“You never climb the same mountain twice, not even in memory. Memory rebuilds the mountain, changes the weather, retells the jokes, remakes all the moves.”
More often than not, in my personal experience, if one were to analyze my feelings while climbing a multi-pitch route on a moment-by-moment basis I’m probably not exactly having “fun.” In fact, I may actually be miserable. Sometimes you are cold at a belay station, shivering and dreading leading the next pitch with frozen fingers, other times your skin just hurts and sometimes you have quite a few rappels to go while you are baking on the side of a rock in the summer heat. (I really can’t complain, I haven’t done anything very extreme and don’t mean to make it sound like i have, but I certainly have done my fair share of complaining and what’s the fun of having a blog if you can’t complain a little bit!)
But, the satisfaction of executing a beautiful move well or of topping-out always seems to dull these longer, often drawn out feelings of discomfort and even suffering during which you are vowing to yourself to never climb again so long as you can get yourself out of this situation safely and back to the warm comfort of normal life. (or maybe that’s just me…)
Reflecting on the longer multi-pitch routes that we did in Paklenica is a bit of a biased exercise; I remember the suffering ,but what I really value are those “golden” moments when it is all worth it.
Those “golden” moments stand out most on the routes “50 and life to go” , “Big Wall Speed Climbing” , “Diagonalka” and “Mosoraski”, all of which are classic climbs in Paklenica and on which I had moments of dread and doubt overshadowed by moments of satisfaction, accomplishment and utter joy. Here is the story of one of those routes.
It is easy to get intimidated by Anića Kuk. At 712 meters, it is Paklenica’s most colossal rock face, a grand buttress on which many climbers have played. It is not the world’s grandest nor most spectacular piece of limestone, but it is utterly beautiful and offers a wide variety of routes in different styles that make any experience memorable. In Croatia, the rock is absolutely legendary and a must do for anyone visiting the area. I knew I wanted to do at least one or two routes on Anica Kuk before leaving, though I wasn’t sure which one.
Many of the older routes on Anića Kuk are sandbagged (harder than the grade suggests) and run-out and I was nervous that we would get in over our head if we tried something hard and long. Also, a lot of the routes only have one or 2 hard pitches in the middle of 8 other pitches of a much easier grade. I was looking for something long yet sustained, but not so hard that I wouldn’t be able to finish it.
Enter “50 and life to go” the newest route on Anića Kuk. The climb is seven pitches long and goes at the respectable grade of 6c (11b), though most piches are 6b+ (11a). What appealed to us about the route was that there was only one pitch below 6b+, and so the climbing was continuously engaging but not too challenging, providing a good first taste-tester of the climbing on Anića Kuk.
The route was bolted by Boris Čujić , a legendary Croatian climber who has bolted the majority of the climbs in Paklenica and on Anića Kuk. Boris did so with his partner Ivica Matković on Boris’ 50th birthday (hence the name). I sure hope that when I am 50 I am doing something half as badass and as fulfilling as opening a new line on a remarkable piece of rock.
50 and life to go is on the north face of Anića Kuk and thus always is in the shade. On a hot balmy day ,this would have made for perfect conditions. Unfortunately, the day that we chose to do it was anything but hot or balmy. The temperatures were reasonable but we were met with a cold wind that locals call the “bura.” A few nights before our climb we had our first experience with the fabled “bura” as it howled and whistled, accompanied by claps of thunder and flashes of lightning, during a particularly fierce storm that kept the whole camp up all night long. After that night, everyone at camp Marko began to make jokes about the “bura bura” playing with the name of one of the hardest routes in the world – the “dura dura” or “hard hard” in Spanish. Fast-forward a few days and I was shivering on a hanging belay, cursing the damn bura and wanting to get off of the wall as soon as possible. As always, looking back on the climb in my warm, toasty home thoughts of the bura are over-shadowed by my most prominent memory- topping out to a view of the valley of Paklenica on one side and the Adriatic sea on the other, with the strong sun hitting my back, warming my core and thawing my cold hands. The sensation of being absolutely miserable for a few hours and being rewarded with such an absolute sense of accomplishment paired with a comfort so strikingly exaggerated due to the previous hours of discomfort created an even more profound sense of satisfaction, though such a discomfort was never so extreme as to cause any danger. That was a sweet balancing act of conflcting feelings and I definitely was caught in the emotional high it created after I knew the tough stuff was behind me.
So, how was the actual climbing?
The first pitch was very mediocre with choss and loose holds, but that was the exception. Afterwards, the climbing only improved; the route began to overhang slightly and the rock quality was vastly better on each pitch. My partner and I swapped leads and he ended up climbing the 6c crux pitch (which in the cold felt more like 7a) and I climbed most of the 6b+ pitches. It was hard to say what distinguished the 6c from the 6b+ pitches as they were very similar- pumpy, long and more resistance focused, lacking one defined crux.
To get off of Anica Kuk you walk off the top to join the hiker’s route and end up back in the valley. I definitely prefer walking off to rappeling, but that day I was pretty damn trashed. The cold very much affects me and by the time we made it back to the car my head was hazy and all I could think about was getting a coffee at the local café. The coffee re-energized me but by no means did it replenish me. The next day I demanded we take a rest and my partner, seemingly always psyched, begrudgingly agreed to such a demand.
A quick side note to discuss our rest day at another national park in Paklenica in the “Krka” national Park, so named after the river Krka which it encloses. The park is large, vast and beautiful ( though a bit difficult to navigate with confusing signage and long distances between sights). It was especially interesting to visit during such an abnormally wet year, when the river was raging powerfully beneath our feet and walking on the nicely placed planks over the river was quite a humbling reminder as to how powerful water can really be. This was our second rest-day outing to a national park. Previously we had also gone to Plitvice National Park, arguably Croatia’s most famous, and were met there with a similar feeling of awe at the natural wonders of the place yet dismay at the large amounts of people impacting the park (of which we were a part of) and humility when watching the torrent of waters flood hiking paths.Here in California, we are currently in an extremely severe drought which seems to be getting worse and worse by the day. The snow-pack is dismal and we haven’t seen any significant rain in three or four years. Watching the waterfalls at the Krka flood into the basin below was an awe-inspiring moment that made me realize that while water is essential and precious to all life, it can be as equally destructive and dangerous in both excess and scarcity…