Monday, 29 April 2013

Vale Karel

Unfortunately Karel recently lost his battle.   

E and I first met him bouldering at Lindfield Rocks, of all places.  He had ridden there…from Kogarah.  In fact he traversed most of Sydney via an old steel racer, quite a feat given Sydney's crappy roads and car-centric culture.  Nothing was too hard.  “I am happy for it”, was his way of dealing with the inconvenience, or any hardship come to think of it.  What doesn’t kill you…He was out from the Czech republic on a working holiday for several years.  His passion for climbing, beer and Australia was infectious, and as a result we jumped into many memorable adventures.  In fact it was through Karel that I’ve met some great friends – actually an important part of his memory and legacy for me.  
 At Arapiles.  Karel had a great head for heights and an eye for a good line.  "It looks Fan-tast-ic" he would marvel.  "That's mee" would let you know he was on belay.  "Bloody Hell" would warn of a best avoided route/move/piece of gear, or just alert you to the fact that he was struggling on lead and you needed to pay attention.  The universal expletive was also liberally used if you really needed to pay attentionThe end of a days climbing would typically culminate swinging in his hammock for beer-a-clock and the shelling of peanuts.  The hammock kept him off the ground and away from the snakes, you see, although he did have to fend off possums during the night on occasionA midden of crushed cans would accumulate before we did the right thing at the end of our campsite tenure.  Not entirely setting a good example, but par for the course if you want to be a pig in the pines.

 Chilling out whilst belaying 50 meters above the deck - possibly somewhere on Bard Buttress.  You wouldn't find a cooler head under pressure or during the exposure that climbing inevitably brings.  Karel orchestrated our escape off a few routes that proved a bit more than we could chew.  His confidence and poise were, i'm sure, part of what got us off safely.
 "Chimnee" was another of his favourite climbing terms, and forms of climb.  His long limbs were perfectly designed for this exaggerated form of crack that most of us eschew.  Gotta be together in the head as falling in one of these suckers is not worth contemplating.  I'll never forget the bottomless chimney 2nd pitch of Oceanoid he led at Araps.  Not for the faint of heart.  I remember having a near nervous breakdown trying to follow him on it.

 Also strong on the smaller varieties of crack, such as The Eternity, at Piddo.  Not scared of taping hands and a good dose of jamming if required.
 Classic Karel climbing attire, paraded this time in the blueies.  He used to spend days in those tights!
 In France on one of our cycling trips, and bearing a scab on his knee I think courtesy of an adventure race - the type held over three days involving multiple disciplines.  They build them tough in the Czech Republic.
 Outside the hospital in Annecy, waiting for BT to get bandaged up.  From memory, whilst riding back to Albertville, Karel ended up also towing Nigel for some distance with a bungee chord after his rear derailleur ate itself.  The rig was specially engineered for the above mentioned adventure races, where the stronger riders would end up towing the weaker with a bungee threaded out the end of the rear pannier cage.  Of course we initially laughed before its utility was demonstrated for real.  Again, he was happy for it!
 Much to the consternation of the others, refreshment at a cafe at the bottom of the Val Thorens is best quenched with something the Czech's know something about.  Gambrinus was his local staple (along with the Boskov), although i think he settled for 1664 on this occasion.
 On the Grossglockner, and at the Summit.  I really don't have the requisite nerve for mountains, but Karel did a good job of keeping an eye on me and getting me up and down safely.  It was one of those experiences i'll never forget.

 A man of simple pleasures; sausages, smashed potatoes, and beer.  No airs or graces required.
 A poxy summit by Karel standards (Mt Townsend), but a summit none the less.  This was half way through a tramp that took us from Thredbo Village, up Crackenback, then basically around the lakes walk via Kosi and Townsend, back to Charlottes Pass, before going cross country to Crackenback and back down the mountain.  One of the hardest days i've ever encountered which left my body aching but Cody and Karel seemed to cope just fine.  To get to Thredbo in the first place they planned to ride all the way from Sydney - up the Blueies, down to Jenolan Caves, up the other side to the Kanangra wilderness, then dirt roads to Goulburn.  You must be joking!  They got as far as Cooma before a rim failure punctured the mission, and we picked them up with cars on our way through.
 Atop a wafer-thin pinnacle on the Czech-German border.  One of the scariest places to climb in the world due to reliance on traditional knot protection.  And a little further south climbing the fractured plug of an extinct volcano (below). The evening culminated in more beer and the raucous singing of Russian folk songs, courtesy of the former overlords before the velvet revolution.  Only the bohemians could have pulled that one off.  Karel - bohemian  through and through.

 Vale Karel!


  1. He seemed to make the most of each and every day, and loved what he was doing, which is a life well lived, but cut way too short. You could create the Karel Memorial ride, by re-tracing his route to Thredbo via the Blueys-Jenolan Caves-Goulburn. In a day. OK, maybe two. Thanks for sharing your memories of this legendary bloke.

  2. Well said Dave! Karel would be proud to have such a great mate.