This is a long blog post as there is a lot to say. Our little adventure in Czech was a revelation as you’ll read in a moment. If you want the ultra short cliff notes version then this is it; Czech is amazing, go climbing there. The long version is below…
The Czech Republic might not be everyone’s first idea of a place to go sport climbing, but this is largely due to ignorance rather than an actual lack of quality sport climbing. We didn’t know too much about what we were in for, and the only information we’d been given was the town name of Decin, and a further smaller village called Dolni Zleb. We knew that there were apparently amazing sandstone routes in this area, but anything more than this was either imagination or fantasy.
The lack of information regarding climbing in the Czech republic became immediately clear when we tried to reach the town in the midst of the climbing. We’d been given the town name of Dolni Zleb and we did the only thing we’ve done thus far, enter it into the sat nav system. However, the system may be very good but it’s certainly not infallible and eyebrows were raised when we were instructed to turn off onto a dirt covered road through a forest. We thought it might actually be possible a small village or hamlet could be located at the end of this road, so we pushed on thinking that if it wasn’t there we’d at least have an adventure. The directions became more dubious when the road suddenly had a barrier across it, and a sign indicated it was a forest road. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily) the barrier was raised which once again could indicated that a super small village existed at the end of the dirt road. We put it to a vote and 2/3 of us were brave (foolish) enough to vote YEAH so we continued into the depths of the forest. It would be one thing to attempt this road in a normal size car, but attempting it in a 7.5m long, 7 berth, camper van is probably verging on stupid. The road was going further and further downhill, with all our thoughts turning to the hope that there would be a turning spot somewhere because reversing this route would be impossible. Then the road became much steeper and much narrower. Far too narrow for our breadth and the only possible option was to turn it around and try to get out of here. We were somewhere in the Czech Republic, in the middle of a forest, in the middle of the night and potentially about to get very stuck. After a complex series of forward/back maneuvered James managed to get the RV turned around and we were heading back out of the forest looking for another route on the sat nav. Once we were back on a real road we found another mode of attack! There was a road that ran along the side of the Elb river which looked like it reached the village of Dolni Zleb. Thirty minutes later we were by the river and making good speed along this road. It was exceptionally narrow and James did an incredible job of not hitting either the trees on one side or the barrier on the other. The next issue came in the form of a railway bridge that was 3.5m, with our van being 3.4m. Technically possible on flat ground, but it was uphill with a 90 degree bend into and out of it. Once again another hurdle, but with a bit of teamwork we made it through, again confirming James’ driving abilities. We kept going, getting closer and closer to Dolni Zleb. Further narrow sections were maneuvered through until we only had 2km to go. All of a sudden the road dipped down, then turning through a 90 degree bend into another railway bridge. This time the laws of Physics weren’t on our side as it was only 2.5m tall, giving us zero chance of getting under it without transforming into a convertible. By a small miracle there was a turning spot just before the bridge and so we did the only thing we could, spinning it round and heading back to Decin. The journey back along the road wasn’t quite as smooth as the one in, and out of nowhere we heard a grinding noise down the side of the van. Oh no. We didn’t stop to check it as there was nothing we could do anyway, so we pushed on, getting tired and frustrated with this mini epic. Then there was the matter of reversing the 3.5m railway bridge. As any climber will know, doing a move forwards and backwards can present 2 different worlds of difficulty. Sometimes it’s so easy to do a move upwards, but reversing it back down can be either difficult or even impossible. The railway bridge followed suit and as james turned into it a small grinding noise came from the top left. Oh no. I jumped out and sure enough we’d touched the corner of the arch. I got into my best air traffic control mode, gesticulating wildly as James followed my technical instructions. Ten minutes later we were back through it and all without any more damage which was a small success. By this point we were sick and tired of trying to make it to Dolni Zleb so we found an empty car park in Decin and fell asleep in under 30 seconds. .
Thanks to a Karol at Hudysport, we were put in touch with Ondra, who came out to meet us in the morning and immediately understanding why we’d had trouble attempting our final push into Dolni Zleb. Luckily for us he had a smaller car and we jumped in as he drove us to the crag. We’d made it to Dolni Zleb and the daytime drive in revealed to us a valley lined with amazing looking sandstone faces and towers. Ondra explained that on one side there existed long routes whilst on the side we were on the routes were slightly shorter and also in the shade. Both of these facts were welcome news as it was a little hot and we were a little tired.
The walk in was all uphill and rather humid, but as we got closer and closer we only grew more excited. When we suddenly pushed through the trees and saw the full glory of the sandstone routes we were blown away. The rock looked amazing and the lines even more impressive. I didn’t think anything like this existed in Europe! We were shown an array or routes, eventually making the hard decision to climb Skruti Beh. It wasn’t a hard decision in the sense of not being psyched, but a hard decision because of the sheer choice of amazing lines. It was becoming immediately clear that one day here would be FAR from enough. The line we settled on was a proud wall, overhanging all the way to the end and followed a direct line up a 30m face (utilizing only 6 bolts!).
James at the second bolt
The locals had given us a tidbit of information, but not giving anything away regarding the climbing as they wanted James to onsight it! I’m sure he wanted that too! What they did say was the following “If you get to the second clip and are feeling a little pumped be careful clipping. If you fumble the clip you will hit the ground, so it’s better to jump off and not try to clip”. You might be wandering about just how high this second clip is to warrant such a warning… it’s placed at about 12 metres, so a potential ground fall is of some concern. Gaz reckoned it was something in the region of E5 or E6 to get to the second bolt, so this should give you a clue as to the style of bolting in the area.
All the routes here are bolted from the ground up, for no reason other than tradition. That’s what they’ve always done and that’s what they may well always do. It’s always interesting to hear about how different things are in different climbing areas, and hearing Ondra describe this style of bolting with such passion indicated to me that the locals are actually very proud of it. They do this by climbing up until they find a place to sit on a skyhook then start drilling. They glue it in (using giant bolts!) then head back down and wait 30 minutes for the glue to set. Then they set off again and try to place the next bolt, continuing to the top. Although this style continues to be the only way to bolt a route people are getting with the times and using battery powered drills rather than hand drills. Using this method a strong local (aren’t they all!?!) can bolt and climb an 8a route in a day, which is quite an amazing feat when you see the routes.
Getting back to the route at hand, James set off with a little trepidation but reached the second bolt without a problem. He placed the draw, clipped it, and moved on. He made it to the third bolt but a combination of over gripping and humid conditions saw him spat off. After falling off the usual process of going bolt to bolt was slightly more difficult thanks to the spacing of the bolts. They aren’t all placed dangerously, with the second bolt on Skruti Beh being the exception rather than the rule. James pulled back on and climbed between bolt to bolt, passing some amazing sandstone features, including holds that were barely 5mm thick but 5cm deep! He made it all the way to the top, unlocking the sequence and enjoying all of the climbing.
Once he lowered down it was Gaz’s time to shine. He’d seen James clip the second bolt with juice to spare so his mind was at ease and so was his climbing. He cruised up past the second, then clipped the third, and tried to push on but the flash pump took over and he fell off. He did the same thing as James and climbed bolt to bolt , then lowered down for a rest. James was up first for his redpoint go and dispensed with it easily, cruising through the small slopers at the crux even in the heat of the day. Gaz followed suit on his first redpoint go, but got alarmingly pumped just a few moves from the mid height rest jugs. His mind seemed to shut down and his climbing suddenly changed from smooth to frantic. It was a testament to his skills that he managed to fight through those couple of moves and reach the rest jugs. It was another testament to his fitness that he recovered completely before setting off to the top, clipping the chains with ease.
Once that was done we had a look around at some of the other lines and it didn’t take long to see more 5 star lines. In fact, there were so many 5 star arêtes within a few minutes walk, and every line we saw filled us with excitement. We didn’t have time to get on any other routes so just enjoyed the feast for the eyes. Some of the arêtes were like much better versions of grit routes with bolts in, and we couldn’t get over just how amazing it all was. So far we’d seen maybe tens of routes, in one small area, but Ondra explained there are multiple valleys all filled with rock and the routes number more than 5000. It’s an incredible place and somewhere that you should definitely move up your to do list. Perhaps it’s not the best place for everyone as some of the bolts are boldy placed, but if you like a little spice or you climb within your grade then the routes here are most definitely amongst the best in Europe. There was another 8a we saw the following morning which can only be described as perhaps the best sport climb I’ve ever seen. The three of us stared in dismay, jaws agape, at the beauty and location of the route in front of us.
Another 5 star line
It’s hard to sum up just how great the climbing is in the Czech Republic. It’s not going to become a sport climbing hotspot for a number of reasons, the most obvious being a lack of an English guidebook and a system of bolting that can at times be spicy. If you want to become a sport climbing monster then go to Spain and spend day after day crushing amazing routes. But if you want to experience perhaps the best lines in Europe, on some of the best rock that any of us have seen on a sport route, then book a cheap flight to Prague and set your GPS for Dolni Zleb. You can buy a guidebook (in Czech) from the pub in the town which is located up the hill in the valley, but even if you don’t understand a word of it I’m sure you’ll find an amazing line to try. I’m certain that we’ll be back to the Czech in the not too distant future to enjoy some of the amazing rock that’s on offer.
you can see the rocks we climbed on in the back left of this image
[ed - thanks to Ondra for some of the photos and also for being a great host]
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