Mind the Crack

19. 02. 2020, Vašek Krejčí

You’ve probably heard this line before: “Yeah, that’s a nice one. Go for it. I’m sure you’ll like it. There might be some runouts but nothing insidious. You can always find some holds and place slings as well.”  That’s the sort of advice my climbing teacher, Jarmila, gave me about the infamous “Parrot Crack” (Papouščí spára, VIIc, „6a fr.“) at the Parrot tower in Adršpach.

She went on: “People think that this “Parrot Crack” by Richter is hard… but that’s just a myth. In fact, it’s just another classic Adršpach route, nothing special. I remember climbing it in 1978 with my friend Zdena. We took some old work gloves and wrapped our wrists in duct tape. I lead the first pitch – it’s quite a trek. I tried to place some knots into the corner crack but failed. Then, somebody shouted from below: “Don’t bother with it and just climb on.” Hmm… so I did, and a few moments later, there I was clipping the first ring. Zdena then climbed the final slab without any problems.”

This year, I got quite confident about my climbing skills. I’ve sent some pretty interesting routes, some of which Jarmila hasn’t ever tried. To name one – the famous “Whiplash” VIIIb, „6b fr“. (See eMontana video). After talking to Jarmila, I decided to go check the “Parrot.” “It’s a mere VIIc and I am already a big sandstone climber,” I thought. The season was nearing its end and I already climbed some nice cracks that summer. Yes… my sling placing skills are miserable and I seldom trust the knots I place, but Jarmila told me that she didn’t place any into the crack anyway, so why bother… And the UFOs? Forget about that. Jarmila did it without those, and so can I!

I scrutinize the route… it looks pretty good, but wait… where’s the ring? Oh… there it is. At least twenty, maybe twenty-five meters off the ground and just beneath it, there’s a small overhang with a sort of a cave. It doesn’t look too hard but there seems to be quite a scary no-escape zone. I inspect the crack for five minutes and imagine desperately trying to clip in the ring too soon… my heart is thumping. Not today. Honestly, I don’t feel good about that route. I’m not gonna climb it!

Then the beginning of the semester came, and with the finals approaching, I had to forget about the wild sandstone adventures for a while. Time to grind some training routines in the climbing gym.

The night before the exam, I couldn’t sleep. I had a pretty weird dream, in which I was frustrated that I haven’t sent the “Parrot Crack” yet, so I decided to try it. I took my UFOs with me and I started climbing. I was freaking out, but I finally managed to place both of those UFOs just under the scary overhang. I clipped the ring without any issues. It even felt quite easy. Suddenly I felt so bitter and ashamed. I woke up. For 50th time that night. This route just doesn’t let me sleep properly! I guess I’ll have to try it next year. I can feel adrenaline rush just thinking about it. Psychosomatics in practice…

It’s funny. Two girls climb “Parrot Crack” some thirty years ago and this egoist guy, who thinks he trained enough in the gym, cannot sleep for the whole winter. Will I finally get some sleep next summer? Let’s see. Maybe the faith that all is going to turn out well, will get me to the top once again, and remind me why I climb rocks anyway.

Pete Whittaker climbing up to the first ring (photo: Jan Šimánek)

The Rotten Tooth

12. 02. 2020, Jakub Vondra

The majestic Dragon Tooth (Dračí zub) is one of the most famous rock towers in Skalak, Czech Paradise. Among the routes leading to the top of this spire is “The Secret Route” (“Tajná cesta”). Such a mysterious and poetic name of the route is quite tempting. It was first climbed almost a century ago by Josef Baudyš, Václav Náhlovský, and Karel Čabelka, and the grade is as low as III (3 fr., III UIAA). We’ve heard the warnings but decided to ignore them as mere superstitions. Follow us on our voyage through the darkness of this humbling route.

Our little expedition consists of three members – my girlfriend Míša, my good friend Matouš, and myself. Matouš leads the first pitch, which starts with an off-width crack, without breaking a sweat. Nothing unusual so far. Now, we should climb into a very narrow inner chimney, which leads all the way to the top.

And that’s when the real fun starts. We find ourselves in a small cave wondering how to get up there. It’s dark in here and all we can see is quite an uninviting off-width. We just probably lack some imagination to see where the route leads. It’s time to realize that the rumors might have been right. The only way up starts with several risky moves in a narrowing chimney and disappears up in the dark.

It doesn’t look particularly inviting, but I tie in anyway, trying to calm myself with the fact that it’s only a grade three. It eventually has to get easier! I manage to stuff my body into the hole – when I try to breathe, the sharp grains grate my skin, and I cannot even see what comes next because I jammed my head into the crack sideways. My stomach churns but I decide to continue anyway. The higher, the worse – I start to fight for every single millimeter.

As the chimney gets even tighter, I realize I have no other chance… Somehow, I manage to take off my harness and tie it to my ankle – it hangs below me as I continue snaking my way up. Finally, something that makes me smile – I find a brand-new climbing shoe! I’m still afraid that I’m going to die here in a very slow and terrible way, rotting like a cavity in this rock tooth. I suddenly appreciate all the airy routes, that made me scared of falling.

The Light! I feel like a mole that just crawled out of its hole. Or like a child being born. I even find a ring! Now the tricky part – getting back to your harness 20 meters off the ground is not so funny, but somehow, I manage.

A few moves later, I appreciate the safety of the harness, as my chest gets stuck in the chimney once again and I barely manage to squeeze myself through. I don’t even tie the sling around the hourglass under the top of the tower – I just focus on not getting sick on the climbers below.

I’m alive! I’m alive, and I don’t have to climb this horrible route ever again!

Now it’s Míša’s time to enjoy the route – I’ve never heard her screaming and yelling like that before, even though we’ve been through a lot together. She eventually gives up and manages to get back to the first ring. Matouš seems to be having just as much fun as I did, going through the whole harness episode. He made it! We shake hands, swearing that since this very moment we’re not going to climb any route easier than grade six. On our way down, we pick up Míša, who’s been waiting for salvation at the first ring.

Sure, I would recommend the route… as an ideal training to all the spelunkers, as a delight to all the masochists, and as a shock therapy to all the people with claustrophobia.

The sacrifice (photo: Jakub Vondra)