OF COURSE, WE ALL KNOW THAT CAPTAIN SULLY LANDED SAFELY FROM MUCH BIGGER HEIGHT. HOWEVER, LANDING SAFELY FROM 20 METERS STRAIGHT INTO BOULDERS UNDERNEATH A ROUTE REQUIRES DIFFERENT NAVIGATION SKILLS…
TEXT: ALESAK PROCHAZKA PHOTOS: ALESAK, STANDA MITAC TRANSLATION: TOMAS ROZTOCIL COPYEDIT: BARA SOJKOVA | OCTOBER 2020
CLIMBING IN THE STERILE AGE
Climbing is becoming a mass sport – from the office straight to the climbing gym. These guys don’t care whether they are spending their evenings climbing, indoor cycling, playing squash, or in a gym. Their sole motivation is to sweat out the stress of nearing deadlines they’re failing to meet and bosses they cannot stand. The sport helps them to get ready for their crying children, frustrated wives and husbands, and the bad news from television. Yeah… life’s not fair.
In our sterile age, we like our climbing sporty and safe. No big whippers, no grounders, no risk. However, there is still a bunch of climbers who seek more than following a clear line of tightly spaced bolts up to the summit. Such lines seem to them as fulfilling as hours in a gym on a treadmill… they need more – a game challenging both body and mind. They look for routes that offer a cocktail of feelings such as insecurity, respect, and which need a considerable portion of self-control and rational assessment of one’s abilities.
The “experts” on these routes divide them according to possible outcomes of falling into “bold routes” and “X routes” (in Czech, we usually call those “murder routes”). But how to define these two rough categories precisely? Let’s try a simile. “A bold route” is like running 5 km in minus 50 °C somewhere in Siberia. While “X route” is like running 5 km in 50 °C somewhere middle eastern desert, completely naked.
perhaps one sling.
If I survive, I’ll need a drink.”
STEPS TO EXCLAMATION MARK
The bold routes are often long, and include lengthy and awkward runouts. Falling in them is not the best idea. Typical whipper in these lines usually takes 15-20 meters of airtime and you end up hanging a meter above ground. When I see a crux in such a route, high above the last protection, I usually spend some time thinking about the beta which would take me past the crux. When I feel confident about my solution, I’ll just go for it. I feel butterflies in my stomach. Any moment, I expect the scene to speed up and the solid holds to disappear somewhere high above me as I fly into the depths. Faster and faster. Then finally, a yank of the rope as it tightens in the piece of protection underneath, and when I am lucky, a soft catch by an experienced belayer. In such a case, I’d have to do it all again and come up with a better program. But the feeling when I get past that point is priceless – a huge wave of euphoria engulfing myself and everything around me.
With X Routes, however, you need to step your game up. Scanty protection and long and deadly runouts are its basic building blocks. I’m not talking here about uncomfortable feelings two meters above the last ringbolt. The Routes X are objectively dangerous. If you fall, you can often take a grounder resulting in serious injuries or even death. In local climbing guides, these are marked with adjectives “non-protected”, “poorly-protected”, or simply with an exclamation mark. These are not the routes that you should just go for blindly – nobody sends them without assessing the risk beforehand. You have to carefully think through every single move that cannot be taken back. When you feel that it’s not the day to climb the route, you have to be patient and put off the attempt until next time. Sometimes, the right time will come but other times you have to realise that the route is just not for you.
Disclaimer: Take the grades of the following routes with a pinch of salt – they’re the creme de la creme of bold routes even in the context of Adršpach, which is already an area known for its adventurous, unprotected routes.
…which are worth taking. Adrspach
EXAMPLES OF BOLD ROUTES
Stezka Pro Krávy, V (approx 4b fr.) (Efendi tower, Adršpach)
Petr, a climber from Adršpach: “I remember that I was introducing Zuzka to climbing back then. I had promised her that we would climb some nice and easy grade five crack. Just as I started this one, I realised I made a huge mistake. I finally got to the chimney opening at its end, clipped in, sat down gleefully, and started belaying. I think I made quite an impression with the route choice, though. We started dating soon after that traumatic event and today we even have a baby…”
Jony, a climber from Adršpach: “When I climbed that route (solo), I thought about using that permanent sling which hangs there, surprisingly low above the ground. But then I realised it would be just a pointless distraction.”
Vlnitá, VIIa! (5c fr.) (Šavle tower, Adršpach)
Petr: “I’m glad that I’ve climbed this route, but I think I’m happy with doing it just once in my life. At first, I wondered about the exclamation mark behind the grade but then I concluded that I can climb much harder grades. The weather was nice, even if a bit windy. When I got to that wide chimney in the lower part, I felt like it would blow me off. The ring was not easy to clip either and then it was still a long way up to the anchor and the quality of rock was not so good. This route changed my mind about grade VIIa in Adršpach – I feel much more respect towards there routes since then.
Jony: “I was just praying that no wind would come while I was climbing that wide chimney. The route’s nice, quite bold, and definitely not easy. And the grade? Well, I think that VIIa is a bit of an understatement in this case.”
Josef Rakoncaj, a climbing hero from K2: “I just climbed in on the soft end of the rope, and I personally don’t know anybody who would lead it.”
A crack specialist David “Bobr” Obročník: “I haven’t climbed it but my brother did. I think it has around two two climbs a year, maximum.”
The local legend Petr Prachtel: “Zorka, my wife, climbed it without breaking sweat – so it cannot be a VIIc. I’d downgrade it to VIIb.” (Zorka Prachtelová was the first woman to climb this hard and crumbly offwidth. This year we informed about the third ascent of Anca Sebestikova, editor’s note)
“The youngsters are all about adrenaline these days but when you offer them some, they suddenly don’t like it.” Standa Lukavský
Petr, a climber from Adršpach: “This route actually became a big chapter of my climbing life. It’s both a physical and mental challenge. Definitely one of the routes that you keep walking around for years, waiting for the right moment to climb it. I dreamed about this route for about five years and when I finally sent it, it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.“
Alešák’s perspective: “Climbers keep walking around certain routes – year after year, they check if the lines are still there, and whether or not they still look so imposing. Some of them would eventually find the courage to send them. Others wait forever. Berušky was exactly that kind of route for me. Occasionally, I walked past it, regarded with respect and went on. It took me about four years to jam my hands into the crack. A friend of mine fell the previous year under the first ring – it was such a long fall that I even managed to take a photo of him flying. When I got the top, I was totally drunk with happiness. It’s one of the biggest lines I’ve ever climbed in Adršpach, but I don’t think I ever want to repeat this one.”
Makak tries „Berušky“.
Makak falls in „Berušky“.
Orlí Spára, VIIb! (6a fr.) (Orel tower, Adršpach)
Random conversation overheard in a local pub: “Standa, why the hell have you not put a ring there?”
The author of the route, great crack climber Standa “Cikán” Lukavský: “What for? You have your hands jammed in the crack!”
Alešák’s perspective: “It’s a beautiful line but there’s no protection altogether, so my friend and I just soloed it and took a rope for abseiling. Anyway, if you have some experience with cracks, you jam your hands into this one and you realise there’s no need to fall.”
Local legend Standa “Cikán” Lukavský (overheard in a pub): “The youngsters are all about adrenaline these days but when you offer them some, they suddenly don’t like it.”
Jony, a climber from Adršpach: “When I was in the lower part, I hesitated whether or not I should place a knot protection there – I thought that it might create too much friction for the upper part. But then I decided to stay on the safe side and placed one. Fortunately. A few meters above it, one of the holds crumbled as I reached for it. The final chimney of this one is quite special as well. You’re high above the last protection and it suddenly narrows down to an awkward offwidth crack. I think that everybody who climbed that route would agree that it’s not so easy to breath up there.”
Alešák’s perspective: “I knew too well where you could make a mistake in that route and from which point you had to go with an absolute confidence. The ground fall zone begun around 8 meters under the ring. My heart pounded a bit harder and faster with each move I made towards it. And then there’s the final wide crack… not easy and around 15 meters above the ring. I had to talk my friend into belaying me because my girlfriend couldn’t watch me climbing it – she was sitting nearby under a tree and never looked up.”
TO PASS THE JOY
One thing is for sure – some of these guys have a very special sense of humour. The adjectives with which they describe some of these “deadly” routes to their friends over a beer include:
“quite an interesting route,”
and even: “you’re gonna love it.”
Despite all the dangers and darkness waiting in these routes, not many fatal accidents happen in them. As the saying goes: “Different strokes for different folks.” And these folks choose their routes carefully. It’s all about not making mistakes. Then, they’re safe.
So maybe there is some justice in this world after all…
Loves the pulse of metropolis. Amazed by technical progress… Watches the latest fashion. Never misses any cultural event or social intercourse. Reads newspaper daily, follows financial market. (smiling)
Editor in chief
“Climbing is not about the grades and life is not about the money.”
He loves to write about inspiring people.
Addicted to situations when he does not care about the time – in the mountains or sandstone crags.