Rotten Tooth, or how to get stuck in a chimney forever

07. 04. 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.

Dragon’s Tooth area, Czech Paradise (photo: Standa Mitac)

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)

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