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Helmet mandatory: Climbing in Albania

The Bovilla lake near the Albanian capital Tirana is incredibly beautiful, when the sun reflects in the light blue water between the green slopes and steep rocks of the surrounding mountains. And unless someones car gets stuck and its wheels start slipping, it is a peaceful and quiet place. This is why, this year, I travelled to the lake for the second time, after I've already been there for climbing on my first trip to the Balkans in 2021.


I started climbing about three years ago and quickly fell in love with the sport. Being outdoors, working on myself and finding a healthy approach to deal with fear: Climbing for me has always been about the physical aspect as well as the mindset. Of course, despite all the safety measures, it's still a high-risk sport and I've had a few minor injuries and bruises here and there over the years.


Fear


While Jana climbs the wall at Bovilla lake, I'm enjoying the view. Without a helmet and wearing sandals, I'm standing at the foot of the wall, belaying her. The next thing I remember is looking to Jana. By now, she is already halfway up the 20-metre wall when I see a rock come loose below her. It's not unusual for stones to come off the wall when someone's climbing, but this rock is a pretty big chunk and it's coming right at me. If anything really crossed my mind at that moment, it would have been something like: Well, that could be it.


Intuitively, I turn to the side and protect my neck with my hands. The rock hits me twice: one in the back of my head and one on my foot. Seems like the chunk split in two on its way down. I touch the wound and the dirt trickling down my neck feels like blood. I can't really tell at that moment, how bad it is. To be honest, I'm really scared for once.


Lucky me


The girls dress my wound and even though it will probably leave a scar, it's not really bad. Nevertheless, I have to climb up the wall again after the accident in order to take all my equipment back with me. Fortunately, my head turned out to be fine over the next few days, but my ankle didn't. Well, that's the price I paid for belaying in sandals without a helmet.


As long as nothing happens, it looks pretty casual. But I didn't look casual anymore afterwards, limping with a head bandage. Maybe I've copied a bit too much from the people I've climbed with in the past. This falling rock was a pretty impressive reminder of how vulnerable my body is and that it's better to overestimate risk every now and then than to underestimate it. Will I go climbing again? Safe. But safe!



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