Where do you find the words to express the pain and deep sorrow at the loss of a friend and climbing bro? It is not easy. And it is not easy to accept that Teo is no more. Never again will we see his smiling face. Never again will we chat to him about his many projects, watch his passion bubbling out with natural effervescence. Never again will I get one of his busy and enthusiastic emails telling me what he has just done and what his plans are for next week and next month. Never again . . .
To say that the climbing community was shocked to its very core at the sudden and desperately untimely death of Teodor Iliev is a monstrous understatement. We were all shaken beyond belief and left wondering why? What? How? How can such a beautiful, fun loving guy, so full of the joys of life, so talented and loved so much by so many, be taken from us, and in such a way?
It leaves us asking so many questions. What could we have done to help avoid something so undeniably sad and tragic from happening?
Teo burst onto the climbing scene quite a few years ago, and quickly rose through the ranks to become a very accomplished climber and mountain guide. He climbed with a burning passion that I have seldom seen, and was always ready to help and teach others the way of the mountains.
He climbed big and impressive stuff here in South Africa and also around the world, and of course in his beloved mother country, Bulgaria.
In his work as a climbing guide, he was exemplary in every way and just as passionate. As a fellow guide, I used to sometimes pass work onto Teo, and I remember the one time I asked Teo to take a German client for a half-day of trad climbing on the Ledge. The plan was to go up in the cable car, climb Jacob’s Ladder and return via the cable car. When they arrived at the lower cableway station, the cableway was closed. Unperturbed, Teo whisked the client up India-Venster and climbed Jacob’s. They got to the top with some hours of daylight left, so Teo promptly said, ‘Let’s do Atlantic Crag’, which they did, and ended off with a moonlit walk down India-Venster, back to their car. The client contacted me the next day and raved about one of the best days of climbing she had ever had. And that is Teo. That is the Teo we all knew and grew to love. A sincere man of great integrity. Never mind that it was a half-day job, with half-day pay. Teo packed a full day into half a day because of his passion as a climber and a guide, and because he was one hell of a beautiful human being.
They say time heals, but I’m not sure how much time is needed to get over the loss of someone like Teo. I’m still in denial and wrestling with my feelings, like I am sure many of us are. But what I can say with absolute assuredness is that you, Teo, will always be hanging around the crags with your climbing mates. And we will talk about you around the campfire, for many years to come. About your legendary enthusiasm and passion, and your endless love for the mountains.
Deepest condolences to Teo’s family and friends. Rest in peace bro. You have left an empty space in all our hearts.
A full tribute to Teodor Iliev’s life as a climber will be written by his close friends and published in the June issue of SA Mountain.
Be safe in the hills