Ambassador Scheltema and mountain climbing his friends on Negoiu summit | Dutch Embassy

A mountain is there to be climbed

In Its Witty Leaks series, Diplomacy & Trade regularly publishes the personal accounts of ambassadors accrdited in the Hungarian capital. Ihis time, it is the turn of the Dutch ambassador to tell about the challenges for climbing Dutchmen in Transylvania.

I am a mountain hiker. Not a very impressive one, not a fanatic for sure, but still, once every year, somewhere a mountain should be climbed.  The last 15 years, I have formed part of a team of friends, a group of five Dutchmen (ladies missing) that go out for a week, maximum ten days, to conquer some heights.

Of course, for an average Dutchman, a small hill is already a challenge, but we go higher, really! In 2013 (Ladakh), and 2014 (Szechuan), up to 5,000 m. Not too bad, thus, for us, semi-retired polder-guys…

My friends follow me usually to my new destinations and beyond, not just because of my natural leadership instincts but more for practical reasons. When in Jordan, I took them to the Wadi’s, and when in the US, to the Appalachia, to Vancouver Island (yes, Canada!) and to the sandstones of Utah. From Pakistan (alas, hiking was forbidden for me in the Himalaya over there), India was close-by and so was China.

Hungary does not pose any challenge in this respect, I’m afraid. So, two years ago, I settled for the Romanian Carpathians, the Fagaras Mountains, not as high as the previous years, but at least, the highest in the region. Thus, in the early summer of 2015, off we went through the Alföld, crossing into Transylvania, where we met our guide in Cluj-Napoca/Kolozsvár. András was his name, a very young and enthusiastic guide-to-be, but with little experience in the mountains. This proved to be a bit of a challenge as we had to show him the way more often than not.

Cluj, however, was very nice, Alba Iulia (Gyulafehérvár) even nicer and Sibiu (Nagyszeben) beats them all. As a town guide, I would certainly recommend our dear friend. But as we started to approach the mountains and the weather turned darker, he became more silent, hesitant and doubtful. He casually confessed having climbed the ultimate goal of our trip, Mount Moldoveanu, only once, a couple of years ago, but coming from a different direction…

Luckily, he had friends – and friends always come in handy in the mountains. A local taxi driver dropped us at the end of a logging road and from there, it was straight upwards: the moment we would have reached the altitude of 2,544 m, we would know that we were at the top of the highest mountain of Romania, it’s that simple. We had prepared ourselves, a bell to scare off bears (or to attract them...), rucksacks full of food (another bear attraction) and beds, assured at the lodges underway. And we also had our rain clothes, which turned out to be the most important and useful tools for the trip, by far. The bears appeared to have a convention somewhere else, the food was soaked and the beds… if you are very tired, it really does not matter if you are six on one mattress, anymore.

Rain is OK, but thunder and lightning is pretty scary, especially once you are above the tree line. Not deterred, we climbed non-stop a whole day, had our rest in the hut, climbed again and reached the top, when the rain was kind enough to stop for ten minutes.  One of us had turned back 100 m below the summit, but we sent him a picture. To our disappointment, however, we were not alone but surrounded by a class of children, venturing the same summit from a different slope. But they were young, healthy and fearless, so, it did not really count.

Encouraged by our success and hoping to get a view at last we moved on, crossed the ridges, crossed the Fagaras highway full of lazy tourists and climbed the second summit, the Negoiu, just a few meters less high. Never during that ridge trip did we manage to get out of the thick fog, but at that second summit, the sun broke through and finally, the world was at our feet. Great mountains when you can see them!

It was one of the most tiring trips ever because of these rains and fogs, so make sure you get a good weather prediction. Undeterred, we decided to go to Georgia last year, flirting with the Chechen border for a day and, this time, we were nearly washed away by flooded streams. Great trip otherwise!

Gajus Scheltema, Ambassador of the Netherlands

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