Generally, I don’t have a big issue taking falls on a (relatively safe) sport route. That is certainly not to say that I have a strong head all of the time, but I’d say I am most confident and comfortable while on the sharp end of a sport-route. My confidence tends to grow when I find the route inspirational or motivational, so I wasn’t really anticipating too many problems in Paklenica, since I was so excited to climb as much as possible. However, for whatever reason I wasn’t able to muster up the somewhat dismal amount of mental armor I protect myself with while climbing during my first few bouts of sport multi-pitch climbing in Paklenica. Perhaps this is because, prior to Croatia, I associated multi-pitch routes with easy to moderate trad climbing; I never really considered falling on a multi-pitch route, except for the few instances when I lead something hard for me at Lover’s Leap in Tahoe over the summer. Although the systems are essentially the same, having my belayer on the wall versus on the ground got to me; for some reason I had some crazy fear that if I fell, since my partner was anchored to the wall and not firmly standing on the ground, it was more dangerous and something out of a horror story would happen.. AKA my partner’s anchor would explode and send him tumbling to a tragic death.. Since my principal motivation was to combine my ability to give it my all while sport-climbing with the longer days of multi-pitch climbing, I knew that if I were really going to appreciate this trip I needed to get over this completely irrational hesitance and fear. To do this, I needed to get on something hard.
One-day we picked up a Scottish couple who were hitch-hiking from the park entrance to the nearby town, Starigrad-Paklenica. They were raving enthusiastically about a route they had done called “Big Wall Speed Climbing” a 200 meter, six pitch climb on Debeli Kuk. The pitches are : 5c (33m), 6a+ (22m), 6c+ (43m), 4a (20m), 6b (42m) and 5b. The reason it is called “Big Wall Speed Climbing” is because it is the route that competitors climb in the Big Wall Speed Climbing competiton at Paklenica (though they skip the last pitch) that is held every spring. During the route, competitors have to clip the anchors and cannot simul climb (aka climb simultaneously) . With such rules I was stunned to find out that the current record is an astonishing fifteen minutes! FIFTEEN MINUTES to do 160 meters of climbing, with no simul climbing! No one at Camp Marko even got close when I asked for guesses on the speed record; needless to say we were all blown away. Now, I didn’t have any lofty goals concerning record-breaking on my mind, but the idea of leading the 43 meter 6c+ pitch highly appealed to me. I had heard it was hard and figured since the route was a classic and well-bolted, it would be a good challenge for my head but nothing that would throw me for a total loop. My partner agreed it would be fun and was nice enough to let me lead the hard pitch. As usual, we swapped leads so I climbed the 6c+ and 6b.
I was definitely not on top of my mental game; I was scared from the get go, even though if this were a single pitch climb neither the bolting nor the moves would have intimidated me. I was able to onsight the entire climb up until the very last, hard move. It involved throwing for a side-pull off of some very bad glassy feet. I swallowed my fear, hesitated and went for it, but fell. Granted, the bolt was right at my feet, but I felt good about having gone for the move and having taken my first real multi-pitch fall. I was bummed about not having on-sighted the pitch, but simultaneously was proud of having gone for it. Really, it wasn’t that big of a deal (at all), but it was good to get the damn thing over with once and for all and shake it from my mind.
Some other classic climbs we did included “Diagonalka” which was also on the Debeli Kuk face. Diagonalka gets a grade of 6a+ (10b) , and we decided to do it with our Slovenian friend and honorary Camp Marko manager, Tine, as a party of three. We did this with two ropes, which I had never dealt with before. Well, scratch that.. I have climbed with two ropes before but I have only done it one other time, on the three pitch 5.9 climb “Commitment” in Yosemite Valley. The difference here was that we only brought up those 2 ropes because we were a party of three, and I never actively clipped with the two ropes, I had one dragging down as I was leading so it really didn’t get in my way.
Now, rope and anchor systems just aren’t my cup of tea. It has always been hard for me to wrap my head around the physics and mechanics of the whole situation, but I welcome the challenge even though sometimes I’m so slow at figuring the whole thing out that I get very, very frustrated with myself. With that being said, I can barely manage one rope, and so throwing in another just confused me and made my anchor morph quickly into a rat’s nests that my poor partner had to constantly help me untangle… basically, I’m not sold on the whole two ropes thing, unless it is entirely necessary. However, this stems more from my inability to handle multiple concepts at a single time than from the actual utility of using two ropes, which actually seems pretty high. As my new roommate and some new climbing friends have just convinced me (over some chocolate and tea…) I’ll learn to love it soon enough, maybe…
Actually , it was on Debeli Kuk where we did the most routes. Besides “Diagonalka” and “Big Wall Speed Climbing” we also tried “Senza Pieta” a 6b+ (5.11a) that is best-known for its crux traverse pitch. While it seems intimidating, the crux really isn’t that hard as long as you traverse low, as you typically should in any traverse. In fact, some wet holds made the first pitch (6a , when dry) WAY harder than the traverse, so comparatively the 6b+, while not totally dry, was a piece of cake.
I actually very much enjoyed all three of the routes that we did on Debeli Kuk and would highly recommend them all. It was also nice to have done a diverse range of routes from the easier 6a+ of Diagonalka, the more moderate 6b+ of Senza Pieta (though I really wouldn’t give that pitch 5.11a) and the harder “Big Wall Speed Climbing.”
Since we spent so much time on Debeli Kuk, I figured I would designate a special blog post just to these three climbs. Stay tuned for a post about “Mosoraski”, the most classic and most often-done route on Anica Kuk, and for a brief photo post summing up the trip in general, including what we did on those occasional rest days..
By the way, just so my faithful readers know “Debeli” means “fat” in Croatian. “Kuk” technically means “hip” (as in, the part of the body.. not that adjective that people use to describe me all of the time), but according to Tine it is also used, pretty much exclusively in Paklenica, to describe these limestone towers I had so much fun climbing on.
Well, “fat hip” , it sure was fun.