Crag Clown

It's fall, but the Red River Gorge is so humid we're all looking for a break from the heat. The lights are finally set for a portrait I'm taking of a big name, 5.14-sending sponsored athlete, when over walks Nelson Carayannis, a climber of considerably less talent and strength. Carayannis, casually gripping a Gatorade bottle, asks if I'm ready.

By Rock and Ice | April 9th, 2010

It’s fall, but the Red River Gorge is so humid we’re all looking for a break from the heat. The lights are finally set for a portrait I’m taking of a big name, 5.14-sending sponsored athlete, when over walks Nelson Carayannis, a climber of considerably less talent and strength. Carayannis, casually gripping a Gatorade bottle, asks if I’m ready.

“You only get one try on this shot,” he says.

As quick as that, Carayannis unscrews the lid and dumps the electrolyte-infused beverage all over his face. nelson-carayannis_ch

I met Nelson 10 years ago at a skate park and made the bad decision of giving him my number. He called me every morning at 7 a.m., hounding me to take photos of him skating to give to his sponsors. My girlfriend hated him. I finally agreed and quickly discovered that he was a machine: He killed it. I decided to take him climbing for the first time. He has since done 5.13, but that’s not the point. He’s a Greek SOB who’s guaranteed to keep you laughing. Here’s why:

1. Wardrobe: Carayannis wears clothes that your mother donated to Goodwill a decade ago. This includes grape-smuggling boy shorts and the worst vacation resort party shirts you’ve ever seen.

2. Work Ethic: A couple of summers ago, Carayannis lived in Rifle, projecting the country’s best hard routes and working at City Market to cover his $5/night camping fees. A register clerk at the store, Nelson would generally piss away an evening annoying customers on the self-checkout line by repeatedly asking them to re-scan their items.

3. Midnight Gambler: Carayannis once ate 12 Twinkies in 10 minutes on a verbal bet. His winnings were a two-day stomachache and severe constipation.  

4. American Pride: Last year, Carayannis and I went to Spain to climb. On the way home, we connected in London’s Heathrow airport, but were forced to stand on the hot runway tarmac during a delay. As casually as a student would ask a teacher a question, I asked Carayannis which was wider: the Atlantic Ocean or the United States. Carayannis, wearing a bright blue NASCAR jersey, answered in a booming mock-Southern drawl, “Nothing is wide-er than the You-Nited-States, home of the free, land of the brave!” The bystanders weren’t stoked on this patriotic display.

5. He’ll Do Anything For a Laugh: Carayannis takes climbing none too seriously. And that may be the most refreshing thing about Nelson Carayannis of all.

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