“Danas penji, sutra stenji – Climbing today, suffering tomorrow”- climbing quote which originated in Paklenica National Park
While visiting family, drinking an excess amount of bosanska kafa and traveling the countryside with my Dad was plenty fulfilling and entertaining, thoughts of my next destination were lingering in my mind, feeding off of my growing excitement…
I was itching to head to Paklenica National Park in Croatia to go climbing on the massive limestone walls that up to this point I had only seen in pictures.
Now I have some pictures (and stories) of my own to share…
Paklenica National Park is one of eight of Croatia’s national parks and a UNESCO heritage site. Biologically, it is a special place; it is one of the largest tracts of un-distrurbed forest on the Dalmatian coast and due to its large elevation gradient houses a large amount of biodiversity, much of it consisting of endemic species. As a gorge, its geology is also interesting. Limestone cliffs jut out at all corners and rise above the canyon at a height of up to 700 meters.
Paklenica is enjoyed by al kinds of nature lovers; hikers, cavers and mountain bikers all enjoy escaping the city and heading to this unique gorge. However, the park is especially loved by climbers and has a rich history of mountaineering.
I first learned of Paklenica while researching about climbing areas in Croatia, interested in its scene in general since I knew I would visit the country again (I had been twice beforehand) due to the proximity of my family and my personal heritage. What drew me to the area was the fact that Paklenica is particularly well-known for being a mecca of sport-climbing mulit-pitch routes. It has routes up to 350 meters (10-11 pitches) of all kinds of difficulty and almost all are bolted. For awhile now I had been dreaming of combining the best of both sport and trad climbing in the form of sport multi-pitches; so out of the many interesting climbing areas I found in Croatia, the limestone big walls of Paklenica where what particularly piqued my interest.
In my heart, I am a sport-climber. I am addicted to the inevitable emotional rush that floods my head when I step onto a route that, for whatever reason, inspires and motivates me to the point where my brain focuses all of its energy on one thing- the movement. I am hard-pressed to think of any other time in my life where I have been more focused on the present moment, or even on one task or thing in particular. In our hyperactive, hyperstimulated world full of smart phones, beeping devices, cars, television and endless distractions, I think this kind of refuge and solitude is hard to find and most don’t gt the chance to experience it. As Chris Sharma said of the moment when he climbed “Es Pontas” (the legendary deep-water solo route) “nothing else exists.” I find that the feeling is only intensified when I am trying something that is right at my limit, a route that I will only send if I execute each move perfectly and am mentally strong. Personally, I have only ever achieved this emotion while sport-climbing since I am really only comfortable with entering this “zone” when I have steel bolts backing me up, since falling becomes a likely consequence. Maybe it will happen one day with trad-climbing, but I have my suspicions that this is something that, at least for me, is unique to sport climbing. However, I love the long-days associated with trad climbing; I like hiking miles for the approach and spending all day on the rock; I like the adventure and the intense connection and interaction with nature that trad-climbing tends to provide. So, you can understand that the idea of pushing myself hard for 6-10 pitches in a row may be just the mix I am looking for. I was eager to test the waters.
Paklenica is located about an hour north of Zadar, right off of the main highway and a 5 minute drive from “Starigrad-Paklenica”, the nearby town. In Starigrad you can find accomodation in the form of a hotel room, an apartment or a campsite. The campsites are particularly climber oriented and most include the use of a kitchen and a bathroom for a small fee.
My climbing partner and I set up shop at “Camp Marko” which, for 6 euros a night, gets you a campsite, access to a good bathroom and a kitchen. It is also located right along the road that leads to the main entrance.
When you get to Paklenica you have to pay a fee to get in. You can buy a single day pass, a 2 day pass, a 3 day pass, a 5 day pass or a year pass. The price is reasonable and goes to maintaining the park.
Immediately as you enter the park you notice that it is quite well-organized and obviously very oriented around tourism. There is a souvenir shop immediately off of the very nicely maintained stone path that winds through the park. Signs indicating distance and maps are pretty abundant. Specific to climbers- and a testament to the importance climbing has to the park in general- there are many signs indicating nearby sectors and there are also lots of plaques on some routes themselves that makes route-finding easy and lets you orient yourself to the sector as a whole. I have to admit that I find this a little bit over the top and kind of tacky- they sure don’t have nice little signs in Yosemite- but it was definitely a useful tool and made me spend more time climbing and less time route-finding.
Paklenica is actually split up into two parks, Velika Paklenica (“big paklenica”) and Mala Paklenica (“Small Paklenica”). Velika Paklenica is the most popular part and there, as far as I know, are no routes in Mala Paklenica. (at least none that show up in the guide book!). In Velika Paklenica a beautiful stream ( the name of which I can’t seem to find anywhere) runs right along the path.
Speaking of the guidebook, there is one guidebook available for sale at the souvenir shop and in the local “Iglu Sport” in Starigrad-Paklenica. You can probably find it in most climbing shops in Croatia (though I don’t think there are too many), and I picked mine up at the Iglu Sport located in Split. The guide seems confusing at first and doesn’t offer too much informatino about how necessary trad gear is on certain of the older routes, but you get used to its organization quickly and it is an invaluable resource.
Paklenica is split up into various canyons, the largest being the “Klanci” area which contains most of the single pitch routes.
In Klanci you can find routes from 5.6-5.14+, so you have a pretty diverse set of options. On our first day, we decided that the best thing to do would be to do some single pitch climbing in Klanci to get to know the rock-type, the grading and the place. It was a pretty warm day, so we chased the shade on the west-facing rock in the morning at an area right near the parking lot (as is all of Klanci), called Olimp.
After doing four routes there I drew two conclusions: this place is a little bit sand-bagged (aka the routes are harder than the grade; though it was only our first day so I was also thinking this may be due to me just being a little bit out of shape/it being a new place- more on this later) and the rock is more than a little sharp. Ouch, that stuff hurt! I have never known of limestone to be so sharp but after consulting the guidebook I found a small paragraph which explains that the limestone here tends to be compact , lending it to be more abrasive than other limestone. It also forms some very interested “water streak” patterns that I hadn’t seen anywhere else. I was using a lot of “big” pinches that seemed to me like weird, sharp yet not very deep tufas.
After lunch we decided to do a nice easy multi-pitch on the now sun-baked wall, Kuk od Skanderlin, over the parking lot. It was two pitches of 6a (5.10b), which were both easy and fun but that certainly did nothing to change my mind about the abrasive nature of the rock.
We also took the time to go down to Starigrad for some coffee along the beach. Like much of the Croatian coast, the area is stunning but does not compare to the more spectacular sights in Istria and to the south of Croatia. The beaches were nice and the sunsets were gorgeous, but it was nothing to write home about when comparing it to other parts of the Dalmatian coast. Still, I was not complaining and the proximity of the ocean and the mountains was a unique encounter I thoroughly enjoyed.
For the next few days our goal was to do short multi-pitches at our level to get to know the rock before we dived into the deep-end of climbing the longer lines on the prominent faces like Anica Kuk, Paklenica’s biggest wall, and Debeli Kuk. We had a few blunders, like getting off-route, but after three days we had sampled a decent amount of the climbing and felt we were ready to tackle bigger objectives. Unfortunately, the weather started to take a turn for the worse, forcing us to flee to another more sheltered crag called Karin, found about an hour away. We ended up going to Karin for two days over the course of the entire trip.
Having only spent two days at Karin at one sector, I don’t feel quite qualified to speak on its virtues and downfalls, but I will say that I had a good time there and it is a good alternative to Paklenica when it is raining. (Often times Karin is more sheltered from the rain and wind). While driving to Karin you pass by the Velebit mountain range (of which Paklenica is a part of) and we were able to catch some spectacular vistas both times we made the journey.
After four days in Paklenica, I was fully enthralled with the place, its scenery, and as usual the local climbers. Though, as the days went by, I was more and more mesmerized by the imposing face of Anica Kuk. One day we found a small, lush meadow tucked away at the back of the park which was the perfect place to lay among the grass and gaze at the proud, astounding and overwhelming wall. I imagined myself as a small, insignificant and temporary speck of an addition to its beauty, crawling up the wall like many climbers did before and many will after me. Needless to say, the source of all of this poetic language was one over-used and not so flowery word – “psyche.”
Next, the stories of the giants!