For the last 10 days I have had the chance to spend my days in sunny Croatia with a group of extraordinary climbing people. We headed down to Dublin to catch our flight on Friday the 16th where the banter began in earnest, as it does. We grabbed our monopoly money from the airport in Zadar (Croatian money is called Kuna, and the cents are called Lipa. The exchange rate is awesome) and got in our rented cars to drive to a small town called Seline just outside Paklenica National Park. We arrived in the dark and got ready to climb the next day; I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time. The plan was to stay in Seline for a couple days and then move to a place called Omis for the rest of the week. Already we had an inkling that one of our drivers, a person I will call the Flying Dutchman, was going to be a bit terrifying to ride with. More on that later.
Today we awoke to this view- what’s not to love about that?! Our house is spacious and can’t be beat with this to wake up to every morning. We have a massive patio on which to spent many a sunny morning and warm evening.
Our first day of climbing dawned perfectly. We explored the food offerings of Seline (a few houses and a shop) for climbing snacks and headed into Paklenica National Park early, sorted our passes, and walked a ways up a beautiful valley to where the climbing started. We were sport climbing in Croatia, which is different than the type of climbing I usually do outside. Sport climbing involves clipping your rope into preexisting metal bolts that have been drilled into the rock to protect the individual routes on a wall. The bolts are usually a few meters apart, so you’re typically not going to fall too far if indeed you do fall.
The trees were turning colors and the sky was as blue as blue could be- the sky against the rock was gorgeous. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves!
I was a bit hesitant to lead routes straight away, so I top roped a couple just to get warmed up. The sport climbing grading system is different than the trad grading, so I wasn’t quite sure what I could lead climb in the first place. I was a bolt up on my first lead of the trip when we heard one of our group yelling in pain from the route he was climbing- not a sound you want to hear, especially not on the first route of the first day.
He was lowered down and you could see that he had messed up his knee pretty badly. Thankfully a nurse from England was walking by and was able to help get him sorted as we called for an ambulance. The crag we were at was accessible by vehicles, so the ambulance wasn’t long coming. The police arrived first, however, to take a statement and to make sure that a foreigner didn’t get hurt intentionally in their national park. They came up and asked, “What happened?” We all just kind of stared at them…. “He fell,” was the obvious answer!
One they arrived the Croatian EMTs did a nice job bouncing our poor buddy onto a gurney and over some pretty large rocks; unfortunately none of us were allowed to accompany him to the hospital, so we relied on our resident Eastern European (from Poland) to sort out the police report and hospital protocol. He ended up in the only hospital in Zadar, so we knew where to find him.
The rest of us kept climbing, as there wasn’t much else we could do to help. I lead a few routes and really enjoyed my first day sport climbing, despite the accident. The rock was great and it was fun to climb in such a gorgeous, new place!
We headed into Zadar that evening to learn the fate of our friend and, let me tell you, Croatian hospitals are grim.
Turns out he had dislocated his knee and we had missed visiting hours for the day, so we couldn’t check on the poor fellow this time. Sunset over the ocean was incredible and gave us something to look at while the Flying Dutchman did her best to careen us off the road. There was a lot of mental power going in to keeping our car on the road and in the right lane… We stopped by the grocery store to pick up food for the next couple days and a couple beers for the road were cracked just to calm the nerves.
Half the crew got up too early to start some crazy long multi pitches deeper in the heart of Paklenica, and the remaining four of us headed back in to conquer some routes. I struggled to figure out what was within my climbing range and what wasn’t- the grading system seems arbitrary, as I failed on something easy and sailed up something harder. Makes no sense to me, but still had a great day. Despite my frustrations the sun was out, I was warm, and there were plenty of puppies on the trail to adore! Two of the group went to visit the hospitalized one and sent back a report that he was in good spirits and wasn’t in too much pain.
A cute little souvenir shop in Paklenica provided beer which I drank and postcards which I wrote under a sunny rock looking at other climbers be awesome. The atmosphere here is great- lots of people around but not crowded, other climbers of all nationalities and genders and ages being friendly and passersby thinking you’re cool/crazy for climbing up a perfectly good rock. Plus, no one broke or dislocated anything today! Great success.
Back at the house we sat up, played games and generally enjoyed ourselves. The multi pitch crews got back happy and exhausted after their climbs and the Croatian vodka was cracked open. The weather forecast predicted rain, so a rest day was expected.
Bad Croatian vodka, bad! Rest day was good, because bad Croatian vodka made me feel like I got run over by a train. Or a truck. Or both. Took advantage of my rest day and woke up at 11, wondering why everyone was being so loud so early. Poor me! Recovery was slow but eventually things got on a more even keel. The mountains were misty and gloomy looking, much like the Mournes are sometimes.
We recovered our friend from the Croatian healthcare system and, with a quick stop for beer, had him sorted back out. He was ready and raring to go and, without a painkiller in sight, could drink to his wee heart’s content. He held no real malice for his belayer, who felt terrible that he had fallen (despite the fact that it was nowhere near his fault), but good natured teasing was passed about as per the usual.
We all got a bit antsy as the day went on and decided to take a trip to the local climbing shop in town. We had to wait for the shop to open so sat in a little cafe for a bit. Compared to everyone else we were very loud! And in comparison to the small town around us, we were definitely the loudest things there. The climbing shop was small but held many treasures, and I ended up with a great pair of new climbing shoes! I’ve been waiting a new pair for awhile now and, quite simply, could finally afford what Croatia was offering. Huzzah!
Walking back we went past the old ruin of a tower which was very cool, and naturally an attempt was made to climb it. Rocks were skipped over the ocean and we generally had a good, leisurely time on our day off.
All in all, not a bad day!
Day five was spent cleaning our flat and packing up to drive a few hundred kilometers to the town of Omis, our next pit stop. I was all for getting a few climbs in at Paklenica before we left (had a 5a I really wanted to lead, oh well) but we decided to drive to Omis first and find a close crag to climb before we found our new accommodation. There was nary a glimpse of the blue sky out our rear view window, and we were packed to the gills with bags and climbing gear.
The drive was long and a bit scary, but suitable road trip snacks (fun fact: Croatian gummy bears are called Wummies) were had and a road beer was passed around at particularly harrowing moments. Apparently tunnels were big and scary for the Flying Dutchman, as was any car that passed us on the road. However, the Croatian motorway was big and lovely and had hardly any traffic at all. Croatian radio is surprisingly awesome! Also, casual note to drivers: if you are already unused to being behind the wheel and have a habit of swerving whenever your eyes are off the road even for a second, you are not allowed to sight see no matter how beautiful stuff is outside the car. I’m in no way, shape or form peeved about the transportation. Nope. Not a bit.
The scenery got distinctly more arid with red rocks and red dirt all around. We drove on some seriously narrow small town roads through places brimming with grape vines, massive front gardens, fruit trees and all sorts of other green things- it looked like the south of Italy, from what I know of the south of Italy. We descended towards the ocean and Omis and there was even a castle! I love me a good castle.
Omis was a far cry from Seline- it was bustling and vibrant, quite obviously a tourist center and bigger city than Seline certainly was. People flocked to an outdoor market and sat at outdoor cafes, sipping coffee and enjoying each other’s company and the sun. There were also many ships of all shapes and sizes in the harbor, which were fun to look at!
After a brief altercation with a missed stop sign and oncoming traffic we finally were safely parked near a crag just outside of the city center. The place was called Planovo, and it was suuuuuunnnyyyy! We deposited our injured buddy on a bench where he tanned the day away.The rock was great and I tried on my fancy new climbing shoes, which hurt so good. I led a few routes and really enjoyed being outside.
Our new digs looked like this- and at the top of the mountain, to boot! More Croatian adventures to follow in the next post 🙂