Tribute to Teodor Tzvetanov Iliev: WhatsApp profile: “Probably Climbing”
I first met Teo at the lower cable way station on the 8th of December 2017. He had decided to take a wonder through the various outdoor leadership schemes. He was booked on a 3 day training course as he wanted to become a multi pitch rock climbing guide. It was very clear on day one that he was a complete natural, both in personality and technical skill. Somehow, with a limited log book of ascents he seemed to have amassed knowledge, skill and experience way beyond his early “20 something” years. He was a like a perfectly formed premature baby who just needed to be put in an incubator.
The “incubator” for him was to be told to go away and have fun for 24 months, getting “the knowledge” from climbs under his belt that he hadn’t done yet but somehow already intuitively knew. For 24 months he did just that. Alongside this he worked as an “aspirant” and was awarded his badge in December 2019, having already become a commercial success before he’d even qualified.
I’m sure everyone who knew Teo must have a story. One of the early tales which blew me away more than anything (in part because he was so understated and didn’t seem to register the significance), was when he was first invited by the “Yellowwood Cognoscenti” to meet them at the base of the wall for a “route or two”. After making his own way out to Du Toits Kloof he commenced a pre dawn hike up to the base of Yellowwood Amphitheatre only to find himself at sunrise below the base of the NW Face of Du Toits Peak, gazing up at the first pitch of Renaissance. A phone call to the “Cognoscenti” relayed to him the error of his ways. Undeterred he walked back down with his 30kg overnight camping rucsac complete with rack and ropes before proceeding (on foot) down the N1. (A roundtrip of 15km and 1000m of height gain/loss). This was then followed with a further 500m climb (up the correct gulley this time) to the base of Yellowwood, where a rope was no doubt thrown down for him to join in on the latest project. He had now earned his spurs and it was decided the “youth” was okay.
I hadn’t heard of this level of enthusiasm since the 80s and the days of Lomax, De Klerk, Bob Woods and Phillip Lloyd, and it was clear that this young man was following in the footsteps of a long Cape tradition of strong walkers and trad climbers who have gone on to do great things in the Alps and Greater Ranges. Repeats of the classics on Table Mountain led to his own route on Africa Amphitheatre. He proudly showed it off to me one afternoon after we had both finished work on the mountain for the day. It certainly took the award for the best route name of the year “Kape Moss” and was a slightly dangerous 22 to boot. He quickly ticked off the Cederburg rites of passage before moving on to the modern classics on Slanghoek like A Private Universe 22 A1 (done in 48 hours Cape Town to Cape Town).
Trips to the US and Europe in 2019 representing SA on the BMC exchange to the UK (with a quick run along the Cuillin Ridge in 13 hours) lead to him taking clients of his own company Balkan Voyage to Bulgaria. Followed by further new routing on his return to South Africa.
Climbing country routes that would take most people 18 hours car to car, in half that time, led to him naturally wanting to progress to “enchainments”. Exactly 12 months ago The Bobby Woods Challenge to link NW Frontal, Exposure and Klein Winterhoek was dusted off (and finally repeated) with partner Andy Court in under 36 hours. A blistering time for a roped team, pitching most of the 3 routes and not cutting corners by simul climbing. This involves 1200m of climbing and is just conceivable if you think of the three routes stacked on top of each other but when you consider descending and walking to the base of each route, the mind boggles. Exposure in F Major (1600m of height gain/loss and 10km of walking), NW Frontal (2000m of height gain/loss and 15km of walking) and Klein Winterhoek Frontal (2900m of height gain/loss and 16km of walking). I remember Phil Lloyd (who was no slouch) commenting after our attempt ignominiously ended at the Du Toits Kloof Hotel pub, that the only way this would go was with a paraglider and/or solo. In the end it was only the tempestuousness of youth in not choosing tactically the correct order to do the routes that denied Teo and Andy the valuable time needed to do it in 24 hours.
COVID hit South Africa in March 2020 and Teo quickly adapted by moving to the Cederburg with his girlfriend, where he went on a bouldering spree and started to develop his skills as a writer. His stories were about human life and places, on Table Mountain.
During lockdown his friends were offered samples via Whatsapp of his prose and Podcasts. Requests came for “let me hear your thoughts once finished thank you (open hands pressed together emoji)”.
Having generally more chalk on my hands than ink I couldn’t quite get my head around his writing. What I did know was that here was Teodor typically doing what he did best which was to apply the first rule of climbing to everything he did in life, now, including his writing i.e. the first rule is: “there are no rules”.
So in response I wrote:
“I’ve skimmed through the written work and listened to one of the pod casts. I think that it will require a much more careful reading /listening as there is a lot of depth (it’s kind of light but not light material) and the novelty in the way it is presented requires concentration in a way which my brain isn’t accustomed to reading and listening.”
Since Lockdown one, we’ve had Lockdown two (and even three in some countries). Many of us have been fighting our own survival battles to keep mentally, physically and financially fit.
Just over a week ago I learned that Teo had taken his own life. We may never know why. He was popular with girls, had plenty of work as a professional mountaineer, seemed financially secure and came from a loving family. For whatever reason he chose to leave us. But what a gigantic impression he left in the world of climbing before going, and in such a short time.
He was one of us and we will miss you bro’.