People know Tomáš Etzler as a face from Czech TV reports or from the covers of his books. But few people know that he has been climbing mountains all his life, from the red rocks of Colorado to the legendary Himalayas. However, his lifelong passion began in totalitarian Czechoslovakia on the sandstones of Adršpaš. “I’m good at two things, lovingly talking about climbing and swearing at China,” Etzler says with a smile.
Above the birch groves of northern Bohemia, the sandstone walls of the Tiske Walls rise in the morning sun. A light breeze carries fine grains of sand down from the walls with each gust. Dozens of small sandy paths penetrate the tangled maze of the rock city, which the first visitors cross.
Under the rocks by the main road, there is a climbing pub where the former Czech TV reporter Etzler is preparing for today’s destination. While checking the loops, he remembers the eighties, when he and his partner Jaroslav Sklenář, whom the climbers call nothing but Aido, started climbing in the Adršpašské skály. “I remember how I was always proud to drive from Adršpach, my pants were torn, my hands were bloody from the joints, and I didn’t care at all what others thought of me,” says Etzler.
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After checking and buying another carbine, he and Aida head into the bowels of the rock city. Before they tackle the sandstone, they put on a helmet, harness and professional climbing gear. When Etzler started, his equipment was much worse. Everything was done at home in Czechoslovakia at the time. Instead of climbing shoes, boots with cut wedges were used, often still covered with rubber from tires, and for example, the first seat belts were made from car seat belts or from the rubber of fire hoses.
Etzler recognized the danger that is omnipresent on the rocks in the High Tatras already at the age of seventeen. At that time, he was at the winter camp of the mountain climbing group, when he and the more experienced trainer Tomáš Mack were climbing to the top of one of the rocks there. But a few meters below the ridge, Macek slipped and fell about 50 meters below on the grass footbridge. He survived the fall, but when Etzler reached him, he was lying in a pool of blood and with a crushed leg, which is still a few centimeters shorter today.
“It was a crazy experience. I had more, but this one was really bad,” the journalist still remembers with respect. At that time, the mountain service was getting them off the rock, as the ropes ran out during their rescue. At the time, the whole incident was the longest rescue launch in the history of the Tatras. “Then I was in a few more accidents in this area. And one time a cabin boy there said to me: ‘You better not drive here.’ They even began to call me Death’s Head,” Etzler explains while reminiscing about the High Tatras and the U Zelený pleso cottage.
Tomáš Etzler with his partner Jaroslav Sklenář, whom the climbers call nothing but Aido. | Photo: Jakub Plíhal
Over the years, rock climbing has grown from just a hobby to a lifestyle. However, a complete turning point for the foreign reporter came in 2007, when he started working as the first permanent correspondent for CT in Beijing. The Western trend of gyms and exercise had only just begun to penetrate the then-isolated China, let alone the availability of an artificial climbing wall. But even the closed country of the Orient did not escape the influence of the West in this area.
“When I was there for some time, they actually built an artificial wall. It was even located in a park near my editorial office at the time. Anyway, a few weeks after it opened, an American man climbed it, with which the rivets came off during the lowering and he killed himself. confirmed that I will definitely not climb artificial walls in China,” explains the journalist, similarly to the first part of his book about life in Beijing.
The autobiographical book A Journalist in China: What on Earth Have I Done? published in 2021, at the beginning of this November he published the second part of Journalist in China 2: Don’t Go Crazy! “The book is strongly autobiographical. I tried to describe in it what happened to my head in China, i.e. my descent to the border of madness,” describes Etzler.
Despite abstinence from climbing, caused by Chinese conditions, Etzler’s dream of almost every mountaineer came true in the Far East. When the 2008 Summer Olympics were held in Beijing, the Chinese Communist Party decided to show its greatness and surpass all previous organizers of the games.
During the traditional journey with the Olympic torch, the light bearers went all the way to the top of the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest. The Communist Party invited dozens of foreign journalists to record the moment. Etzler was also among them. He did not look at the very top at the time, but he still describes the experience as phenomenal.
Journalist Tomáš Etzler at his favorite hobby, rock climbing. | Photo: Jakub Plíhal
Although Tiská skály cannot be compared with the Himalayas in height, even reaching the top of the sandstone requires a certain skill. On the last two meters of the ascent, the surface of the wall is without significant folds and therefore places to grab hold of. Etzler, however, manages even this section with ease at first glance.
When asked if he would dare to climb the world’s highest mountain like this, he answers like a true mountaineer. “Terrible. But not today, when I see the queues that are there. Even Reinhold Messner, one of the best climbers of all time, says that high mountain hiking, when someone stretches the ropes for you, then carries oxygen bombs that he’ll exchange and bring you a coffee machine to the south saddle, it’s not mountaineering. It just doesn’t appeal to me at all,” explains Etzler. After which he adds that he is still planning to go to one of the less touristy 8,000-mile roads.
Despite his departure from China in 2014, he returned to his passion and his beloved Adršpach only four years ago. “Climbing is basically a medical treatment for me. There is nowhere else better for me than on a rock. So not being able to climb was one of the worst things in China,” he explains while looking out over the surrounding forests from the top of the sandstone.
According to him, climbing is the best sport and he sincerely recommends it to everyone. In addition to using all the muscles from the fingers to the shoulders to the toes, climbing has another great effect, according to Etzler. “It gives self-confidence. Even people who are afraid of heights, after climbing a rock, feel a huge change at the top. The euphoria that they have overcome – not the rock – themselves. That’s what climbing is simply amazing,” says Etzler enthusiastically.
According to Etzler, climbing is the best sport and he sincerely recommends it to everyone. | Photo: Jakub Plíhal