Climbing Croatia || Seven Days, Six Crags || Part 1

Good afternoon fellow ferals!

Well, I must apologise – blog-wise, it’s been an extremely quiet month, but only because we packed up the van and headed to South-East Europe for a couple of weeks. We had some of the most stunning scenery and interesting climbing I have ever experienced – so of course, I’m here to share it all with you! We took plenty of Go-Pro footage so I’ll be editing that into a video for you in the near future, but for now, have a bit of writing and a load of photos! If you’ve been following my Instagram then you may have a slight inclination on what we got up to, but honestly, we didn’t have a great deal of signal, so most of it went undocumented online until now! I will also split this into two blogs so it reads better. So, happy reading and if you have any questions on recommendations, then pop me a comment below!

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With channel tunnel crossings, nap-stops, coffee breaks, beautiful lunch locations and the odd owe-struck pitstop, it took us around a day and a half to travel down to our first stop in Pula. We aimed to avoid as many tolls as possible, so from Calais we beelined for Belgium and then on to Luxembourg where we stopped for croissants and cheap fuel. It was then on to Germany where, after a few hours of driving, we stopped for some lunch, and went on the hunt for some good old-fashioned German schnitzels.

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Nestled in the beautiful, dark forests of East-Germany, on the river Queich, is the picturesque town of Annweiler. There, we foundIMG_4432 cobbled streets with a large town square and the Friday morning Market packing back into their vans. It didn’t take us long to find what we’d stopped for. We stumbled upon a quiet, albeit slightly outdated restaurant named ‘Zum Goldenen Löwen’. In (very) broken German we managed to order ourselves two schnitzels and a couple of drinks. We ate until we couldn’t eat any more (the schnitzels alone were about the size of my face), said our thank yous (again, in very broken German), swapped the drivers and headed off again, making a bee-line for the Austrian border.

The German Autobahns made the drive incredibly easy and in little over 5 hours we crossed the border and stopped for a coffee and a stretch.  We were on the outskirts of the Austrian Alps now, and after a seemingly flat drive, I was blown away by these colossal towers of rock that stood before us. Sharp, knife-edge ridges that delicately wound up to peaks 1500 metres above us were sat so elegantly in the early evening light. The temptation to stay a while was clawing at my legs and my mind filled with crazy-beautiful adventures we could have here. We discussed it over coffee and decided that we would drive for another hour or so and see about stopping for a couple of days. IMG_4433Excited (and a well-caffeinated) at the prospect, we scurried back into the van and jumped back onto the motorway. The road wound around mountains and gorgeous rock towers and in and out of tunnels. About half an hour later, whilst nestled deep into the Alps, the evening glow was cut off quite suddenly by a dense mass of cloud. Before I managed to get a good look at the clouds we were plunged into the largest mountain tunnel I have ever seen in my life. The 4 lane tunnel was about 5km long, and gave me plenty of time to forget about the mass of cloud, and get excited about the mountains again. The excitement didn’t last long; the light at the end of the tunnel was.. not there. At all. It was 9pm and there wasn’t a hint of sunlight. The tunnel exit had been curtained by the heaviest rain I had ever experienced. the cars in front of us flicked on their lights and slowed down to 25 mph; we followed suit, but as soon as the rain was on top of us we couldn’t see the lights of the car in front. The rain was loud and relentless, I could no longer hear the radio and with every minute we were in it, I wanted to be in the sunshine. We both agreed that it had to be Croatia. Next time, Austria.

What should have been 3 hours of driving became about 4 as we slowly wound our way down to Slovenia. The rain didn’t let up and the road was incredibly difficult to keep track of – what made it easier was the heavy lightning that came with the rain. We pulled into a service station just outside of Ljubljana at around 1am. The drive had taken it out of both of us (but especially Jamie, he drove through all of that rain) and a few hours sleep was definitely on the cards. We set up the bed in the van and fell asleep before I’d even finished putting the sheet on.

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We were awoken bright and early by the sun glistening through the condensation on the windscreen. It was quiet and the storm had passed, now taking up residence further into the Alps. We refuelled (both with diesel and coffee) and set off to finish the final leg of our drive.

It was easy driving and in 2 1/2 hours, we were in Pula.IMG_4446 The cool mountain air we set off in had been replaced by dry, relentless sunshine. We bee-lined for Medulin, a peninsula just south of Pula. We were hungry and sticky; late breakfast and a swim were in order. Refuelled and refreshed, we decided to jump back in the van and try and find a quiet cove, away from the tourists so we could set about planning our first climb of the trip.

We took a drive down the eastern side on the Premantura peninsula til we found a secluded pebble beach with plenty of shaded space for the van. The midday sun was harsh, and far warmer than any of us had been for about 10 months, so I got straight back in the water and then, after a short walk, we both took the executive decision to have a nap until the worst of the heat had gone.

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It didn’t take us long to choose a crag; the most obvious was a small, ancient limestone quarry about 20 minutes north of our current location. The quarry, still in use, was used as early as Antiquity and the rock from which was used to build some of the most incredible structures (one of the most famous being the Arena of Pula). The quarry was only a minutes walk from the car park, most of the climbing was now in the shade and the routes went up to 30m – perfect!

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It turned out to be far easier to find then we could have imagined – you could see the high walls of the quarry from the main road. IMG_4465[1]With only 37 routes and a very good guidebook, the climbs were very easy to find and well marked. Unfortunately, the first two climbs we stumbled upon were incredibly polished; being only a 5b+ and a 5c and the closest to the car park meant they were probably the most climbed routes in the quarry. So after getting frustrated at feet that wouldn’t stick we scooped up our rope and headed further into the quarry. That’s when we found this phenomenal crack line (and one of my favourite climbs of the whole trip). The beautiful 5a crack line with satisfying moves and positive handholds wound its way up the sheer face of the limestone wall. Because the walls have such a sheer face, this was one of the only climbs on this stretch of the quarry. It was quiet and just catching the img_4472last of the evening sun. Jamie and I giggled the whole way up the route, taking great pleasure in the reassuringly sharp divets in the rock.

The sun, now a cool evening glow, started setting behind us, casting long, sharp shadows up the quarry walls. The evening air was a welcome break from the intense heat we’d had all day. As we packed down and deliberated over dinner and tomorrows climbing, we took a few small moments to be thankful for where we were (safe and happy) and the fact that our fingers were once again, scuffed up and chalky.

We loaded up the van and started driving in the direction of tomorrows climbing – Rovinj, a large coastal crag, situated on the outskirts of a large protected park 45 minutes from where we currently were. We hoped to find somewhere to park up and somewhere to eat. We found both.

After about half an hours driving and multiple google searches, we came across a small restaurant called Konoba Cocaletto. We sat on wooden benches outside as the dusky darkness drew in. Our waiter was amazing; IMG_4480flipping between German, English and Croatian depending on his guests and charming in every language he spoke. He always had a huge smile on his face and laughed from his belly – plus, all he wanted to do was feed us. He was a joy, and a welcome face to see after a couple of long days. We ate until we couldn’t move (again. I really have no control when it comes to portions), said our big thank yous, got offered some honey brandy (which smelled a lot like Reke), politely declined some honey brandy and set off to find somewhere to put up for the night.

Wild camping is totally illegal in Croatia, but not knowing that beforehand, we decided to hide in plain view in a large car park close to where we would be climbing the next day (we planned our evening stops much better after this). It worked surprisingly well and we were undisturbed for the entire evening. The heat and the stickiness in the back of the van was almost unbearable though. The mosquitos were out in full force making it difficult to get any form of ventilation into the van. We eventually managed to nod off, but we slept rather uncomfortably all evening. Note to self: instal a vent in the van as soon as we get home.

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Day two of crag hunting started with an early rise in Rovinj. The sun on the van woke us up before 8 am and we moved the van downimg_4487 to the car park on the outskirts of the forest park (patrolled by rangers so we didn’t park there overnight). Still groggy from an uncomfortable nights sleep, we loaded up the climbing bags again and set off, this time hoping to get as much climbing in before the sun crept over the crag at 1pm.

We traced the forest paths towards to cape of the peninsula; the trees towered over us shading us from the morning sunshine and the sound of multiple birdsongs echoed through the forest. There was no other noise. No traffic, no people, no bikes, no nothing. Peaking through the trees, situated on the bay we found a small bar. We bought a couple of bottles of icy cold water and two coffees (which were exceptionally good, but very tiny, as all the coffee ended up being in Croatia). The beach cafe was not cheap, but it IMG_4490had stunning views of Rovinj, so we took our time and flicked through the climbing guide before scooping ourselves up from our little happy spot.

The path now hugged the coast and we were greeted with stunningly crystal clear water (don’t expect sand beaches when you come to Croatia, it’s all pebbles, but that’s why the water is so clear!) and gorgeous views of the small islands just off the peninsula. The crag was only 10 minutes from the beach cafe and was already starting to get busy by the time we got there. The crag was massive – 5 sections with a total of 138 climbs, all ranging from 4a – 7c+. The crag welcomed experienced sports climbers who TKNI0091were pushing hard, right down to first-time youngsters starting out on the friendly slabs. Families, friends, couples, locals, tourists – the crag was full of laughter, languages and people enjoying a great day out. We loved the vibe already.

We warmed up on a couple of gentle slabs before moving to a couple of harder climbs. My favourite was a 5b line that climbed up a corner in the rock – positive hand holds accompanied by delicate feet and a little exposure made for a very interesting climb. After playing around on this section of the crag, and with the promise of the afternoon sun soon to join us, we scooped up our rope and found a steep, loose path down to the bottom tier, to see what we would find down there. What followed was some of the most fun I’ve ever had at a crag.. ever.

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My kind of climbing has never been chasing grades (yes, as you get stronger it is natural to climb harder), I will never be a competitive climber and I see no logic in beating myself up over something that is simply too hard for me. Instead, I enjoy being on the rock, stretching achy muscles the following morning, eating bread and cheese in the sunshine and generally having a great day out. The next few hours of climbing in Rovinj were what I would call, perfect. I am very accepting of the fact that I will likely, never get a day like this again. So I am just thankful for the fact we were there in the first place.

Section E of the crag was on the furthest southern img_4512side of the lower tier of the crag (far quieter than the upper tier). The climbs were short, only 8m or so, but they were all on gorgeous rock formations in the shade. This section was a short scramble away from the other section of the lower tier, meaning there were only two other people there when we got there. There ended up being far more bolted routes on the left-hand side of the crag that were not in the guidebook – but at a guess, none harder than a 5b.

We occupied ourselves by playing on the gorgeous white rock until we could stand the heat no longer. We donned our swimmies and plunged (some more delicately than others) into the crystal clear water. I was amazed by the fact that I could open my eyes under the water, I am so used to salt water being loaded with sand.

And that was how we spend the remainder of the afternoon – 1-2 hot short climbs followed by 20 minutes of playing in the sea (I spent most of the time pretending I was a 96f4d83a-2bbc-4428-8661-324b3522e8d4dolphin), all fuelled by chorizo and cheese sandwiches. I cannot even explain to you how elated my little soul was. We were later joined by a lovely German couple who were also seeing Rovinj with virgin eyes. They were equally blown away by the unrefined beauty this little spot of paradise had to offer.  We laughed, swam, shared goopy, warm sweets and spoke fondly of our lives back home (not that we were missing it one bit). Finally, no amount of factor 50 could keep the sun off us forever, and at around 4pm we begrudgingly packed away our kit for the final time that day, had one final dip in the crystal clear waters and started to make our way back to the van.

On the way back to the van we stopped once again at the beach cafe and chatted about where we were going to park up tonight and climb tomorrow. With 35m single pitched IMG_4513and a crag that was in the shade all afternoon, we were already pretty drawn to the idea of climbing on the island of Krk the next day, but where to park? We were desperate for some good sleep and not keen on the idea of being moved on by the police or park rangers, so I set about looking for a decent Air BnB for the night, with only one requirement – airconditioning.

Very well priced and boasting a superb view of the sea and Krk was Tomas’s apartment. A small studio flat just outside Senj with a self-contained kitchen, bathroom, balcony, air img_4517conditioning and only a couple of hours drive away from the crag was absolutely what we needed. It also happened to have the best sunset viewing balcony in the world (possibly not true, but it was by far my favourite).

Tomas responded quickly and welcomed us into his apartment with open arms (and two cold beers). A middle-aged skin-like-leather gentleman, Tomas was informative, yet not overbearing, and after a short introduction to his home and the surrounding neighbourhood, he left us to it.

We showered and decided to eat out again (when on holiday, huh?), this time taking a short walk to the charming little ‘Restoran Zagreb’. Even though it was now late and they were taking their last orders for the night, they welcomed us in,IMG_4553 not for a minute making us feel like we were an inconvenience. We asked for a recommendation and we were brought out a massive meat platter for two (more like 4, but whatever).

Giddy from the long day in the sun and now full up on sausages and lamb chops, we retreated back to the apartment for a long sleep in an airconditioned room (the real hero of this story).

Reflecting back, this was undoubtedly my favourite day of the entire trip – the freedom of climbing and swimming combined ended up being exactly what my little heart needed. I would absolutely head back just to experience this day again.

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We slept better than I expected (and I had high expectations) and had already missed IMG_4555dawn by the time we clambered out of bed. The promised of another scorcher of a day ahead of us and the crag not getting the shade until the afternoon meant we didn’t rush. We took our time, said our thank yous to Tomas and headed down to the bakery in Crikvenica in search of some fresh bread for breakfast. We decided we were going to spend the rest of the morning in Baska, a town on the south side of Krk. On the beach and only a 15-minute drive back up to the crag, it seemed like the perfect location.

This is probably a good time to say that if you want to avoid tolls, the best road to go is the coastal road that we stuck to, not the motorways. It is much slower but far far prettier. Plus, there are lots of options for eating out in odd little restaurants that are away from the more tourist-ie spots like Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik (where you can expect to pay £50+ for an okay-ish meal out).

Baska was nothing too special – a small town surviving solely on the money made from tourists in the massive caravan park. On the plus side, the food was cheaper than anywhere else we’d been, they did a mean chicken burger, and the water, as usual, was crystal clear and super refreshing. We tired of it quite quickly though, and even though we’d paid for 3 hours of parking, we left after 1. We drove up to the carpark for the crag – situated opposite an old disco (now closed down and being converted into something else). Quiet and away from the tourists, we decided to nap here until the worst of the midday sun had passed.

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Still 29 degrees in the shade at 3.30pm and with no signs of it cooling down, we decided IMG_4608.JPGto pack up and head to the crag anyway. It was a 20-minute walk that climbed slowly up from the road and through the forest before reaching a steep scree trail that led to the crag. The limestone cliffs were magnificent, to say the least.

Towering some 30/40 metres above us was the gleaming of light bouncing off the steel anchor points at the top of each pitch. From down here, they looked miles away. There were a couple of other climbers at the crag, but nothing compared to the numbers we’d seen further north. We decided to duck round to the left of the big wall and start with a few easy routes on section A to warm up.

The rock was sharp, very sharp, especially in comparison to the polished crags we’d seen up north. The hand holds, though juggy, cut into IMG_4616your fingers (I taped mine up as soon as I could to avoid splitting skin), and our feet stuck to the wall like velvet on sandpaper. We warmed up on a few easy routes (one being a very satisfying diagonal crackline that involved great handholds and tiny weeny footholds) and then, eager to scare ourselves with big pitches, we scooped up our shoes and our ropes and headed back round to the big walls.

We chose a 28m 5c to get stuck into – easily double the height of anything we’d climbed so far. The dark limestone towered over us and I started to get little butterflies in my tummy – we were already high up out of the valley, so I was anxious to see what the view would be like from up there. Jamie took the lead, dancing up the 28m pitch with ease (as he always does). He came back down and offered for me to climb it on his top rope, apparently, there was a bit of a scary img_4620section in the middle. I politely declined, pulling the rope back through to ground level, smiled up at him and tied in.

The route was stunning, it started on a slabby section of sharp limestone before moving up to the sheer face. Good handholds gave way to a much trickier section through a sharp, open crack with very little for your feet. This high up, I was nervous. I felt my heart flutter in my chest, but I breathed through it, remembered where I was (too cool) and pushed on through. the last section involved clipping into the anchor from an uncomfortable handhold, under a slightly overhanging piece of rock. Beautiful. The view from the top was phenomenal and the exposure made it feel all the more in your face. The wind whipped up through the valley bring a welcome relief from the stagnant heat, and I basked in it as I was slowly lowered down the 28m face. We giggled, marked the climb in the img_4625.jpgguidebook as one of our favourites and moved on over to the slabby section of the crag to play on some climbs that would test our balance and delicate footwork.

We made our way back down to the van as the sun set behind the crags. Now tired from a few days of climbing and desperate for some good food, we toyed with the idea of taking a rest day tomorrow. We got back to the van and decided that, hey, we kinda like that air conditioning thing, let’s send Tomas another message, seeing as we’d have to go past there anyway. So we did, and even though it was later than his agreed check-in times, he offered to leave the key in the door for us (it felt a bit like visiting a friend now). This time, we opted to make use of the great little kitchen in our apartment and cooked our own dinner. We turned in at around 11pm, still undecided as to whether or not to take the day off tomorrow. Sleep now and see how we felt in the morning was our plan!

So that’s it for part one! Next weeks segment promises to be this long again (sorry) – So grab a cup of tea and get stuck in! Until then, have a wonderful, sunny week (we are certainly making the most of the weather!).

See you soon ferals (and thank you kindly for reading this far).

H

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