Climbing Croatia || Seven Days, Six Crags || Part 3

Good Afternoon Fellow Ferals!

The weather is finally starting to cool down – and thank goodness, because it’s actually been too hot to climb! We were out all of last weekend and on Sunday I almost got heat stroke from belaying for 10 minutes – not great. On the plus side, it has been perfect weather to swim in – and that’s something I can get on board with!

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I must apologize in advance – this saga of blogs from Croatia has ended up being far longer than I ever intended. However, these last two days saw us try our hands at Deep Water Soloing in Split and sent us up our biggest ever multi-pitch – so these two days alone needed a post of their own. Also, we have finally started going through our Go Pro footage so hopefully in the near future, there will be a follow-up video from Croatia! I have really enjoyed writing these last three posts for you guys – If nothing more, I am so glad I have a written record before I forget the little details. But on a larger scale, I have fallen in love with writing and adventure all over again. I have a couple of projects and trips in the pipelines and I can’t wait to share them with you. For now though, happy reading! If you have any comments or questions then leave me a comment below!

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I had no idea where we’d slept that night – the overly large layby was far out of the way of anything else so we knew we weren’tIMG_4704.JPG disturbing anyone. Now it was daylight we could see that we overlooked the sea and (I found it with a bit of digging) the small town of Primošten, we couldn’t have asked for a better view to wake up to. Our quiet layby was now shared with one other van – a gentleman setting up a homemade wine stall. He offered us a taster, along with a huge smile and a laugh I have never heard anyone make that early in the morning, but we declined cus.. you know? It was 7:30 in the morning and we hadn’t eaten anything the night before!

We got back on to the main road and started making a beeline for Split, where we’d be Deep Water Soloing all afternoon. We’d known for months that this was going to be a big day. I’d been looking forward to it ever since we started planning our trip. The plan was to get to Split early, have some breakfast, explore the marina and then head over to the sea cliffs once the worst of the midday sun had IMG_E4713passed. Our bellies were too loud though, and we ended up pulling over into a beachside cafe in Marina about 20 minutes into our journey to try and find some breakfast. We were, again, bitterly disappointed; it was becoming very apparent that none of the cafes or restaurants served breakfast in Croatia, only strong coffee and beer. Even with a lack of edibles, we were instantly attracted to the gorgeous stretch of clear water and pebbled beaches, so we stayed for a coffee and a swim (which felt great after a super warm nights sleep), before jumping back in the van and carrying on to Split.

Split marina was exactly as glamorous as I pictured it would be – expensive seafood restaurants and palm trees littered the seafront, boasting a view of the ocean and the massive cruise liners coming in off the Adriatic sea. We found a small restaurant just off the road called Dujkin dvor, which was quiet and made a mean toasted sandwich – perfect. We sat outside in the shade of the big patio umbrellas, admiring the incredibly old, original stone walls of the building around us as we filled our bellies. There is a magnitude of big, easily accessible crags in and around Slip, so it took a bit of digging before we settle on a crag. We found one onIMG_4716.JPG the south-westerly side of Split the was only a short walk from the car and easy to access via the Sustipan Memorial Park, dropping down the cliff or a short traverse from the Adriatic Graso restaurant; we chose the latter.

We parked in the large, free parking lot for the Sustipan memorial park and walked further on down the road to the restaurant. Here, we put our tiny microfibre towels, suncream, phones and dry clothes into a dry bag, sealed it up and scampered down the rock face to start the traverse. The traverse was easy but incredibly satisfying – it involved leaning back of large, grippy handholds, scooting around big cactus’ and zig-zagging up and down the cliff face (wherever the easiest line was), all whilst the crystal clear water danced calmly underneath us. I jumped in a few times when I got to warm, whilst Jamie opted to try and keep himself as dry as possible.

After about 100m of traversing (which felt a lot longer than it actually was), we came across a large overhanging section with a conveniently placed above-water boulder (plenty big enough for two bottoms and our kit) just off to the left of it. We didn’t know if IMG_4721this was the section we were aiming for, nor were we too bothered- the rock was sharp with large handholds and lots of interesting routes towering about 6-8m out of the water. The sea underneath was very deep, so there was no worry about touching the floor if when we fell off and, for the most part, the harshest sun was off our backs – Ideal. We stayed here for a couple of hours, taking it in turns climb, it was a beautiful feeling to just play around and not worry about how the climb was graded or getting in the way of people.

Turns out, Deep Water Soloing was far more tiring than anything we’d done so far- it felt like I was always moving – the swim up, the climb aIMG_4723nd then the swim back to the boulder ended up taking it out of me quite quickly; but I loved it. I was happy and salty and eating snacks on a rock in the sunshine – I couldn’t have asked for a better spot. After falling off our routes several times, we decided to swim about 20m along to see if we could find anything else to have a play on – We didn’t find much though and, with previously very calm ocean getting quite choppy, we decided to retrace our steps and traverse back round to the restaurant and start making plans for the evening.

The afternoon sun was still hot and the thought of getting back into the van wasn’t appealing at all – so we walked straight past the car park and down to Jadran Beach Bar which sat right on the sea. The water around it was deep and you could dive straight in off the side. It was now a bit later in the afternoon and most of the people had gone, leaving only a few who were chasing the last of the warm afternoon sunshine. We grabbed a couple of beers and set about trying to find some accommodation for the evening. We hadn’t quite decided where we were going to climb the next day so we IMG_4730.JPGdecided to hang around Split tonight, treat ourselves to a gorgeous meal and a real bed and then wake up fresh and ready for tomorrow.

We trawled Air BnB and other booking websites til we settled on a small apartment with a private bedroom and bathroom but a shared kitchen. I didn’t mind at all. We booked it, finished our beers, had one last big swim and jumped back in the van.

En route to the apartment we received a call from our host – he was very sorry but he’d overbooked and asked if we were okay being moved to another one of his properties – this one being more like a self-contained flat with a small kitchen in it too. Sure, why not? The poor guys seemed flushed so I didn’t want to protest too much – as long as we got a real bed that night, I was happy.

We turned up to the building – an old, beaten up apartment block in the central, dingy part of Split (but still only a ten-minute walk to the marina), excellent. We met the gentleman at the front door and he led us down an old stone staircase to the basement of the building (still, excellent). He gave us the keys and let us have a look around; at first glance, it was okay, nothing to shout about. The walls were all a ridiculous purple and the bathroom was green and red – I don’t mind aesthetics at all, so we grabbed our keys off him, just thankful for a cheap bed for the night, and set about scrubbing ourselves up after a long, sunny, salty day. We noticed there were no towels and the gentleman said he’d drop some off on his way passed last – so IMG_4736Jamie and I just threw on another set of clothes for now and took a wander back down to the waterfront to try and find some food.

In the old part of Split, where the walls were made out of old stone blocks, we found Mad Dog restaurant – the seating was all under big canvas umbrellas on the cobbled street with fairy lights wrapped around the canopy of umbrellas and little tea lights on the tables, but no other lighting – it was perfect. The menu was simple and reasonably priced and the waitress was witty, charming and had the most incredible smile – so we stayed, choosing a table in the corner, closest to the street so we could watch the world go by.

This, by far, was the best meal I had whilst we were in Croatia – Jamie had a stuffed rump steak and I (going with the waitresses recommendation) chose the veal goulash with IMG_4740gnocchi. We drank wine and marvelled over the day we’d just had – Jamie couldn’t wait to get back on the big multi-pitches, whereas I would have been happy staying here, deep water soloing for another month! We ate until we couldn’t breathe anymore – I’d won dinner (that’s a thing) by a landslide with my veal gnocchi (which was both tender and spongy at the same time – how?!) – and then we decided to eat some more (a fat pannacotta with balsamic strawberries was just calling my name).

Now, unable to move, we thanked our waitress (I wanted to hug her for recommending the best meal I’d had on this trip) and bimbled back to our dodgy little apartment block.

We were so tired and so full that we didn’t even notice that the chap who hosted us hadn’t dropped off any towels; we just flopped straight into bed, basking in the cool air pouring out from the air-conditioning.

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We were awoken annoyingly early by the sound of sirens passing by one the road above our heads. We weren’t used to city sounds and we were eager to get back into the quiet mountains. We now noticed that we hadn’t had any towels chucked our way – so had to make do with our sea-salty beach towels (not ideal).

We scurried out of our dodgy room and back into our van as quickly as possible and headed straight to our next adventure – a crag called Markezina Greda – a colossal rock face located only about 20-30 minutes outside (and overlooking) Split. We knew that the south-east facing crag would be in the shade from around 2pm, so opted to go find a big breakfast first.

We pulled into Splits big, new shopping centre, Joker and killed time by eating Mcdonald’s wraps and shopping at discounted sports shops. We also took this time to clean and fully restock the van with water, suncream and food before heading up to the crag.

IMG_4743We arrived at the small grassy layby at around midday – the road took us to a small settlement called Klis, where it then turned into a small, overgrown dirt track (the perfect home to, as I quickly learned, Croatia’s vast array of snakes. Excellent). There were only 3 or 4 houses dotted up this dirt track, so the overgrown layby was out of everyone’s way.

We gathered our gear, taking in all of the incredible scenery that surrounded us – the valley plunging down towards Split and the ocean to our right and the tall cliffs of the crag towering hundreds of meters above us toIMG_4744 our left. We couldn’t hear the road from up here – just the sound of birdsong, people pottering the their front garden down the road and snakes in the grass (I am really trying to downplay just how freaked out I was by that – I actually almost cried like a little girl and nearly refused to walk up to the crag at all). The walk up to the crag was only around 30 minutes but was a constant slog through tall grass and forest all the way to the base of the rock. We broke through the forest and were greeted by some of the most dramatic overhanging cliffs we’d ever seen. The routes that were bolted through the caves (all grade 8a and above) all had quickdraws left in them – either these were a local clubs project, or they were just far too difficult to retrieve after a climb of that gradient.

Climbers had also tied little bits of throwaway rope to a big, dead tree branch at the base of the crag – it gave a real sense of community and the love that people had for this crag. We felt welcomed, even though we were the only two on the whole cliff.

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We traversed along the base of the cliff, weaving in and out of the big, dramatic caverns that made up the crag until we came to section B ( which was far friendlier looking). We’d already chosen our route days in advance – Ljubljanski stood at 120m and was 4 pitches, the hardest was the first and only a 6a, so we were expecting a great afternoon (and boy did it deliver!).

IMG_4751.JPGWe roped up, Jamie led the first pitch and slowly picked his way up the sharp limestone, clipping with ease. The crux move was in a slightly overhanging crack that wasn’t as positive as one would hope, nor were there any spectacular holds over the lip. The overhang started about 15m up and, due to the wind whipping through the valley, felt really exposed. He set up his belay anchor about 30m from the start and I followed, clipping our (rather heavy) backpack into the second bolt (it was very quiet, but I still felt uneasy leaving our bag at the base of the climb). The day that had started of sunny and boiling hot had now become overcast and cool and we were super thankful for lack of harsh sun beating down on our backs.

The crack was far harder than I’d originally anticipated (even though I’d just watched Jamie struggle to negotiate it), but after some stern words and some delicate foot placements, I was up with Jamie in no time. I wormed my way around him and jumped straight on to the next pitch – a 30m 5c. This line followed another, far more positive crack for about 10m and then required a very committing move that involved stepping out on to the sheer face, that ran parallel to the crack, and then manteling over the lip. My heart raced and the adrenaline made me laugh. the bolts were now spaced about 2-3m apart so every stretch felt quite committing, but the further away from the ground I got, the braver I got. the exposure didn’t feel scary, it felt reassuring.

I felt like I dance my way up the pitch; good but slightly out of reach hand holds mixed well with well-practised drop knees and high rock-overs – it felt like a very brave pitch, but the fire in my belly felt just as brave. The bolts at the top of the pitch were sheltered under a large, sweeping shelf of rock which was the ideal place to set up my belay rig from. Jamie followed up after me and, even though I couldn’t see him, must have flown up it, because he was sat next to me in no time.

I stayed put as he skirted around me and went on to lead the third pitch – a 20m 5a. The bolts had now become increasingly spaced (some 5-6m apart), and even though the climbing was technically far easier, the lack of protection meant this climb felt much more committing. This pitch traversed left to meet the climb parallel to us (they shared the same last pitch), and at times were very exposed. Jamie set up his belay anchor and called me across. Again, I met him at his belay anchor, laughed at how spaced the bolts were getting and proceeded to climb up past him. This pitch was only a 40m 4a and the bolts were now very sparse – this pitch was on a far friendlier gradient, the rest of the wall seemed to disappear underneath us and any sense of exposure was gone. I followed the line of bolts as best as I could but they were getting sparser and sparser until I realised that I hadn’t clipped anything for about 15-20 metres – surely that wasn’t right? Perched on a ledge I looked all around me – nothing above and I now couldn’t even see my bolt underneath me – If I was to fall now, I would have fallen straight past Jamie and taken the biggest whipper of my life! I looked to my left and about 7m away from me I caught a glimpse of a ray of light bouncing off a steel bolt – I had gone WAY off course! I toyed with the idea of carrying on up (the top of the cliff was now only 5 metres or so above me, but instead I decided to traverse across to the bolt, clip in so I was safe and then proceeded to top out and build my belay on a hefty tree on the top.

I belayed Jamie up the last pitch and as soon as he topped out, he questioned why I’d decided to miss out 4 bolts in the middle – 4 bolts?! Whoops! We had a laugh about it (who even gets lost on a sports climb?!) whilst we packed up our kit and navigated the tricky, uneven path back down to the car. We dumped what we could and then ran back IMG_4753.JPGup to the crag to retrieve our bag that was still clipped into a bolt 10m up. Unfortunately on the short scramble back up, in all the excitement and now in a rush to retrieve our bag and get some dinner, I pulled out a chunk of loose rock right on to my left pinky finger. Excellent. My finger was already bruising and a large gash extended across the nail and down the finger – that was probably me out for a couple of days!

We retrieved the bag and hopped back in the car, the wind through the valley had now picked up quite dramatically and the clouds above us now promised some late evening rain. We tended to our wounds (okay, just me) and achy fingers and decided to stay here for the night – we were out of everyone’s way and we had a great view of the storm rolling in off the Adriatic. I knocked together some dinner and Jamie checked up on the weather to see if we could get out tomorrow (I wasn’t actually all that keen on the idea). After a bit of digging it looked like the rain that was coming in was due to hang around for at least the next 8 days so we decided that tomorrow we would start our trip down to Greece to go and fetch the new member of our family (Affy of course – I did a short blog on how we got her a few weeks ago, so go back and have a read!).

For now, we ate soup as the sky grew darker around us – for the first time on this whole trip we slept cool that evening – not hot and sticky. We were woken up at around 1am by the loudest thunder I’d ever heard; it shook the van and the lightning lit up the valley in front of us – it was quite spectacular! What a way to end a truly epic week in Croatia!

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And that’s it, folks! thanks for sticking around til the end – I know it’s been A LOT of long reads. Hopefully, I managed to cover everything, but if you have any further questions then you know what to do!

Catch you later this week!

H

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