130 Kilometers an Hour in the Wrong Lane


[Photo] Traveler Taj Terpening

We followed this route with El Navigante (5.11d, 165m). Since the Penon is a monolith and not a flat cliff, every move on every climb feels like an arete. Making matters worse (and at the same time more exciting) is the wind and thunderous racket of the crashing waves bellow. We topped out El Navigante just as the sun descended into the haze over North Africa and washed the white cliffs in red and orange. As the sky darkened and the pale stars emerged, gulls clinging to the last of the sea breeze shrieked mournfully overhead. The white spots of their bodies moved in and out of the stars like drifting constellations. We ate, and Cass brought out a hidden flask, a splendid Newcastle tradition.

Later that night we were bored and our collective male energy bred a machismo none of us possessed on our own. I suggested we go back to the Penon and climb it in the dark. "Bloody hell, its 11 at night! Crazy Yank."

But the idea gained popularity, and soon we found ourselves in the car racing back, eager to climb. Each leader of our two parties got three headlights, one for each knee to illuminate their feet and one for their head. The night was cool and still, and the light from Calpe backlit the Penon. Reaching a small ridge after four fun and quick pitches, we looked down to see if we could spot our cars. A light flashed so I flashed my headlight back wondering what I was saying in Morris Code. When the light went dark we saw that the light's source was two cops standing near our cars.


We couldn't figure out what they wanted, so we devised a plan as we continued up the last two pitches. We'd hike down the trail—but before we reached the car we would all hide. One of us would pretend to be a jogger who would run nonchalantly past the cops, jump in the car and come back for the rest of us. It seemed foolproof until we rounded a bend on our descent and saw the cops in the trail peering at us through the gloom. As we approached, I yelled out, "Hey you wankers!" as a test to see if they spoke English. I had recently learned this very profane bit of British slang, and I felt obliged to use it whenever possible, just to master its use. The officers didn't flinch, so we knew we had a code language to converse amongst ourselves. First we tried simply to steer around them, suggesting with our body language that we were not in fact the climbers they were looking for and that the real culprits would be down shortly. They intercepted us and began shouting in the kind of obscenely fast and aggressive Spanish you hear on Spanish sports radio stations.

I spoke a little Spanish, and true to their oblivious traveling style, the Brits spoke none. I caught the words "jail" and "crimes," but I couldn't gather the specifics of our offense or what the jail time would be. I stepped forward to explain everything in fluent "Spanglish." I described how the British guys had abducted me and forced me to climb with them. Furthermore, I said, I was ecstatic to see the authorities so I finally could be safe. The younger officer, who had been so irate a moment ago, stared at me with a blank face. Then they both started laughing. It broke the ice, but they wouldn't let us go. A heinous crime had been committed, and it didn't seem to matter that neither the police nor us knew what it was.

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