Croatia: Roadside crags and big achievements

Our first climbing day in Croatia was atrocious. I had heard the grades may be a little harder than in Greece, but neither me, nor Clay were expecting to get completely shut down by a 6a.

The route snaked up a slabby grey piece of rock, and from the bottom didn’t look that bad. The first few meters felt insecure at times, but manageable. But around halfway up the climb there was a gaping runout, just as the climbing got hard and very confusing – though this section was dominated by a fat tufa, it appeared to have no useful holds on it. Instead, you had to traverse a few meters to the right on questionable holds to reach a large side pull, and then all the way back and up to actually clip the bolt…it glistened tantalizingly three meters above, offering no feeling of security whatsoever. We both bailed, feeling totally discouraged.

After trying another 6a where I couldn’t physically do the first bouldery move, and barely finishing another that felt so exposed my heart was in my throat for the majority of the climb, I decided two things: a) this was probably going to be a disaster; and b) I’m not climbing any more 6a’s here!

Taking it up a notch

I was right about the latter, but not the former.  Since that first day, we have spent the majority of our time here projecting, and it turned out to be incredibly successful! Luckily, our favourite crag so far happens to be right by the road, in the shade all day, and stays dry in the rain (and we’ve had a few proper thunderstorms).

Roadside crags seem very popular in this area – the town of Omiš, around 25 km from Split. There are at least four such crags that we know of here. It’s incredibly convenient: no walk ins, a cooked lunch in the van and being able to use two ropes while projecting different routes is quite a luxury.

According to the guidebook, the town of Omiš financially supported bolting in the area since 1997, in the hope of making it a go-to destination for climbers. But from what we have seen, climbing is still a minor part of the tourism industry in this place. Far more popular are things like rafting, canyoning, zip-lining, or just plain old sitting around in bars and restaurants.

Anyhow, the majority of our time here so far has been spent at a crag called Vysoke Pole. After declaring war on 6a’s, Clay and I decided to take it up a notch, and try a 7b+ called Sex je precjenjen (Trans: Sex is overrated).

It turned out to be a beautiful route. Starting with a couple of hard fingery moves on thin (and slightly polished) holds, it then leads up through an easier section into progressive more and more pumpy climbing. A second crux leads into a slightly desperate tufa section, and the top is the cherry on the cake: by far the hardest moves on the whole route lead over a bulge to an easy finish. The first time I tried the top section, I nearly had a minor meltdown.

But five days, and ten attempts later, I sent it! It was a big breakthrough for me – my first 7b grade, and hopefully one of many.

W.A.S.P., 7a+; photo: @clayclaydon
W.A.S.P., 7a+; photo: @clayclaydon

Just like any other climb that I’ve projected in the past, it came together gradually until it suddenly didn’t feel that bad. I returned to it after a rest day, feeling confident that I had all the moves figured out. I thought I would warm up on the first, easier half of the climb, and then come down and hopefully send it on the second go. But once I got halfway up, I just kept going. I was well-rested, the moves felt good, and once I got through the tufa crux I knew there was no turning back. I made the mistake of wearing a jumper up and tried in vain to take it off just before the top crux, but thought better of it in the end.

And just like that, it was over. I love sending projects on the first go of the day, because I always think it’s just a practice run, and so never get nervous about it.

By this time, Clay had already started working on another route, having made quick work of the 7b+. And that same day, his new project went too! (Hašiš, 7c).

Also on that same day, we met a lovely German couple – Anna and Lukas – who have kept us company at the crag, and in the evenings over a beer.

Lukas on Hasis, 7c - photo @clayclaydon
Lukas on Hasis, 7c – photo @clayclaydon

We were beginning to miss having people around, having spent our time in Greece always around friends, so the timing was good. They both climb really hard and have a great attitude, so it’s a real inspiration for both of us. So after a bad start, Croatia has been delivering the goods!

All photos in this blog courtesy of @clayclaydon – follow him on Instagram for more photos of our big adventure!

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