Maybe it was Alex Huber who made this area so hard and true to grades. In the 90s, he made several 9a routes in the area that had been waiting for years to be repeated. With a pinch of salt: “these lines were waiting for Adam Ondra to grow and send them.” If you asked Adam what his last year’s best sport-climbing achievement was, he would reply “Warmduscher”, which is a route located in the cult Austrian area, Schleier Wasserfall.
He managed to climb this hard-to-read 8c+ on-sight and this week he was awarded the “Ascent of the Year” from the Czech Mountaineering Association (ČHS) for it. (You can find the complete list of the awards at the following link) What is the story behind this extraordinary climb which he made last July? And what does he allows himself to know and learn about a route if he wants to log it as a true “OS”? You will learn all of that and more in the following interview.
Can you describe the route a bit? I was recommended this variant by a local climber, Christian Pointner. You start off with the 8c route “Fight Club” which is located right in the middle of Scheier Wasserfall, you climb 15 meters up to a ledge, from which you link to a 15-meter-long endurance climb, and then you continue slightly to the left into a relatively easy stretch. Some say that a few holds broke off, so the lower part should be 8b+/8c.
Then there is a direttissima called “Eiszeit” 8c+/9a which has a pretty hard boulder under the chains. I think it has not been repeated yet. The first ascent was made by Helmut Kotter. Just below this boulder, you can climb slightly to the right and you will hit 8b + „Black Pearl“. Linking these pieces together, you create a beautiful line which has around 50 meters. It involves the crux of “Fight Club” but then, instead of finishing the route with the easy part, you switch to the other line and finish it off with twenty meters of hard climbing, all the way up to the highest point of the whole wall. This variant ends just besides the chains of the legendary routes such as “Weisse Rose” (See our article Climbing Milestones), “Open Article” and “Black Power”.
So after climbing the first part of „Fight club“, you could choose where to go next, and since you felt good, you decided on a harder variant… Yeah exactly. (Adam laughs) It was already the end of the day, during which I managed to climb the „Orca“ 8c + by Alex Huber (read our interview), made in 2001 which was not repeated until then. (After Adam, Jacob Schubert climbed it last autumn, but he opted to climb the crux from the left side, which is 8b). So I was already happy with what I had achieved during that day, and I was a bit tired as well… However, I had spend so much time training in the gym, so I was so motivated and stoked on climbing that I decided to try “Warmduscher” as well.
How did it go? I barely climbed the lower 8c part, I had to put a real fight there. And then the upper part came. I am still so glad I managed to finish it. It is not so clear when climbing on-sight. There were quite a few moves, in which I got terribly confused. Often, I found myself in a wrong sequence with my hands tangled.
There were not many chalk-marks, were there? Well, Christian had been probably trying it for a while but it was just after the rainy season and the route was barely dry. Some holds were even a bit wet, so there weren’t any chalk marks left. I often had to stay fixed for a few moments and search for the right holds. This is what makes the on-sight so valuable for me.
Do you find it harder to climb on-sight in Schleier Wasserfall than in the Red River Gorge? (In the Red River Gorge, Adam on-sighted “Golden Ticket” 9a and “Pure Imagination” 9a. He then lowered the grade of both of these routes to 8c +) In general, I’d agree that climbing on-sight is a bit harder on the Austrian limestone than the sandstone in Red River Gorge. This is due to the fact that the chalk is much more visible on the brown sandstone. On top of it, the individual moves of the most of the routes in Red River Gorge are relatively simple. Another advantage is that almost all holds are horizontal there – so you just hang on to them and have enough time to look up and think about the following moves. On the other hand, the Schleier Wasserfall gives you mostly side pulls and underclings. And when you’re pulling on the undercling with “your biceps contracted”, you don’t have the time to look around and see what comes next. In Wasserfall, you have to risk your moves much more. You just have to go for whichever hold you see. You could hesitate but then you have to have a damn huge amount of spare stamina. For sure, I think that to red-point the “Golden Ticket” is harder than “Warmduscher” but the real value of on-sighting “Warmduscher” is even higher because you need to go full gas in the lower boulder problem and the move is really uncertain. I think that more people would be able to on-sight the “Golden Ticket” (video)
Most of the world’s best climbers did not grow up in the Moravian Karst, right? Well, actually, as far as on-sighting is concerned, I don’t have training from the Karst either. Unfortunately. (he laughs) It would be great if I could wipe my memory blank and go back to Karst to collect some on-sights. I wonder what I would climb. If I managed to send some local 10+ (8b+) OS-style, I would be lucky. I don’t think I could on-sight any 8c (11-) over there.
Is there any OS climb you see as the most valuable for you? That’s clear to me – “Il Domani” 9a. It’s one of those three 9as I ever managed to climb on-sight, and with this one, I am sure that the grade is right. The others felt way too soft for 9a and also were quite easy to read. “Il Domani”, however, is a different story. Of course, there is the slight advantage of the overhang following the ground beneath, so you can walk under it and study some of the moves… something like the “Underground” (9a in Arco), but because the rock is greyish in Arco, you cannot see the holds that well.
I’m interested in “reading” the route from below and so on… to what extent do you allow yourself to study the route if you still want to call it an on-sight? Well, as for me, I don’t care if the quickdraws are already up or you have to carry them – both counts as an on-sight for me. One of these is an “OS RP” and the other an “OS PP”. Of course, clipping all the quickdraws by yourself is more difficult but both is still an OS. Just as a FLASH can be either a “FLASH RP” or a “FLASH PP”.
Photos? I think you can see the photos because that is just inevitable – sometimes, it is even listed in the guidebook. (He laughs) But of course, studying twenty different photos of the whole crux would be a different story – not cool by me.
Videos? Watching a video, even a month before the attempt, is not okay from my point of view…
Overheard conversations under the crag? Well, sometimes you can’t entirely avoid it. (he laughs) And sometimes the guidebook even gives you a description such as: “A hard boulder to start with and then it becomes easier.” So when I read such a line in the guidebook, I still count the attempt as an OS. As for the people, I’m trying to warn them in advance: “Hey, I really want to try it OS, so please don’t tell me anything about the line. (he laughs) I’m never trying to interrogate my fellow climbers about the individual moves or the hard parts… Some climbers might be surprised that I even avoid looking at the route when I’m being lowered from one of the nearby lines. What about… climbing a tree and studying it? (Adam laughs) Well… that’s a question. Looking at the route from some lower rock? That’s cool by me. The issue of returning is also a bit controversial. According to our tradition, once you get your feet off the ground, you cannot return. However, the ethics of some English climbers is that if you downclimb without jumping back to the ground from the fourth bolt, you still have a chance to climb it on-sight. I don’t believe in that.
What about chalk marks? There’s nothing you can do about it when the marks are already there. But to ask a friend: “Could you go through it and mark it for me?” Would not be okay, though. (he laughs) Of course, you could also wait a few years and let others mark it without you knowing… It’s hard.
Let’s get back to “Warmduscher”. How come that you, who is usually accompanied by a film crew, managed to climb one of the best lines of the past season without a single photo, video, etc.? I climbed it during a national team training camp. It is true that nobody filmed or took pictures of me climbing the route. You see, I’m not always followed by a film crew.
Did you feel better outside of the focus of the camera lens? I wasn’t too nervous about this route, I didn’t feel there was much at stake – actually, I hadn’t even known about it until the last moment. So I think that somebody filming me wouldn’t change much. Of course, the feeling of being filmed isn’t always that good.
The route is called “Warmduscher” which literally translates as “a person taking a warm shower”.. what about cold showers, though, are you into that? No I’m not. According to Chinese medicine, I am the type of person for whom the cold morning showers are not so good – supposingly, my constitution would make me more prone to catching a cold then. I do think that it is good for certain people, but for me, the cold shower is a better idea in summer.
So you would not chop holes into the ice in the winter, then. Well, I did… but just to cool there after a sauna session. (he laughs) By the way, as soon as I clipped into the chains of “Warmduscher”, it started pouring down with rain. When I was being lowered down, I took a proper shower in the rain and I even got some side-splash from the waterfall. So in the end, even the “kalte Dusche” was the game. (he laughs)
What is your name? My name is Viktor. And I’m seven years old.
Viki, how long have you been climbing? Since I was about four years old.
Do you know what it means when someone “bails from a route”? That means you just could not finish the route.
They say you have bailed from a route recently. How did it happen? Well, it happened to me because I came there and chose that route, because it was sort of the easiest one that was around there. And then I started climbing, and I was climbing and climbing… until I got to that spot which was simply the hardest. I had enough energy, I was climbing slowly, and then when I got to that spot it was just too hard for me. So I had to abseil down but I told myself that I had to try it again.
Did you give it another go? Well, dad told me that we were going for a swim, so we went for a swim. It was in Austria, the sun was shining, so I climbed on my dad’s back and dad was swimming with me, and I was kicking my feet. But then I went down and something happened but I didn’t notice. Because when dad got me out of the water, I saw that my little finger was bleeding. “Dad, I’m bleeding from my little finger,” I called. I had two little cuts by shells – we found out. So then I couldn’t wear my climbing shoes anymore, and we had to go home and we saw some sowbread and houseleek growing along the way.
Where was it? I don’t remember exactly, somewhere near Traunsee, around, how should I put it… for example 26 kilometers from the town.
And do you know the grade of that route? Hmmm, wait, yeah, 3b. It was simply the easiest route which was there. There were three same routes, you see, so I just picked one.
Who lead the route? My mum.
Have you ever climbed a route that you liked a lot? I climbed a route on the “Mumie” tower and then another one that I liked a lot. There was a book up there and dad wrote there: “Viktor and mommy and daddy.”
Where was it? Somewhere, yeees, how should I… Sand rocks. Sandstone. Near Sněžník. Yeah, in Tisá! And I climbed a chimney route there, it was quite easy, and the chimney was just terribly good. I climbed it in a bit of a weird way. At first, I tried leaning my back against one side with my feet on the other one, but I couldn’t reach there and I would have fallen. So I had to put my hands and feet like this in between the walls and I had to make small steps but then I made it to the top and it was just so good.
Where do you like climbing most: on sandstone or in the mountains? On sandstone or in the mountains? Definitely on sandstone because sandstone is just so washable by water, that the water digs good holds into it, because it’s so soft – and then I can climb up there and really enjoy it. But in the Alps, I like that I could walk among cows and there was a giant bull… But now you have to excuse me I have to run now and catch a butterfly.
Well, it’s been a while but I still remember that failed attempt quite vividly. It was one of my first ones in Adršpach. Everyone remembers the first steps on sandstone, right? You arrive, run straight into the rocks full of enthusiasm, and suddenly you feel so small that you would fit into a matchbox. You have no clue where to start and so just keep wandering around until you meet somebody, who recommends you this “amazing classic route” ideal for beginners.
This story begins with a recommendation just like that. Somebody sent my friend Martin to an allegedly great wall at Zrzek tower, and me and Mára thought that the would be some nice crack nearby as well, so we joined him. And indeed, we found one.
The rest of climbers usually avoid wet, dirty cracks, but for some reason, these lines always lure me. I wrapped myself in a ton of slings and started climbing straight away. The bottom part was just fine – comfortable, soft mossy hand jams. The upper part, however, was much less of a treat. The slings were too small for the crack (if I remember correctly, it was a kind of open “chickenwing”). When I thought about falling, I couldn’t discern if it still was the “broken bones” case or a good old “straight to grave”. But then I recalled one picture from the old printed issue Montana magazine. In the photo, there was a guy using his helmet as huge cam. Back then, I was still a helmet fan, so I did not hesitate for a single moment and tried placing it… It didn’t go exactly according to plan, though. After some desperate tries, I realized there was no way I could place it, threw it away and just climbed on. I think it was my first off-width crack. When I got to the top of the crack, not only ma ankles were bleeding but my face as well. That was because I used the almighty “headjam”.
And that’s still not the end of it. What waited for me above the crack wasn’t the top of the tower but an inviting dark chimney. I knew I couldn’t bear to continue, so I prepared a cunning plan. I didn’t want to give up so I decided to belay Mára up to the top of the crack. There was only one problem. No anchor. I had plenty of slings and knots but there were useless. And then the moment of enlightening came. Climbing Shoes! Wrapped in enough tape, they would make a bomber anchor! Well it wasn’t exactly the safest idea, but what would you expect of a 16-year-old boy scared to death?
“Marek! Off the belay and you can climb. We’ll swap at the anchor!” “A what’s the anchor, duuude??!” “Chill, there’s a ring that would hold a bull or two!”
You should have seen his face when he climbed up to me and realized I sort of made up the ring. He wasn’t particularly happy. In fact he was quite angry. Anyway, he decided to climb on. His attempt didn’t take long, though. There was a patch of wet rock, his foot slipped a bit and as you can imagine, he wasn’t really stoked about the route anymore. Fortunately, we were quite lucky. There were some friends down there, who got much bigger balls than we did (big monkey fist knots) so they sent up those, we placed them and somehow managed to rappel down from them.
That was my first experience with such an epic bailing. Rapelling from a knot was probably even worse then using climbing shoes as an anchor. Well this route brought me many first-time experiences… One of them being my trousers getting completely climbed through, all the way to my buttocks.
Every time I walked through Skalák area around Ocún tower, I couldn’t take my eyes off the route.“Bloody Crack” (“Kravavá spára” VIIc – that matches French 6a but don’t be fooled, editor’s note.) is an aesthetic crack line made by legendary Czech mountaineer Radovan Kuchař. It cuts through the upper right part of the Ocún tower. It’s also one of the few cracks in Skalák area that “lacks holds”. There are not many ladies who have managed to climb it. I know two of them personally – Zorka Prachtelová and Ája Bedrníková. These girls are local legends that hold in high esteem. That’s why it took me a while until I decided to climb the route. When Zorka climbed it, all the local guys stood in awe – even her husband Petr Prachtel couldn’t believe his eyes. Back then it was one of those Routes with big R, in which even some the elite climbers failed.
This year’s unplanned holidays allowed me and certainly many other climbers to spend a lot of time in the rocks. After I recovered from the last season and managed to heal some of the damaged parts of my body, I’ve basically became a full-time climber. When I came to Skalák for second time this year, I already wanted to try the “Bloody Crack”. I didn’t make it a secret and suddenly I had two mates joining me for the project. In the morning I warm up on some easier route and around 11 A.M., I’m already jamming myself into the “Lower Variant” of the “Bloody Crack” (a logical extension of the route graded VII/ca. 5b fr.).
In the first few meters of the extension of the route, you can find some holds around the offwidth but I cannot find a good place for a knot so I rather jam myself deeper into the crack. Suddenly I get stuck, I feel like I should be climbing the crack the other way around. Dan supports me from below and takes pictures, and above me, in the window under the start of the „Bloody Crack“ itself, there’s another paparazzi, Peťa, who shouts at me: “I have the snack ready for you! Come and get it!” I somehow manage to solve this absurd situation, I turn around, jam the left side of my body into the crack, and continue climbing.
After all, I wiggle my way up the narrow chimney, and I emerge right next to the promised snacks. I hydrate myself, take a deep breath, place a first sling and carefully traverse through the fragile sandstone passage typical for Skalák area to the first ring of the “Bloody Crack” pitch. I clip in. “So, it begins,” I say to myself. I start climbing up from the ring. Standing in a wide split in the window, I’m trying to jam my upper body into the offwidth crack above me. There are some good footholds on the right side but the ring is on the left. I jam my right knee into the offwidth but the rope rubs on the rock and holds me back. I fight for a while and then retreat back to the split position to rest for a while. The second try is much more successful. Using the double hand jam technique, I manage to lift myself up a bit and turn around in the crack. Now that’s it.
I was afraid that my knee would not fit into the crack but fortunately the opposite is true. I enjoy the amazing straight crack that looks almost artificial – it’s an excercise including all sorts of offwidth techniques including the double handjam, kneejam and the heel-toe. I climb up to the only notch in otherwise-perfect crack hoping that there’s some good place for a bomber knot. No such luck – I only manage to thread some thin hourglass. Fortunately, the route gets easier here and I continue up to the top without any further problems. “Off belay!” I shout at the belayer and I enjoy the wave of euphoria from finishing yet another iconic route.
I don’t want to build an anchor at the belaying point left to the crack. “In case they fell out of the crack, they could take a huge swing,” I think to myself. So, I make the anchor right above the crack extending the anchor right on top of the tower. I throw my crack gloves to my fellow climbers and I start belaying.
But when Dan sits into the rope, my belay device disappears into the opening of the crack. What now? Fortunately, he yells at me: “I’m back at the ring.” I respond: “Great, could you clip into it for a while?” I shout at him from above and I try to find a way to get the belay device from the crack. Somehow, I manage to lift the rope up a bit and fish the belay device from the depth of the crack. Finally, I opt for the original anchor and I find out that it’s safer than I thought – you put the rope straight into the crack and it safely holds there, preventing any possible side swing. Dan prefers not to try my belaying tactics again; he focuses on a proper heel-toe technique and manages to get all the way to the top without any falls. Then we belay Peťa, who gives the new anchor a proper test. It seems to work.
We all meet at the top. I read some of the records from the summit book and then we rappel. Finally, a reward – a beer and a proper snack. We don’t celebrate for too long, though, as there are many other great wall routes expecting us today. The “Bloody Crack” however, remains to be the one, which we will remember for a long time.
Editorial note: The route (protected with only one ringbolt) was made by Radovan Kuchař in 1952. For a long time, everybody thought that no one is going to repeat the ascent. The second climber to climb the route was nobody else than the infamous Petr Prachtel in spring 1963 and on 29th June of the same year, he even repeated the route free-solo. (!)
So far we know about three ascents made by women. First one was made by Zorka Prachtelová in 1968. Her husband Peter Prachtel reminds: “She jammed herself into the crack as if it was a chimney and climbed the whole route smoothly without any hesitation. All the other climbers were shocked.” In 2018, Alena Bedrníková became a second woman to climb the route. She linked it together with the “Lower Variant” as well. Later that day, she sent another famous route “Overhanging route” VIIc/6a fr. on Ottovky towers. Third woman and the author of this article, Anča Šebestíková, climbed the route this year in April
It’s like déjà vu. During the six years since our first attempt, the village of Mazeri has hardly changed. The only thing that changed was a few hundred meters of new asphalt road. Again, we are welcomed by low cloud cover and a heavy portion of precipitation, which slowly but surely keeps reducing the likelihood of our successful and safe ascent of the wall.
Slowly, we climb into the fog, and just outside the village, we meet a mountain rescuer on horseback, who is trying to break our already undermined morale: „Возвращайся. Условия не хорошие.“ We spend a while assessing our options. Should we try reaching the northern peak by the normal route? It’s a tricky snow ridge, at which Tom failed twice, Leon once, and various climbers from our club ten times in total. Moreover, we’ve only got three ice screws, two snow anchors and the conditions on Ushba Glacier keep getting worse year after year… It’s a dumb idea. After all, we decide to stick to our original plan – to climb the southern peak of Ushba by Gabriel Khergiani’s route (5B in Russian grading scale = several days of hacking and slashing through tough conditions).
The rain gets thicker, forcing us to bivouac in a shepherd’s shelter. With this delay, we reach the moraine under the south face the next day. The weather improves and so does our morale. The whole wall is plastered by a 30-centimeter layer of fresh snow but the forecast promises four to five days of relatively stable weather without much precipitation. Despite our enthusiasm, we decide to spend the next day resting and sunbathing, listening to the amazing performance of a local band The Avalanche, which drops one banger after another.
On the fourth day early in the morning, we’re finally leaving. We swiftly make our way through easy mixed climbing to the glacier and then wind between the crevasses straight under the wall. The path begins with a wide snow staircase followed by a more vertical wall onto a ramp. The rock is solid… as scattered Lego pieces but we expected that. We continue with a narrow rocky gutter that spits us out above a large snow plato.
We rappel a bit, climb through some relatively easy mixed parts and reach a blank water slide which sucks us up higher and higher. Around 1 p.m., we’re digging a tent platform. It went well, maybe too well. After all, we begin to feel the 1,200 altitude meters that we’ve climbed since the morning and the only thing to do now is to rest, enjoy the views and drink one tea after another. We crawl into the absurd Chinese tent and hope that the storm doesn’t come today.
In the morning, we start straight through the firn channel into the headwall, where we finally unpack our ropes. The first pitch brings us to the key corner. It’s leaning on one side, overhanging on the other and quite smooth – here and there, you can find a piton. This time, I’d rather be just a spectator and enjoy the views of somebody else fighting through the crux moves. After a few moments of hesitation and evaluating the blank wall above me, I arm myself with some iron and start. I freeclimb the first few meters and then I’m forced to start technical climbing. It’s easier than last time. There!’s no waterfall pouring straight onto my head, but it’s not a piece of cake either. As I continue up the crack, it slightly widens, so you can find some solid placements for the climbing axe in the last few meters. I make an anchor in a mess of old slings and pitons right in the spot, where we decided to back off last time.
“It looks easier further on. Let’s not waste time re-tying into the other ends of the rope,” the boys say, trying to weasel out of the leading. Well, what the hell… I lead on.
After a few meters, it’s clear it won’t get any easier. There’s nothing to hook on and certainly nothing to hold on to. Thanks to an old fixed sling in a stuck friend and the capillary elevation, I scramble a bit higher, step by step all the way across the loose rock (which finally comes down under Tom’s weight), a few meters of blank wall, and finally an anchor.
Leon, trying to spare his dislocating shoulder, performs a mental enema in the form of jumaring on one strand of 7,5-millimeter rope. He didn’t cut it. Somehow, we manage to fight our way up through the third pitch but then I feel I had enough. I climb slowly, my legs tremble, my forearms are spastic, and I barely manage to clip the loose piton in the final moves of the pitch. A few mentally demanding moves in the slab and then an anchor. Hurray! We got over the crux and I can finally tie onto the end of the train and follow the guys leading the rest. The ridge is endless, there’s still quite some climbing and the weather keeps changing all the time. Clear, fog, pure shit – repeat.
We pass the golden plaque, and at sunset, we stand at the summit of South Ushba. Eureka! We shake hands, take some pictures for Playboy and hurry up down.
We hike down for a while, looking for anything that could serve us as a bivouac. “Look, over there a perfect platform!” We rappel down two pitches from the main ridge into the southern slope. “Oh, well, nothing…“ we dig a snug three-person bench into the snow and secure ourselves using the ropes hanging from the last anchor. The weather calmed down. We’re almost asleep. (picture from bivouac)
At sunrise, we climb back to the ridge and rappel down into C1. Surprisingly enough, the headwall takes only 1 length of rope, however, just through the air. We reach our tent by evening and stay because it’s already too late to go all the way down. Tomorrow’s another day.
We get up quite early and rappel from the top of the water slide almost to the foot of the wall. The descent is for connoisseurs only. Following the lesson the mountain gave us last time, we had picked the best spots for our rappeling slings already during the ascent, which saves us a lot of time on our way down. As truly experienced climbers, we get repeatedly tangled into our ropes and spend the extra time trying to untangle them. As we go down, there’s, unfortunately, fewer anchors and less snow. The exposed bottom ramp turns out to be a system of washed-out slabs covered in loose scree. Every time we pull down a rope, it takes a down grapeshot of various-sized stones.
We play Sherlock Holmes searching for another rock or crack that could hold a piton, uncomfortably lengthening the time we are exposed to the shooting stones. We rather decide to ignore the tracks after a stone avalanche that crosses our descent route. After twelve hours of rappelling, we stand on the glacier. The snow’s gone, so we hurry up and leave this minefield. We arrive in BC completely exhausted. The descent from C1 took us more than twice the time of climbing to the same place.
We’re happy. We’re happy that we’ve made our way back and what more, we don’t need to climb the mountain again.
It’s over. Finally.
„Khergiani’s Route“ to Ushba 4710 m.a.s.l. (5B Russian classification, ED, 3–4 days, climbing in headwall M5+ A2, couloirs 65°, elevation difference 1700 m, objectively dangerous due to falling stones. In 1937, the first ascent took five days.)
Martin „Lesko“ Leskovjan, Tomáš „Tom“ Horský and Petr „Leon“ Novosad climbed the route in July 2019. Photo of the equipment.
“Hi, I’m looking for a girl who’s a bit loony – addicted to climbing (rope) and doesn’t mind going to a climbing gym four times a week and then sets off to Jura for a weekend.” (Dating ad from Czech climbing server called Lezec)
Well, I know some girls… they might not exactly fit the description, but…
I know a girl who fell in love with climbing when she was two years older than the number in the name of a famous route at the Panteon area (“E55” VIIb, 6a). She lost her husband, who was an intellectual, and her father, a great climber, died. She couldn’t get over the grief, so she decided to turn back to the genes she inherited. She went straight from being an intellectual to a climber. She’s now training in a climbing gym four times a week. As for the weekends, she would go anywhere – on the condition that it includes climbing. The grief has disappeared and everything has become new and beautiful. It turned out that she is quite gifted at crack climbing and who knows, maybe she’ll learn to place those knots as well.
I know a girl who was squeezed by a huge piece of rock while climbing. It shattered her ankle and she had to undergo several operations, none of which was entirely successful. Her foot has been crooked ever since and she cannot walk properly without special shoes. Despite that, she organized a girl-only expedition to China. She said that finding sponsors was much easier because it involved a disabled girl scaling a 6 000 meter mountain. She made it to the top.
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.
I know a girl who, when she was 80, climbed a rock at a symbolic cemetery under Ostrva mountain in the High Tatras, just to place flowers next to the plaque of her beloved. The chief of the Slovakian climber’s club (JAMES) couldn’t bear watching her climbing the slick wet rock and muttered something about “reckless pubescent”. Now, she’s three years older and wonders if it’s not too embarrassing for her to go to a climbing gym. Her grandson wants her to take him there.
And when I think about it… some years ago, a 17-year-old lunatic girl decided not to take a cable car to Lomnický Štít mountain and forced her friend to walk with her. Her friend swore she would never do it again while the girl decided to become a climber and enrolled in a climbing club – not to get married to one of those guys but to climb like they do. She wanted to have children as well, so she parked the prams by old brick walls, and traversed back and forth to train her fingers. She did that especially during winter in order to build some strength for the summer season. Sometimes, she thought she was the only lunatic out there.
But she hasn’t been. There’s plenty of us – the lunatic girls who love climbing have always been and will be here!
Three years ago, when Sean first walked into a pub in Adršpach, people immediatelystarted to whisper: “Hey, that must be the big-wall legend! Or not? And what is he doing here alone?”
Waitress Anička went ahead and started chatting with him. He complained that he had joined some dubious climbers, who shocked him a bit. He said they were drinking even during belaying, and the routes they climbed with ropes looked more like soloing. Anička realized that he must be looking for more trustworthy climbing partners as told us: “You’re climbing with Sean tomorrow!” So, we agreed – it was that simple. Although the morning was damp and foggy, we went to Teplice and in the afternoon tried “Bod zlomu” (Xc / 7c+ fr.). I was surprised how far he got during his on-sight attempt. It was inspiring to watch him climb. I was almost sure he would send it at the second try. (And that’s exactly what happened a week later.)
Two years later, Sean wrote to me that he was going back to Adršpach. It wasn’t the best timing for me, though, because was supposed to stay at work. So I tried to get as many people as possible to show him the best routes. Eventually, I managed to arrive in Adršpach at the same time as him and we climbed together – one week full of amazing routes and only one rest day.
Which routes did we choose? You know Adršpach – it’s a huge maze of rock towers. At first glance, all the routes look impossibly difficult. That’s why it’s so hard to choose one to climb. You can be sure that each of the routes you choose will scare the hell out of you.
After all, we set off for the Himalayas area, which is one of the central sectors in Adršpach. I had no idea where exactly we were going. So I made a list of routes that I like and that I haven’t climbed or finished yet. Another condition for choosing the routes was clear – to stay as far away from the trail packed with tourists as possible. We didn’t spend much time planning. Sean is so flexible and enthusiastic about climbing that it’s hard to find a route he wouldn’t like.
For the first two days, Sean’s friend Johan, who is a cameraman, joined us. He shot some footage from “Rohová” route (VI, 4c fr.) on Annapurna tower. I chose this route because of the tricky part, where you have to use the famous man-tower technique. The main reason why we chose this tower, was the route “Prckova porucha” (IXa, 6c+ fr.). Sean managed to lead that one, but I’d say he had to fight a bit… Then Matěj Svojtka showed up and told us he knows some good routes nearby. We went to the Jelení rokle (Deer gorge). This is one of the areas with many new routes. For example, there’s an amazing route “A jde se na pivko” (“Let’s go for a beer” Xc, 7c+ fr.). Isn’t that a poetic name? Before Matěj and Sean climbed it, we did two more new routes: “Fenkám” and “Hovado z lesa” (IXb, 7a fr.) – you’ll see those in Johan’s short film as well. Then the guys made the first and second free ascent “A jde se na pivko” – for now, it must be one of the hardest lines in the sector.
The next day, we stumbled upon an interesting off-width crack. I had noticed the route one rainy day when I was taking a stroll in the rock city. Surprisingly enough, it became the challenge of the day. You’ll see that in the video. Can you imagine that the classic trad climbers made the first ascent of this route in their 60s? We have a lot to learn from them.
Later we climbed paths like „Memento Mori“ (VIIIa, 6b fr.), “Mrtvička”, “Lvíčata” (VIIIa, 6b fr.), “Vabank”, “Smrtonoška lahodná” (IXa, 6c+ fr.), “Bílý mustang”, “Bludný kořen” and “Pražský výběr”. Then we joined Smolo and made a first ascent together – the route is on the Střelci tower and Sean named it “Robin Hood” – it still waits for the first RP climb.
I can’t tell you which of those routes Sean liked the most. He seemed thrilled with every single one, but I felt that those bizarre and challenging routes were challenging Sean’s psyche. One of those was the bold off-width crack “Olověný hřebík” (IXa, 6c+ fr.) which you’ll see in the short film as well. Another bizarre route we climbed was “Obstarožný strašák” – a loose, crumbling, overhanging crack with a nightmarish off-width just below its top. After you climb this route, you have send a few well protected sport routes to start liking climbing again.
One morning, we went climbing with my friend. He woke up, rolled a fat spliff, smoked it all by himself, and went straight to warm up in Xb-c route (7c/7c+ fr.). I was wondering what Sean thought about all that. He told me: “You crazy Czechs and your warm-ups…” We did have a lot of fun that day. We got our asses properly kicked by a grade V (4b fr.) off-width – I started off solo but the guys had to throw me a rope and Sean decided to back off that nightmare as well. Finally, we sent the route “V hašišovém rytmu” (Xa, 7b+ fr.) – Sean climbed it flash as if it were a mere stroll.
Sean’s visit to Adršpach was nearing its end. I’d say we’ve managed to show him a lot of fresh routes and just a few of the real old classics. On of the guys had a great idea told us to try “Přízemní komplikace” (VIIIa, 6a+ fr.). While climbing the route, Sean shouted at us: “That’s just beautiful! It makes me wanna cry. Hey, guys, do you think I’m allowed to cry here?” And that’s when I realized how lucky we are that we have such an amazing place – Adršpach.
Since I got to know him during his visit, I see Sean as a calm, humble and patient guy with an immense passion for climbing, music, and a great sense of humor.
“You smell like sandstone crack,” said my friend’s wife to him, when he returned from yet another weekend of climbing. It seems like ordinary five words, but in every sandstone climber, such a remark raises countless emotions, memories of experiences, and adventures. I know the smell very well. I have been climbing in the “Bermuda Triangle” of Adršpach-Teplice-Křížák for six years now. In this area, I have gone through all my climber’s milestones – the very first rock climbing experience, the first-time leading, the first big fall, grappling with huge fear, and immense euphoria of reaching the top of a rock spire, which overtook all my life for the two following days.
Usually, you have to leave the area just as you are getting used to the specifics of the local climbing style. This time, however, it was different. Five days of pure sandstone porn. It’s unbelievable but Adršpach was perhaps the only dry place in the Czech Republic at that time – a good starting point. Well, except Kalírna pub – that place never dries out. A pub where grazed and ragged crack climbers share the same table with slick sport climbers creates a unique atmosphere – a true refuge from all the everyday problems.
Anyway, time to get back to the rocks now. Five days – I could finally climb the routes I had been afraid of until then. I started with a tasty OS climb of “Dařbuján a Pandrhola” VIIIa (6a+ fr.) on Vřesová tower at Křížový Hřeben area. My climbing partner Marťas felt strong and tried “Kapitán Kořala” IXc (7a+ fr.) right next to it – we managed to go through moves in the first half of it. Then we have finally finished our project on “Skalácká Pětka” RP IXa (6c fr.) on Větrná tower.
The highlight of the whole trip should have been “Hrana Kalamárky” VIIIb (6b fr.), a magnificent airy arete, which Maťas had been eyeing for quite some time. After all, he said that a rain shower forced him to postpone this one but, to be honest… that edge commands respect. Then we cheered up while climbing “Stroboskop” VIIIc (6b+ fr.), which is an impressive 55m line leading through Martinské walls. When I found myself at the top, I realized that this must be another milestone in my amateur sandstone career.
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.
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.