield and a fortnight wasn’t appealing to poor Fredrik – my unwitting friend who had agreed to come to Austria for my summer trip. The concept seemed sound though: drive to Southern Germany for a week in the Frankenjura with the dog before meeting him in Munchen and heading down to Zillertal. Granted, it would be a long way and a lot of time alone but i wasn’t that worried; Frankenjura’s reputation is excellent so surely there must be climbers there, and there was a reputed climbers campsite where i was sure to meet someone.


What i hadn’t anticipated was that the campsite wouldn’t take dogs. With my German lacking at best, i managed to find another site and a quiet corner… right next to the road. Still, next to a little river would be great for the dog.

And for a local school group it turns out, who pitched camp on day two and didn’t leave for the rest of the week, causing me great fun trying to keep Tess from growling and barking at anyone who walked past.

A truly scenic area, well worth experiencing. I only hope the bouldering access issues are resolved soon
A truly scenic area, well worth experiencing. I only hope the bouldering access issues are resolved soon

By this point, this was the least of my worries. On my first morning, on route to find some boulders, the clutch went on the car. Alone, now stranded, without recovery, this was more than a little problem. Thanks to a bit of off-road experience and the film Little Miss Sunshine, i managed to somehow drive to not one but two garages where, being German, my car was back on the road within a few hours.

That didn’t help me climb much though. The temperature was in the high 30s and the lack of guidebook left me wandering the forest aimlessly. By the end of the week, filled with nerves and anxiety, i had got practically nothing done, eaten about two meals and was much more tired than when i’d started.

In Austria at Sundergrund on the day i turned 29
In Austria at Sundergrund on the day i turned 29

Picking up Fredrik lifted my spirits enormously – just to have a friend with me made me feel much more secure, especially as, by this point, my phone had almost entirely given up the ghost. Our first day in Austria (co-incidentally my birthday) was the one and only day that went well.

For the rest of the week, we were scrabbling and searching for dry rock and hiding under a tarp to cook away from the rain. When we did climb, i managed to graze my ankle which then got infected, making wearing any proper footwear uncomfortable at least.

The view of the village of Ginzling from the crag - typically Alpine
The view of the village of Ginzling from the crag – typically Alpine

And the problems kept on coming – actual ones not boulder problems. On one evening, after filling a couple of bottles with petrol, i inadvertently cross threaded the fuel pump and when priming the stove, watched a ball of flames engulf my face. I was unscathed (relatively low heat and lightning quick reactions both helped) but the stove wasn’t and was now completely useless. Thankfully i had a spare.


Then big disaster: the clutch went again. While the garage in Germany were incredibly helpful, the one is Autria was quite the opposite and that was it. The only options now involved returning without the car (and most of it’s contents!). An international recovery policy had been taken out the week before and now it was going to be put to good use. And to top it all off, while trying to deal with all of this, on the last night, the tent broke.

Last morning and we awoke hunkered down in the basement of the campsite. It had been an uncomfortable night’s sleep, worrying someone would appear and try to evict us. All of my possessions were put into two piles: one of essentials i was to take with me, the other of things i’d leave behind for the recovery truck, potentially never to be seen again. Soon, Fredrik was forced to leave for a train to catch his flight, leaving me alone again, awaiting a recovery and only contactable by text through my tablet.

Loving the descriptive graffiti
Loving the descriptive graffiti

Eventually i was collected and left at Innsbruck airport with a hire car. Several hundred miles and three ferry crossings later (thanks to P&Os dog policy and Avis insistence the car be left in France) and i was in a car with my dad, driving back to Birmingham. It was another fortnight before i saw my Freelander again, thankfully it’s contents unchanged. Several times on that trip i genuinely didn’t know how i was going to get myself out of the mess.

But i did, somehow by the grace of god – in this case god being named mum and dad. I don’t think i’ve ever felt as lost and helpless as i did on this trip but i tell you what, the confidence boost on any excursion since is phenomenal.



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