Climbing Croatia || Seven Days, Six Crags || Part 2

Good afternoon fellow Ferals!

It’s that time again – I can’t believe how quickly ‘blog IMG_5131day’ comes around! The weather has been phenomenal and I haven’t wasted a second of it (except for the day after I walked *almost* 40 miles – but we’ll talk about that in a couple of weeks). We have been climbing, swimming and walking every evening for the past two weeks and my little soul is incredibly elated. Who knew a little vitamin D was all it took, huh? Affy is learning fast and we’re training her (rather successfully) to be a vigilant and patient crag dog. I am so proud, we couldn’t have asked for a better little doggy.

This week I’ll cover the next couple of days of our trip to Croatia (which already feels like a lifetime ago). This sent us up our very first multi-pitches, which was one of the coolest things we’ve ever done! Stick around, cus these 2 days were even more exciting than the first! If you have any further questions or comments then leave them in the comments section below- I do truly love hearing off you guys! P.S. I truly intended to squeeze all 4 of our last days into this blog, but when I started typing it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen, so I’ll cover the very last two days next week!

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We woke up on day 4 of crag hunting and our bodies protested immediately. Our fingers, now pink on the tips, were achy and stiff, which wasn’t a unique feeling. Our shoulder blades, abdominal muscles and arms all sang the same tune. We stretched out, had a warm shower, stretched again and readied ourselves for the day. We were still unsure about whether or not we would make it up anything, but we already had our hearts set on a crag south of our location nestled in the mountains, so we thought we’d, at the very least make the drive down.

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For the first time on our whole trip, we had clouds. Big, heavy, storm-promising clouds that sat low in the sky. We stopped at the closest supermarket and stocked up, then watched the clouds over breakfast (which consisted of waffles and coffee out of the back of the van). Hopeful that the clouds would disperse throughout the day (but we were thankful for the cool breeze that came with them) we pushed on to the crag, the driving to which ended up being some of the most scenic and beautiful we’d ever seen.

 

We wound along tight tarmac mountain roads that gave way to a single track dirt road. Our destination was a crag called Dabarski Kukovi. Boasting over 47 climbs in numerous different sections up the valley, most of which being at least 3 pitches and 100m+ high. The crag was about 20 minutes inland and was the first time we’d really ventured off the coastal road. The tiny mountain road was stunning and the light rain that now started to fall gave everything a burst of freshness- the trees seemed instantly greener, the road didn’t kick up any dust as we drove and the hot IMG_4644pillars of white rock that seemed to emerge from the dark evergreen forests gave off a kind of hot-tarmac-in-the-rain kinda smell. It was like driving through Jurassic Park.

We were heading for a gentle 3 pitch, 90m climb on one of the furthest edges of the valley (it’s actually on that little nubbin on the left side of photo; The one that looks like a little gnome’s hat). The road hugged the base of the rock pillars tightly; to our left stood 185m pitches shooting up from the ground and to our right, the edge of the road plunged hundreds of metres down into the dark, dense valley floor. The rain let up as we pulled in to the small car park at the base of our crag, but not for very long. We’d put on our shoes, readied our kit and packed up the food and water, but all in vain; almost on cue as we locked the van, the heavens opened again, but this time heavier and more persistent. We quickly hopped back into the back of the van; already soaked through and disappointed that the rock wouldn’t dry out today, we set about putting together some lunch. Chorizo, salami and sundried tomatoes had now become a theme for us, why change a winning formula, hey? As I threw all of the ingredients into some fresh bread, Jamie moved the van under some trees. A little more sheltered now, we opened up the sliding doors on the sides of the van and listened to the sounds of the rain on the forest canopy. The rain had chased away both the heat and the bugs, so even though we couldn’t climb, we were quite happy just to not be sticky and eaten alive for a couple of hours.

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The stubborn toddler in my brain that wanted to climb ‘right damn now’ insisted on trying to wait out the rain, so for two hours we tidied up the van, topped up the oil and the washer fluid, told each other stories about our childhood (cus even in a long-term relationship there will be things you never know about your partner) and ate the remainder of our snacks. Jamie, ever patient, didn’t insist on moving once. We were both quite happy in the calmness of it all (we’d only seen one car on the way up and no one since).

After a while, and with very little options for dinner, we decided to head back down to the coast and push on South. We’d driven past a few ‘Auto Camps’ on our way down the coast, so decided on trying to find one close to Zadar, and see what they were all about (we liked the idea of a shower, but we weren’t overly keen on forking out for the expensive accommodation in and around Zadar). We got back into Karlobag and headed South along the Adriatic coastal road for about an hour and a half. Dramatic mountain ranges gave way to flatter plains closer to Zadar, and, not keen to get caught in the hustle of another city, we pushed past Zadar for another 20 minutes, before stumbling across Autocamp Adria.

1km South of Sveti Filip i Jakov, the signage for Autocamp Adria turned us right off the main road and down towards the coast. We pulled up into the small parking lot and headed up to the main house to, hopefully, find img_4664whoever was running the joint and see if they had any room for one tiny van for the night. The actually camping site was just his, rather large, garden which had been fitted with a large toilet/shower block, washing machines, washing up sinks, electric hookups for the campervans and WIFI. We were greeted by a phenomenally friendly gentleman in his 60’s who instantly talking to us in very good German. We laughed (this wasn’t the first time nor would it be the last) and asked if he spoke English which of course he did. He laughed and remarked that he rarely saw English guests and he’d never seen anyone drive their own vehicle down form England before.

He welcomed us with open arms and gave us (in my opinion) the best spot in the whole campsite. Our little plot was situated right at the bottom of the campsite. Just to our right was a small gate and a set of stairs that led right down to the pier and the sea. Once again, for the third night in a row, we’d found the perfect place to watch the sunset – but this time, we could watch it right out the back of our van.

 

Of course, I couldn’t resist, so after we’d pulled into our spot, set up the bed and made dinner arrangements, I donned my bikini and trotted down to the pier. The water wasn’t deep, chest height on me, but deep enough to shallow dive in. Again, it was crystal clear, but this time the sea floor was sandy, not rocky. I was surprised at the lack of tourists in this little bubble – the Autocamp was full of campervans that towered much higher than our little caddy, but they seemed quite content in their little homes – there wasn’t another soul on that pier, nor was there anyone walking along the coastal path that led into Sveti Filip i Jakov – though we were surrounded by people, in this moment, we felt totally isolated.

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We cooked up some pasta and turned in just after the last of the evening light disappeared. The faint sound of music from Sveti Filip i Jakov sent us both to sleep with little smiles on our faces. We were thankful for the beautiful day but eager to get up early and chase whatever tomorrow had to offer.

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We were awake before out 7:30 alarm – the tree we’d parked under offered little relief from the, already intense morning sun, so I opened all the doors and rushed down to the pier for a morning swim. We packed up our van, had a quick shower and said our thank yous to our host.  We headed into Sveti Filip i Jakov in search of some breakfast and a strong coffee – I felt fresh from my swim but the heat was already starting to get to me. Sveti Filip i Jakov was small and consisted mainly of small cafes and souvenir shops. With seats that were actually swings and the promise of good coffee, we ended up in Riva Caffe. Again, nowhere served breakfast, so instead, we sipped our coffee and then headed round to the local bakery where we stocked up on chocolate croissants, pastry topped in what looked like custard and pecans and a massive loaf of bread for lunch (I also ran round to the market to buy some local olive oil and balsamic vinegar).

Eager to get started with our day, we hopped back in the van and started the drive down south. The plan was to jump on a big multi-pitch today, but the whole canyon would be in the sun all day, so we planned to get there at around 5pm when the worst of the day’s heat was over. So what would we do with the start of the day? Well, just south of our location, situated further down the canyon we intended to climb in later, was Krka National Park – boasting huge lakes you could swim in and jam-packed full of history, Krka seemed like the obvious choice.

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Unfortunately, even though it was mid-week and not peak season Krka was also jam-packed with hundreds of tourists, also all eager to escape the intense Croatian heat. We parked up and hopped on a bus with a handful of other sunburnt, flip-flop wearing tourists and slowly made our way down the twisty road into the valley.

 

The park itself was beautiful – crystal blue IMG_4675waters with big trout weaving their way around reeds all shaded by huge mixed forests of holm oak and flowering ash. We passed lots of little stalls selling dried dates and souvenirs as we wandered down to the lake where we could swim. As expected, it was heaving. Chinese tourists stood shoulder to shoulder with young, local teenagers (it felt a bit like sardines in a tin) all of whom were struggling to get a solid footing on the slippery, algae-covered river bed (like that guy behind me in the photo!). We found a small section of ground away from everyone and set up camp there.

The water, though clear, was incredibly cold – I didn’t mind at all, but it meant that there were fewer people actually in the water than I IMG_4680.JPGfirst anticipated (most people were just huddled on the sides in the sun). We must have stayed there for over an hour, munching on salted pretzels and taking it in turns to dip in and out of the cool water, before we decided that no amount of fresh water could distract us from the noise and volume of people. It was time to head back into some solitude.

Krka was gorgeous, and we chose this National Park specifically for the promise of a good swim (most of the other parks with lakes in them, you’re not allowed to swim), but I’m glad that this was the only ‘tourist-ie’ thing we got round to doing, it was all a bit too loud for my liking. In my opinion, there are many other areas in Croatia that deserve your time, but if you find yourself with a free day, then do go for a swim and a boat tour – the history there is quite something. I, however, am glad I went but would not go an do it again. Thank goodness for the Mountains.

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The crag we had in mind was only a short drive away from where we’d parked. We’d been on the hunt for an easy multi-pitch (as it would be the first for both of us) for some time now, and southern Croatia was promising just that. Osoje-Cikola was a set of massive limestone cliffs further North up the same valley as the lakes we’d been swimming in.

We mountain roads were big and wound slowly up through the long, deep canyon. We IMG_4684.JPGcould see the cliffs we were due to climb standing tall above our heads. At the top of the canyon was the well-marked car park. The directions in the guidebook were, as always, very easy to follow, but this crag was different. This crag showed very little signs of wear at all; in fact, if it wasn’t for the glistening of silver bolts in the sunshine, you may think it had been hardly touched by humans at all. There was a well-marked path that led down the hot canyon from the carpark. However, well-marked quickly tuned to overgrown and I was struck by just how wild this crag truly was. the road was far below us in the valley, but the sound of the river drowned out any noise from the very few cars that came through. We traced the path along the bottom of the crag, passing by massive caves and around 25 huge slab climbs. Though littered with bolted routes, it’s obvious that there is still plenty of room to add more.

We got to the base of our 3 pitch multi-pitch. Most of the climbs we’d walked past stood img_4687.jpgabout 20-35m high and finished on the middle of the cliff; but not this one. Divlja voda was a 70m climb that snaked it’s way up the gloriously sharp limestone, finishing at the top of the cliff, just short of a path we could take to get back to the van.

I took the lead on the first pitch – a pretty 5b that danced around the trees in the wall. I set up my belay point at the top of the pitch and seconded Jamie up the climb. Jamie then passed me the bag and continued to climb past me and worked his way up the 6a – a delicate line that followed a small, sharp crack in the wall. All of the decent foot and handholds were in the crack, making it tricky to balance your weight. Slightly over to my left now, he secured himself to the anchor points in the wall, pulled through the rest of the rope and belayed me up the second pitch. It was an absolutely stunning climb, though I’m not sure I really thought so at the time. The bag threw my balance a little and I struggled to place my feet in the crack but, delicately or not, I made it up.

 

The sun was now off our backs and there was a cool breeze that floated down the canyon over our sweaty bodies. We stopped for a drink and to take in the views. We were 50m and two pitches up from where we’d started, but the canyon stretched much further down than that – and it was stunning.

It was my turn to lead the last pitch. A 5c with incredibly positive handholds and satisfyingly techy moves was the perfect way to finish off our first beautiful multi-pitch. I belayed Jamie up after me and we took a minute to laugh at ourselves and where we were – high above a stunningly green gorge in Croatia – how lucky were we?

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Jamie scrambled up past me (I stayed secure to the wall) to see if he could find the path back to the van. It wasn’t hard, the path dancedIMG_4695 precariously close to the edge of the cliff. He guided me up and as we packed our stuff up, views of the canyon at our feet, we reflected on how multi-pitch climbing was probably the ‘thing’ we now enjoyed the most. It takes a day at the crag and turns it into an adventure.

Beaming, we walked back to the van in the early evening sunshine, loaded up, washed the sweat of our faces and started driving down south. We’d hadn’t organised any accommodation, but we weren’t too worried – this stretch of IMG_4699.JPGcoastline after Zadar seemed to be far quieter than up North. I don’t even remember exactly where we stopped for the night – I was dipping in and out of sleep as Jamie drove. We found a small layby in the dark, off a quiet road and decided that that would do for the night. We were tired, the day had taken it out of us. I don’t even think we had anything to eat before we fell asleep. The heat was very heavy that night, I felt Jamie get up once or twice to flick on the AC for a few minutes in an attempt to get some airflow in the van (the mosquitos made it particularly hard to get some ventilation in), but, even though I was hot and sticky, I slept surprisingly well, readying me for the massive day we had planned tomorrow in Split.

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Like I said, I tried to fit 4 days into this post but we are already over 3000 words in, so I thought I’d save it for next week! Thank you, once again, for reading this far, I know it’s not a quick read! Leave me a comment below if there’s anything you’d like me to expand on.

I’ll see you next week, Ferals!

H

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