Part III: Croatia's Gym

Note: I've recently returned (not recent any more--it was nearly two years ago!) from an amazing trip to Slovenia and Croatia. This next series of posts (if I ever finish them) will describe some of the highlights, primarily with a climbing focus.

Ok, you got me. It's almost 100% about climbing. Here's part three, Croatia's Gym.

Route Summary (out of four stars):
Banana Split, 5c (15m): ★★★ (solid warmup, lots of fun).
Krokodil, 6b (22m): ★★★★
Rasierklinge, 5c (9m): ★
Auskneifer, 6c+ (really?!) (15m): ?? ★
Over dub, 5c (22m): ★★
Il viaggio, 6a (18 m):  ★★★
Veleshit,  6a+ (17 m): ★★
Cuja ti si bog!, 5c+(15m): ★★

What makes a climb great?

Is it the location? The exposure? The moves? The difficulty? The people you're with?

I've had some time to think about the question, and all I've come up with is a vague notional idea, that feels very cop-out-ish. It's some combination of every factor, and that combination is different for everybody. Locationwise--for me, it doesn't take much: views, isolation, or majestic rock. Exposure--I think this is pretty key for me: I have a hard time getting psyched about routes 40' off the ground. The moves--definitely, but it's not everything. Difficulty--I want to work for my route, and (probably for worse) there's a certain level of difficulty I expect out a grade; which can really skew my rating. The people you're with--I've always climbed with fun and interesting people (luck? or is this a climber thing? I don't know and I'm ok with it).

I felt a little naked when we first arrived in Croatia: I was going to be picking routes, and the guidebook had no recommendations. How were we going to find the classic areas with all the classsic routes? The Boulder Canyon, New River Gorge, and Red River Gorge Guidebooks rate each climb. You know whether you're going to hop on a chossy P.O.S., a classic route, or a hidden gem. The authors even try to have fun with in the route descriptions, calling the upper jugs on Hippie Dreams "... more fun than legalized marijuana," or noting that Puppy Chow is "the food of choice for the West-Virgina hang-dog!" In addition to being fun, if you're not spending a week there, you've got some vague idea of the classics you need to climb.

That's not the case here. There's no mountain project, no friends to tell you the routes you can't miss (until you meet them), no beta from rangers at the front gate (who don't even climb?!).... but there are triangles. Lacking any knowledge of why a select few routes were labelled with the bolted triangle, we assumed the best: these were the can't miss routes at sector. So, on our next day there, our goal was to do as many of them as possible (to maximize the quality routes not the quantity).

So, we got out of the car, walked 20 feet out the parking lot, and hopped on Banana Split, a 15m 5c+. I'd say it lived up to its triangle based signage--it was definitely a fun, short route. The shady start also helped; even if I had to clean it in the sun. Martin lead it, props for the onsight!

The next triangle we found was the highlight of my day: a long 22m 6b called Krokodil (no translation needed). Sensing a fun romp, I quickly tied in, and started the battle. And when I say battle I mean battle (beta alert!): the route started with a powerful move gaining a large, sharp vertical crack. You follow this crack for a few bolts to a diagonal crack underneath a roof, which takes you to an awkward kneebar rest at a sharp, toothy, crocodile like snout. An OK shakeout, chalk up, and brow-sweat-wipe later, you make a few difficult moves directly up out of the diagonal crack for some fun technical face climbing. At the point where you can't make it any farther, the anchors appear, and with a little more gas, you can clip them. The route's got a little bit of everything: powerful moves, easy crack climbing, rests, sharp jugs, and face climbing.

So. Much. Fun.

But lets rewind back to the powerful opening sequence, where, mid powerful move, instead of yelling words of encouragement and/or beta, my belayer mumbles, "Hello!" I had no idea what this was supposed to mean: is this the new English "Venga!"--I know I'm struggling, but is it that bad? Am I missing an obvious hold? What does "hello" have to do with climbing?

Nothing apparently! It turns out it was just a friendly Canadian, who we had met the day before, coming to join us climbing for the day. Dan--we'll call him that because I forgot his real name (if it's not Dan, sorry)--was on summer vacation from studying abroad in Leeds. Turns out he got sick of super sketchy British trad routes in the Peak district, and decided to explore some of Europe's best climbing (I may have made up that part about getting sick of super sketchy trad routes).

After Martin hopped on Krokodil (he didn't like it: something to do with the route having everything he doesn't like about climbing), we decided that it was time for a warm up problem for Dan. We picked Rasierklinge, a short climb following a juggy crack system to the anchors.

Next to Rasierklinge were two route names and descriptions in red and blue paint and a traingle. The triangle route was Auskneifer; but I couldn't tell whether it was the route that veered left midway--or one that took the most direct line. I wanted to take the direct line. I mean--so far, so good on the triangle routes--and, after enjoying Krokodil so much, upping the grade didn't intimidate me too much, and I knew I had to hop on it.

What a terrible mistake. Previously on the trip I had redpointed a two 7a's, and they had felt hard, but not crazy difficult. I expected more of the same--and just got absolutely destroyed. I probably spent over half an hour on the route, and probably more than 20 minutes just trying to gain two clips. I have no idea what happened on the route--but it felt really difficult--harder than 6c+ hard (6c+ ~ 5.11c YDS--I've hang-dogged/climbed some 5.11c's and 5.12s before, and I don't recall any of them feeling as hard as this route). Maybe I hopped on the wrong route, my beta was terrible, the climbing strayed far from the bolt line, holds broke, or it's just not my style (whatever that is). It was just way to hard. Or maybe this route is what a sustained 6c+/5.11c feels like... but if that's the case, I'm definitely not ready for it (gotta get stronger!). This route really got me thinking about what makes a good route, because the ridiculous difficulty of the moves just killed the route for me. It wasn't that the moves were difficult (they were), it was just that they were so insanely difficult, I had no idea if I was even doing the route right. I'm curious as to what the route will feel like when I return stronger, some time in the future.... but I'll settle for other people's thoughts on the line for now.

I cleaned the line; offering Martin and Dan a chance to TR or lead it, but their insistent "Hell no"s meant that I was the only one on the trip who would have the, uh, pleasure, of climbing it.

Thankfully, they found a long 22m 5c Over Dub to hop on next. Martin who doesn't like heights and dislikes climbing in the sun at probably even more than me, loved the route. At least the belay was pretty epic: the route started on the left side of small creek shaded by trees, with a small bed of rocks to keep your rope dry while you stand in the cool water.

The next triangled route we found was an 18m 6a, Il viaggo. Dan fought the mounting pump and onsighted it, I followed with a shaky lead, and Martin also gave it a solid burn. I was still pretty gassed from my earlier battle, and this route was hard: doable, not at my limit, but physically taxing, the type of route where you clip into the anchors in a deep sweat.

The only thing I remember about our last two routes of the day (Veleshit and Cuja ti si bog!) is how utterly spent my fingers were. I recall being unable to enjoy the last route because my fingers were so raw that every hold hurt.

It's a good feeling.


So, take my ratings with a grain of salt. I'm really just throwing them out there so that if you're ever there you definitely hop on at least one of my four star routes. Let me know if I'm full of shit or not. Let me know what you think of the rock, the moves, the people, the atmosphere.


  1. Nice bro, little late but climbing in Croatia is still high on my list, hopefully I can let you know if you're full of shit sooner than later.


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