More Sandstone Towers
My friend invited me to go sandstone climbing at Drábské Světničky and I accepted. Neither of us had extensive experience in this area, but it is the closest sandstone area to Prague and we were excited to do some exploring. I had been there once or twice and remembered extremely soft rock. My memory served me correctly, as I had trouble keeping my feet from slipping on holds. We were quite unsuccessful on this trip. I ended up with more ticks on me than climbs sent. That being said, I think this area has some beautiful routes to offer. Buying the guidebook and speaking to more experienced climbers in the area would be a good place to start.
15 Lvíček (Lion cub)
After passing on several scary route suggestions from my friend, I decided to climb Jižní Komín III (South Chimney 5.2). That is right, technically the grade translates to a 5.2 in the YDS system. I have found that the Saxon grading system has zero comparison to YDS, but I will continue to translate it nonetheless. This chimney starts with about 3 to 4 meters of off-width crack (too wide for fists and too narrow for chimney climbing). After about 4 meters there is a rather large hold on the outside corner of the crack. The crack widens to chimney and you can boost yourself into the chimney slot using this hold. The rest of the way uses narrow chimney climbing technique. There is not much in the way of protection on this route but it is nearly impossible to fall out of the chimney to the ground.
My partner had zero to no off-width climbing experience and struggled through the bottom. You need the old chicken wing technique with your arm. Put one leg into the crack and press against the wall with your knee and foot to produce as much friction as possible. Utilizing the heel and toe of the outside leg, create a wedge near the outside edge of the crack to push yourself upward. I found that this route is a nice place to practice off-width technique because it has a nice flat soft landing if needed. In the end, I helped my partner through the crux with a 3-to-1 pulley system from the top. He was terribly abraded, as he did not bring long pants or long sleeves.
We also climbed Severní Sokolík IV (North Layback 5.4) and Jihozápadní Pilíř V (Southwest Pillar 5.5) on this tower. Even this easy grade proved to be quite difficult. It is difficult to get your feet to stick on the sandy surface of the rock.
No pictures of this one because my partner took a video instead of taking a photo in true old-man fashion.
I had time for a one-day trip to Tisá with a friend and we seized the opportunity. Tisá is home to nice soft sandstone and a good place for beginner sandstoners to get started. If you look in the right spots, you can find routes here that are what I would describe as medium well protected as far as sandstone is concerned. Tisá is about a 90-minute drive from Prague and is located in the north of the country. It is near the German border, and if you don’t speak fluent Czech language, people typically switch to speaking German. I have to kindly tell people that my German language skills are nonexistent and struggling through with my child-like Czech language is preferred.
Same sandstone rules as always here. No chalk allowed unless you are climbing in the IX range (even this is debatable). No setting up top-rope climbs and no metal cams or nuts for protection. Most of the rock here is black in color and can be terribly hot to climb on in the sun. Aiming to climb in the shade in the summer is the best way to go. Parts of the towers are also beige in color, and these parts are typically extremely soft.
16 Pevnost (Fortress)
17 Květnová Věž (May tower)
Západní cesta V (West route 5.5) is a nice old route from 1910 with one ring. The route is relatively short, so the one ring is adequate, especially on such an easily rated route. The route starts on a sandy arete below a corner crack. Many of the holds here feel like they could break, so I chose what felt like the strongest holds and not just the biggest holds. There was a permanent sling around a bad sandy hourglass that I clipped for a mental confidence boost, but it would probably break along with my legs in case of fall. I placed two more suspect knots in the crack in the corner before getting to the ring. The holds in the corner are quite good and unlikely to be fall-inducing. Once you clip the ring, you pull on a big hollow-sounding flake that will break one day, just hopefully not the day you are climbing it. Once on top of the flake that sounds like a drum, you traverse to the right to the rappel ring.
The climb sounds pretty bad now that I have written it out, but I don’t think it is terrible and I would climb it again. A recent comment for this route on a Czech climbing website reads: “I peed a little. The whole thing is quite unpleasant and sandy. The ring is just so that your dead body does not fall down to the watching tourists. I probably wouldn’t send anyone I love there.” They did not enjoy the route.
18 Strážce Tiských (Tisa Guardian)
19 Golem (Golem)
Bič VI (Whip 5.6) is one of my favorite routes in the area. It is a slightly overhanging hand crack in a corner with one ring. The route starts up the slabby base of Golem until you get to the crack in the corner. Here the route steepens to a slight overhang. Near the beginning of the crack there is a large hole on the right where a large log is placed to sling for protection. This protection is as solid as a ring and will protect you in case of a fall almost the whole way until the ring. Falling while clipping the ring would likely result in a ground fall, but that is the case most of the time in sandstone. From the placed sling it is hand jams to the ring. The crack is not splitter and therefore your hand jams must be in the proportional restrictions in the crack. After the ring, the crack widens to off-width, which is the crux of the route. It is always a struggle for me to make it through this move and often involves up and down climbing. Once above the off-width, the crack widens enough to be a narrow chimney with small holds on the outside edge. You have to carefully climb from here because there is no more protection and the ring starts to get pretty far away. There is an exclamation point next to this route in the guidebook to mark that it is a dangerous route. I agree and disagree with this assignment. It is as safe as any other route through the bottom. Yes, it would be bad if you fell from the top but again, this is typically the case in sandstone.
My partner had no interest in attempting this route so I had to leave the protection in the ring, rappel and climb to the ring again to clean it. Whilst doing so a few climbers were passing by and commented that this route rarely climbed and it was a nice send. I replied that it is a beautiful crack to climb in the area and they responded that it is not a crack climbing area. We laughed and I appreciated their compliment of my route but I disagree with the comment. There are several beautiful cracks to be climbed in Tisá.
20 Cimbuří (Battlements- the square top bits on a castle)
We decided to finish on a route that my partner wants to lead in the future. Solivá Cesta V (Salty route 5.5) is one of the go-to beginner leads in the area. It has no rings but there are several hourglasses to put slings on for protection. The route is also quite slabbed and therefore not a physical struggle. I like to climb these routes where you can just relax and enjoy the climbing and scenery. It is a good route for beginner leaders, but keep in mind that it is harder to bail in the middle without rings. I typically suggest climbing something once or twice following if you are not confident to lead right away.
Ostrov is in the north of the country as well. It is only about 2 km away from Tisá, which was the previous place I climbed and wrote about. It is so close to the German border that my phone often sends me notifications that I am in Germany even though I am not. They just released a new guidebook for this area, and I wanted to give the new book some use. The climbing style here is fairly similar to Tisá as it is so close in proximity but there are a few differences. If you look closely at the rock, the grains that compose the cliff faces are slightly larger. This can make it a bit more slick when your hands are sweaty and you have no chalk. I have also found the runouts here to be more intimidating. Maybe that is just in my head or maybe it is my lack of experience in the area.
I failed on my first attempted tower in the area. I felt like I could no longer safely continue and down-climbed to the only ring on the route to rappel. It was frustrating because I knew I could do the moves but I was uncomfortable with the risk involved in continuing. Afterward, I was successful on a route on a massif, which helped me to regain my confidence. I got to belay for my friend’s first sandstone flash in many years. It was really nice to be part of.
21 Malý Popravčí Kámen (The Little Executioner Stone)
To get our mojo back after failing on our first attempted tower, my friend suggested we free solo Poslední Skok na Horu IV (Last Jump to the Mountain 5.4). It is a cute little tower next to the big one of the same name. The route is only 5ish meters tall and follows the arete to the top. I went in with the plan to free solo it, but in the end there may not have been any protection if I wanted it anyway. To be fair, I was not looking for it, so maybe there is. Nothing too difficult to overcome on this route. It is more like a boulder than a tower. It is nice to have a success after a failure even if it is a small one.
22 Popravčí Kámen (Executioner Stone)
I climbed the Little Executioner Stone so it was time to move to the big one. I chose to climb the Stará Cesta V (Old Route 5.5) on this tower as well. It is a vertical crack system with a small bulge to pull over without any rings. These can be a bit intimidating because if you need to rest, the only way is to down-climb or to sit in a knot you placed for protection. My partner said he saw someone struggling on this route the other day but didn’t know their experience level. It was only a V, and I am pretty confident in my crack climbing, so I started climbing. Sometimes you are climbing a crack and there are no places for knots and it is terrible. This route was the opposite. It was really nice to climb the old-fashioned way on knots alone. There was a short crux pulling the bulge, but otherwise it was easy technical climbing. This climb may be uninspiring to some, but I really enjoyed it.
23 Palcát (Mace – The medieval weapon not the spray)
There is a picture of Stará Cesta V (Old Route 5.5) on Palcát in the guidebook. I like to try guidebook photoed routes when they are within my wheelhouse because they are typically worthwhile. It proved to be a good choice this time. I was a bit surprised when I first saw the route in person because it contains a rather large overhang after the single ring on the route. I didn’t let it deter me because I thought that I was stronger than the person photoed in the guidebook. I roped up and started ascending the short tower. You start by climbing up a group of cracks streaking up the slabby base. You can have a little protection party here if you like, as the rock will take knots left, right and center. There is a short section where the cracks stop and you need to continue upward to the ring. I found this section to be the hardest, as some of the holds looked quite used and I didn’t want to pull on them. I found a sequence that I was pleased with and clipped the ring. Then you have a bigger overhang than I am used to on sandstone to overcome. I was a bit nervous, but I found big hold after big hold and cruised through the section. Above the overhang there is a small balcony where you can place more protection if wanted. The climbing to the finish was nice and mellow. I really enjoyed this one and recommend it.
100 rock Towers continued
Finally, the weather and my schedule have matched up, so I can climb on sandstone again. Prachovské Skály is one of my favorite sandstone areas. It is one of the most spectacular views in the country in my opinion. The heart of the climbing area is in a valley, and there are great overviews of the towers from various viewpoints. Prachov has what is considered soft sandstone, but it is a bit more solid compared to other climbing areas. If you like crimpy climbing, this is not the best spot for you. Due to the soft nature of the rock, most of the holds are rounded. You can also find some great cracks and chimneys. Prachov is relatively easy to navigate and has a good guidebook. If you are climbing in the main area, be prepared for people to be watching and commenting on your climbing. You are a bit of a spectacle for the tourists and hikers walking through, but this can be the case in several sandstone areas.
On this particular trip to Prachov, I took a friend here for the first time. He is Czech and has been climbing for a few years but not much on sandstone. This was his first time ever in Prachov, which is crazy because it is only about an hour drive from Prague. It is worth visiting for a non-climber, and it blows my mind to think a climber who lives so close has not been here. Anyway, these next 6 routes and towers are ones that I have done in the past and just enjoy to repeat.
10. Mravenčí Věž (Ant Tower)
Baušova Stěna V (Bauše's wall 5.5). I have climbed this tower and this route many times. I often return to this climb because it was my first route in Prachov. I had to take a certification course to be a climbing instructor in the Czech Republic. I was already a certified instructor in the United States, but that certificate might as well be toilet paper here. During most of the course, I was reviewing old things that I had learned in the States, which is always good to do. However, this week was sandstone week. Climbing on knotted slings for protection was quite foreign to me, as we typically use metal chocks or cams in the United States. The concept is easy enough—you take knots of various sizes to place into cracks and crevices as you would a metal chock. On the first day of sandstone week, we arrived at Mravenčí Věž. I was expecting some sort of discussion or demonstration on how one should safely climb on sandstone or how to place knots for protection properly. Instead, one of the course leaders called to me and asked, "Jake, do you want to climb this route?" I responded with a "Sure, why not." I placed a few knots here and there, clipped the ring and finished the route at the anchor at the top. I belayed up a fellow participant in the instructor course and then the course leader. At the top, the course leader didn't say much and was getting ready for rappel. I asked him, "Do you have any feedback on my route? How were my knot placements?" He responded, "They were fine." After coming down, he pointed to another tower and asked me to lead again. This process continued on four towers until they decided to join a local bouldering competition instead of continue "teaching." This in a nutshell encompassed my training course. I was going to have to learn how to sandstone climb from my own experience and more experienced partners. This route always reminds me of the time I spent learning how to climb on sandstone.
The route itself is quite nice, and I would recommend it. It starts on a pleasantly textured arete and continues to the right over holds like you would find in a climbing gym. Here you can place as many knots as you like until you continue up and right to the ring. As always, from the ring you have the most difficult climbing. There is a nice hourglass you can sling for protection and then directly up to the anchor. She is a beaut.
11. Pik (Peak)
12. Kočičí Jehla (The Cat Needle)
Východní Cesta V (East Route 5.5) on Kočičí Jehla is great. It is located in the main valley with all of the rock towers and provides a great view at the top. The formation goes from wide at the bottom to a small rounded point at the top. It is rather unusual to find a route rated so easily with two rings. This makes it a decent tower for beginner sandstoners. The start of the route is more scrambly, but you quickly gain height and find yourself having to make a climbing move over open space before getting to the first ring. Once you make said climbing move, you are on a small platform and you can clip the first ring. This time around, I had a bit more difficulty between the first and second ring. I could be wrong, but I think a decent-sized foothold fell off of this route since I last climbed it. No matter, the ring is in a nice location for the crux and the second ring is shortly after. Find the best way to maneuver through a small bulge and you can clip the second ring. From here you navigate slab with rounded slits in the rock for handholds. Continue until you get to the neck of the needle, and you can sling an hourglass here if you feel the need. It is a short piece of cake to the finish from there. We enjoyed the view from here and took a few pictures, but it was terribly hot, so only for a short while.
13. Mnich (Monk)
13. Mnich (Monk)
Mnich was the first prominent tower climbed in this famous area. Stará Cesta II (Old Route 5.2) was climbed by two boys from high school in the nearby city of Jičín in 1907. They left a red and white flag and a box with the message "First Victory" to confirm their success. Once at the top, they got caught in a surprise storm. This resulted in an exciting egress with the old rope and technology they had at their disposal. The boys were worried about getting in trouble at the school for their exploits, but it was unlikely the principal would see their names in the box they left at the top.
You can always find the dates each route was established and by whom in the guidebooks. Sometimes it is accompanied by old pictures, which are truly fascinating. It is amazing to see how people used to climb in the past. No harnesses, no climbing shoes, heavy hemp ropes and no belay device. I find it hard to repeat some of these routes even with the benefit of all the climbing technology at my disposal.
Our trip up Stará Cesta went seamlessly. It is chimney all the way to the top, so make sure you have long pants or bandages for your knees afterward. No rings on this route, but there are handy platforms periodically for resting or finding protection. Do not let the grade of II lull you into a false sense of security. There are a few sections that are quite tricky. It is a cool tower to be atop. It is in the center of the valley containing many prominent rock towers. There is a permanent metal Czech flag at the top to mark the tower and for your photo taking pleasure.
14. Obelisk, an easy translation (Obelisk)
Jižní Traverz VII (South Traverse 5.8) was my last route of the day. At least, I think so. It remains unclear exactly which route it is when reading the descriptions in the guidebook and comments online, but it is a solid guess. Obelisk is a beautiful tall tower standing alone directly next to the tourist walking path. The route has a relatively high first ring and requires calm, steady climbing to get there. Fellow climbers joke that if you fall below the first ring you will land on the handrail next to the tourists. Always a comforting thought before starting your route. Jižní Traverz starts in the center of the wall over rounded holds. Several meters up there is a perfect slot for a medium-sized monkey fist knot. The rock in which it is placed is solid and should protect you in case of a fall. Continuing on your way up to the first ring, there is a nice hourglass to sling, which also should be solid enough to catch a fall. Thread it, clip it and continue up to the first ring, which is comforting to clip. Traverse up and left to the second ring. This is enjoyable climbing that flows nicely. After clipping the second ring, you run into the physical crux of the route, but it is well protected and you need not worry. According to the route description, you should traverse to the edge and climb up from there. I find it easier to continue my upward left trajectory directly toward the ring. The third ring is near the left edge of the tower, and you pop up to the top from there. It is a beautiful climb if you can manage the part below the first ring. I climbed it in better style this time around, which felt good.
I set myself a loose goal of climbing 100 towers in the Czech Republic this year. I didn't set any particular rules for this venture, I just wanted to get outside as much as possible and enjoy the climbing and nature the Czech Republic has to offer. Some of my towers are repeats from last year in hopes of climbing them in better style. Some of them are new routes and new adventures. I don't concern myself too much with sending difficultly graded routes. I prefer to choose an aesthetic line or something that inspires me in the moment.
For me personally sandstone is about adventure, mental fortitude and partnership. I love exploring new places and seeing new things. There are many great spots for climbing throughout the Czech Republic, and this goal is a great way to see them and an excuse to collect more guide books, which I have a weakness for. Climbing on sandstone can be a harrowing experience at times. Protection can be sparse, and there are various situations where falling is not an option. Onsighting a new route requires strength, determination, and a bit of courage doesn't hurt. Partnership has to be the greatest aspect of sandstone climbing. Working with your friends to accomplish a goal and seeing a friend challenge themselves and succeed is a beautiful experience to be part of. It is not always possible to clean your routes without the help of a partner following and collecting the knots and carabiners. The follower can climb the route with the safety of a top belay and experience the exposure and run-outs the leader had to manage. Then maybe they can understand why you tried to place a knot on a balcony for 10 minutes. Together at the top of the tower, you shake hands, sign the log book and enjoy the 360-degree view you have around you.
A quick note before continuing. The grading system to identify the difficulty of routes here is a mess. They typically use the Saxon grading system on sandstone, but on other types of rock they use UIAA or the French system. I will typically identify my routes with the Saxon grading system and the old YDS system in parentheses. Keep in mind these grades do not translate perfectly, especially for the routes established in the old days. Any experienced climber can tell you grades vary from location to location and sometimes sector to sector. So there's that.
1. První Věž (First Tower)
With a name like first tower, it seemed like a good place to start. I didn't have an abundance of experience climbing in Suché Skály. I had maybe been climbing here two or three times prior. This is the first tower in a long line on the ridge. Looking at the tower and the guide book, my partner and I identified the route Plesnivá Varianta, a VI (Moldy Variation 5.6) with one ring. The ring is just over halfway up the tower, but below the ring looked manageable. As it turned out, my assessment was correct. There were several places to put knots in the crack-split slab and no real cruxes before the ring. The ring is in the correct location and provided me with the confidence to proceed through the short overhang without much hesitation. Between the ring and the top there were several more places to set protection. At the top, I found it best to anchor to a tree. A nice trip for the first tower of the year. If you are wondering, no, it is not moldy.
2. Vlajková Věž (Flag Tower)
3. Smrčinová Věž (Spruce Tower)
The third tower in this row is called Smrčinová Věž. I saw two shiny bolts which grabbed my attention and enticed me to climb. After referencing the guide book, we found that there was a bonus ring near the top. With three pieces of fixed protection, I was persuaded to give it a try. The route is called Výprodej VII (Sale 5.8) and is located on the arete of a chimney that splits the tower into two sections. The bottom of the route is on small edges and requires careful climbing until clipping the first bolt. Afterward, climbing the arete is easier than climbing the face. There is a long runout between the first and second bolt, but it is fairly easy ground before clipping. There are two obvious weaknesses climbing onward from the second bolt, and I found the easiest to be along the arete on the right. There is a nice nest for placing a knot a meter or two above the ring, and then you are on a small platform before a bulge. I spent a while here placing knots because I did not want to fall all the way down to the lower protection. Finally you need to pull the bulge and clip the final ring. After the ring, there are only a few moves until you are at the top. My partners who followed had difficulty at the cruxes but found they could cheat and use the chimney in some areas if necessary. I liked this route a lot and give it a Jacob star.
4. Alabastrová Věž (Alabaster Tower)
,The next route I had in sight was another crack on a nearby tower, Západní Stěna VI (West Wall 5.6). This route was fun but a bit scary. Due to the easy difficulty rating, there are no rings on this route. The bottom of the route has big flakes for laybacking and crack climbing. There are good spots for knots down here. Halfway up the tower, you are on a big platform. From the platform you move more toward the center of the tower where there is a crack that leads you the rest of the way up. There was an old sling that I clipped for protection on my way to the top, but I never trust these 100% as they are old and often look quite weathered. Above that, I spent 10 minutes trying to place knots in a horizontal crack in order to protect the final moves on an off-width-sized crack. I self-rated 2 knots I placed at 7 stars out of 10 stars. These 7-star protection placements don't give me an overwhelming sense of safety. Especially when they are the only thing between you and an 8-meter fall onto a balcony and then to the ground. So after exploring climbing options to the left and right, I took the crack and everything was fine. The mental challenge of climbing is sometimes more challenging than the physical part. But you cannot afford to make a mistake in these situations. I watched my partner top-rope through this section with relative ease, and I felt like a fool.
5. Bílá Věž (White Tower)
6. Hlavní Věž (Main Tower)
This is more like a massif than a tower, but tower is in the name, so I will count it. Hlavní Věž is a section of wall with dozens of routes on it. My friend took me to this section because he had some routes he wanted to suggest. In the end, the routes he wanted to suggest were occupied, so I just picked one that caught my eye: Zlá cesta VII (Evil Route 5.8). This route has a low first ring and then follows a finger crack up some slab through 2 pitons. My partner said he hadn't seen anyone climb this route before, and I was a bit wary due to the name, but I enjoyed the route and found it quite well protected. I will say I never trust pitons fully. I have two in my closet that have ripped out when I fell in them on past routes. These two looked medium trustworthy.
7. Samotář (Loner)
Samotář is a 20ish-meter tower standing alone in front of Hlavní Věž. It is the kind that draws you in to climb it. I decided on the route Maškova Cesta VIIb/c (I believe the translation is Maškova's route, but I could be mistaken 5.9/5.10a). The route has two rings. There isn't any protection between the rings, and it can be climbed by bringing along two carabiners for protection. This route is very fun. It is juggy in most parts and weaves left and right up the slightly overhanging wall.
8. Věž Milana Černého (Milan Černy Tower)
This was my scariest tower so far this year and probably unnecessarily so. This was a tower and route Karamora VII (5.8) that a friend suggested I climb because he said it was the best onsight in his non-illustrious climbing career. This friend was also the person belaying me. This route has two pitons in the first half and then a ring in the middle. The bottom half of the climb was in a corner with sub-perfect rock. The terrain was fairly easy, but I had to be careful not to fall before the protection. Then you get to the best two pitons you have ever seen. They have been glued in like bolts and are a welcome sight. Afterward, you move onto the arete and continue up until you get to a ring below a corner. There is no more fixed protection, and there is still 17 or so meters of climbing. I started up the corner and one of my other friends came hiking in at the bottom through the forest. He called up to me, "Oh hey, Jake, I see you are climbing Karamora." He continued, "You know someone fell in this route from the top and pulled all the knots and had to be caught in the ring." My belayer responded, "Don't tell Jake that; I was going to tell him after he climbed it." The individual who fell in the past ended up falling the entire length of the tower and had severe injuries. I was already a bit nervous about finishing this tower, and now I was extra tense. I continued up the corner and got to a sloping balcony. I placed a knot that I though was ok but not great. I was just getting to the top and came to a section with a strange move. This was the last move before the top, and you can tell that this is the part where the person in the past fell to the bottom of the tower. There was a location for a knot, but I didn't have the best size for the crack I was looking at. I was hanging on the rock for a good 10 minutes trying to find better protection and analyze the best way to move forward. The required move was not strength based but unusual. Standing there working out the issues was only making me more tired, so I had to go for it. I gripped hard and moved through the awkward move, heart racing. It all worked out fine, and I took the last few steps to the anchor. My partner who followed sat a few times in this spot before finally moving through. He confirmed that my knots by the crux were good protection and would have caught me. There was even one he had difficulty removing, and we dislodged it while rappelling. When you are in the moment in an exposed stance and nervous, it can be difficult to trust your knots. Especially when you are facing a 30-meter fall.
The Czech Republic is full of good climbing, and you don’t need to have a car to reach all of it. I started climbing in the country without a car, and it didn’t hold me back. With the trains, buses and maybe a bike you can get to some great routes. There are more areas than what is listed below, but here are some of my favorites.
Srbsko train station is a portal to a tremendous amount of climbing. This is my go-to location when I want to climb near Prague, as it is about a 40-minute train ride from the main station (Praha Hlavní Nádraží). Here you can find single pitch limestone sport climbing, most of which is either slab or vertical walls. You don’t find too much overhanging climbing in the Czech Republic. The south side of the river (where the station is located) is ideal for climbing in the summer, as the walls receive more shade. These walls can be a bit more challenging to find but contain good routes. The north side of the river is ideal for climbing in the spring and fall. These walls are typically a bit more polished but have easy approaches via the bike trail and offer plenty of nice climbs. Guides for several of the walls can be found with a bit of searching on http://www.czechclimbing.com/index.php. Many of the climbs have the name and difficulty marked at the base of the climb. Currently, the guidebook for this area is quite old, and it is not so easy to get your hands on one. There are routes here for all ability levels. I have guided both experienced and beginner climbers here and had a great time.
Three nice routes (UIAA Grading System)
Cesta Zeppelínů 7+ Pupek Wall (Pupek means belly button)
Mikulášská 7 Vlastina Wall
Velikonoční 8- Blážina wall (heady finish)
Some may argue that Tetín is part of Srbsko, but the climbing and bolting have a different style, so I think of it as a different location. Tetín is a town on the hillside between Srbsko and Beroun, and you can get to the climbing from either train station with give or take a 40-minute walk. When visiting for the first time, I would suggest starting in Beroun, walking to the town of Tetín and approaching the walls from there. This can be done fairly easily with a combination of Google Maps and Mapy (Czech map application). Mapy is usually better at marking trails. Tetín has shorter limestone sport routes with an abundance of bolts. This is a good area for those who want a break from those heady runouts in other areas. Here you can find difficult and beginner routes on slab, vertical and overhanging walls. There is an online guide of this area, so it is easy to find what you are climbing: https://www.jankaresclimbingteam.com/cs/p/tetinske-skaly. Keep in mind that if you intend to drive, it is best to park by the football field and take the back trail in. Locals prefer if you don’t park in town.
Three nice routes
Policejní Čórka 6+/7-
Dlouhé Vlasy 6+/7-
Tisá is an area in the north of the country with densely packed sandstone towers called rock cities. Sandstone provides the best and most unique climbing in the country. Tisá has mixed and traditional routes on mostly vertical, slab or bulgy walls and towers. This is a soft sandstone area, which means you must follow sandstone rules like no chalk or metal protection. The climbing here typically has more rings for protection compared to other soft sandstone areas, especially if you choose your routes wisely. That being said, don’t expect an abundance of fixed protection. You will need a rack of knots to climb here, and I would suggest a guidebook. It takes a bit more time to travel here if you don’t have a vehicle. You have to take a train to Ústi nad Labem and then a bus from Ústí n.L.,,Divadlo (Theater) to Tisá,,rozc.Sněžník 5.0. It is only a 5-minute walk to the rocks from there. Total travel time should be about 2.5 hours. A good app to use for public transportation is IDOS. This will give you the best train and bus information. Pro tip: plan your bus back carefully, because they can be infrequent. There is also a campground right outside the rocks, which is a good option for a weekend trip.
Three nice routes (Saxon Grading System)
Dětský Den VIIB on Pevnost Tower (about as sporty as it gets on soft sandstone)
Údolní Cesta VIIa on Strážce Tiských Stěn
Západní Cesta V on Květnová Tower
Labák Left Bank
The Labák climbing area is on the left and right banks of the Labe river in the north of the Czech Republic. This area has tall sandstone towers and massifs with sport, mixed and traditional climbing. The left bank is easy to get to via train and has fewer restrictions as far as climbing goes, because technically it is not part of the national park. From Prague you can take a train to Děčín and from there a short connection to Dolní Žleb. I typically like to take the train instead of drive because the small back roads which are only big enough for one vehicle are a pain to navigate. You can see the rock faces from Dolní Žleb and have to hike about 30 minutes to reach them. Again, the use of the Mapy app can be handy when finding your way around. The left bank has hundreds of routes and has its own guidebook as well. You can use chalk when climbing in this area, but the use of nuts and cams is forbidden, as it will destroy the rock and not actually protect you in the process. If you prefer sportier climbing, I would suggest going to the Atlantida area.
Three nice routes
Chupitos VI Atlantida area
Na vlastní Pěst VIIIa Atlantida area
Cesta bojovníka VIIIb Samuraj wall
What are your favorite routes and areas to climb around Prague without a car?
January 07th, 2020
While it is not one of the most physically challenging climbs out there Zaoceanske Bublinky was one of my top sends of 2019.
The left bank of the Labak is one of my favorite places to climb in the Czech Republic. The climbing area is easy to get to via train and takes about 2 hours if you are leaving from Prague. It has nice hard sandstone (comparatively speaking) with beautiful holds and great friction. In the left bank you can climb towers, faces, chimneys and cracks and yes you are allowed to use chalk.
One of my climbing partners showed me this route on my second climbing trip to the area and I decided to give it a shot. The first challenge is getting to the first bolt which is 5 meters (20 feet) off the ground. It is fairly easy climbing and there is a place where you can put a knot that I would deem a 7.5 out of 10 in terms of trustworthiness. Above the knot you have to do a short sequence on only friction feet
Being a climbing instructor in the United States and Czech Republic did not come easy. I was not born into a climbing family. Nobody in my family had ever tried rock climbing before me, and I found the sport myself at the age of 25. Once I started climbing, I was hooked and threw everything I had at progressing in both strength and experience. I am a pretty strange mix of introverted and extroverted. When I am around new people or in a new situation I tend to be quiet and a bit timid. Around the right group of people I can be outgoing and the center of attention. My introverted nature made it difficult for me to find climbing partners or mentors early on and meant that if I wanted to progress, it was on me to push myself. This was not without its woes or embarrassing mistakes that I will share. Keep in mind the best way to learn how to climb is by hiring guides, taking a climbing course or maybe even learning a thing or two from that old crusty climber your local climbing gym.
I started climbing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. One of the closest climbing areas and a great spot to get introduced to outdoor climbing is McConnells Mill State Park. It has hard sandstone that is constantly wet for some reason and has walls that get up to about 40 feet or so. McConnells Mill is not sport bolted but has some anchors at the top and many trees for setting up top-ropes. My first climbing rope lived a short life because I had no idea at the time how to build a proper anchor and shredded my rope with some terrible rope drag.
The most striking line in this area is on a formation called the ship’s prow which gets its name from its shape. I had more confidence than competence at this point (something that has mostly reversed nowadays) and was stoked to send it. My brother and I set up our top-rope and I gave it a run. I made it about 15 feet up and just started into the overhanging section when my foot slipped on the forever wet rock and it all went south. Due to the overhanging nature of the rock there was a massive amount of swing that resulted in me decking (pun intended) and injuring my legs. Luckily, I had no broken bones but I was on crutches for two weeks or so. Right after this event, my father-in-law came to visit for the first time since I married his daughter and was none too impressed with my new career path. I went back and sent the route with a smarter setup after my injuries healed. I am the person climbing the route in the mountain project photo now, so take that daddy-in-law!
Cleaning Sport Routes
This mistake is more funny and embarrassing than tragic. I have a tendency to make big climbing plans and goals, and it started early in my climbing. I somehow came across a climbing area in Lion’s Head, Ontario, Canada and decided this was where I would do my first sport route. There were much more accessible and easier to navigate areas near Pittsburgh but my stoke took me elsewhere. I semi-defend my decision as it is still one of the most beautiful climbing areas I have been to to date! I took my wife Emily who is not a climber to the area and I am lucky to still be married. In this location, you need to either belay from the top, which was way outside my capabilities at the time, or hike to the bottom and go from there. We chose the path of hiking and learned that when climbers say it is an easy hike down they mean easy for climbers. There are a few sections where you need to do a bit of down climbing, which is no real problem for a climber but Emily was not amused.
To the actual point of the story, I had learned how to sport lead in the climbing gym and felt confident I could make it up some easier routes. I had my first experience with Elvis leg here but made it up my selected route cleanly nonetheless. When I got to the top of the climb I was quite confused as there were only rings at the top for descending. In the climbing gym where I learned to lead there were carabiners at the top where you simply clip your rope in and lower down. I embarrassingly assumed all climbs were like this and it was a shock to me to find out otherwise. I didn’t know what else to do so I clipped in one of my carabiners, lowered down and left it there. I knew this wasn’t correct but it was my solution to the problem in the moment. I also knew I was not going to get Emily to do the approach a second day so I climbed a few more routes, repeating my process of leaving carabiners at the anchor and making an unneeded contribution to the climbing community.
After learning how to sport climb, traditional climbing soon followed. I purchased a set of cams, nuts and hexes and headed to the New River Gorge to try them out. At the time, I felt as if I was climbing pretty strong. I don’t really know why I had that impression as I was still a brand spanking new climber with almost no experience outdoors. Anyway, I had watched some Youtube videos and read some online articles about how to place trad gear so I was ready. I decided I would take it easy on my first trad climb and picked out a 5.9+ YDS called Jaws. This is a hand sized crack that runs up a corner and is actually quite a pretty line, not that I made it up far enough to experience it. I tied in and started up the route and quickly realized that climbing on cracks is completely different to climbing face. I placed my first ever cam in the crack and figured it met my standards for a good placement and continued upward. I didn’t make it too far above my placement before I was pumped and panicking. I started to downclimb but it was no use as my foot slipped off of the slippery corner. I fell nearly to the ground but my cam held! I was able to retrieve my cam and bailed off the route without any real incident.
It was winter in Pennsylvania, but I was thirsty for climbing and decided to do my first multi-pitch climbs in Joshua Tree National Park. Yes, I know that Joshua Tree is not specifically known for its multi-pitch climbs and no it did not stop me. By this point in my climbing I had wised up somewhat and had taken a single pitch instructor course through the American Mountain Guide Association. My skills were starting to take a more professional shape but I was pushing new terrain again.
Our first day of climbing in Joshua Tree went without major incident. I did have my first time leading runout granite slab which was a new terrifying experience. I also learned that I didn’t need to hold my pee until my bladder is about to explode and I could pee off of the wall with my harness on need be. This is much easier as a male, I am told by my female climbing partners.
On day two of our excursion we went to the Lost Horse area, and this is where my route finding troubles came into play. I love climbing, but there were times when I was starting out that my stoke to get going would get in the way of proper planning for a route. We decided to climb Dappled Mare, which is a popular 5.8 in the area. We glanced at the topo and could see the general direction of the climb so we went for it. Pitches one and two went without issue. It was my turn to lead pitch 3 so I started the short traverse with an undercling and went up the obvious crack that begins the pitch. After the crack I must have made a wrong turn, and I went up a section of holdless slab with no protection. It led me to an outward flaring crack that couldn’t take any protection. I continued upward through another protection-less slab to yet another outward flaring crack. The runout of about 30 feet was the largest I had faced at the time and I was in a bit over my head. I didn’t feel as if I could down climb and I was getting fatigued due to my hesitation to continue. I was just barely able to pull through the last section of rock, place protection and finish the route. My lax route planning put me on a more challenging rated R route which was a bit much at that point in my climbing career. I have also gotten off route on Royal Arches in Yosemite and got to enjoy a chilly unplanned bivy. The climbing rope does not make a good blanket if you were wondering. Topo reading is an important skill if you are going to venture into longer routes. Reading comments online, asking friends, or talking with more experienced climbers can help you avoid these situations.
Those looking to push their climbing to new levels often have growing pains. Especially if they are not partnering up with a more experienced climber. Learning from past mistakes has helped me make fewer new mistakes while learning how to climb in the Czech Republic. After all, I didn’t want to fall on the first knot that I placed for protection. Feel free to share a story of your climbing growing pains in the comments below. That way I won’t be the only one looking foolish.
I am nearly ready to open my climbing guiding business and it is all very exciting. The problem is I have been spending a lot of time climbing challenging routes in interesting areas without keeping a mindful eye for good guiding spots for beginner climbers. This weekend was my attempt to change that habit and it was semi-successful!
Český Ráj is a large nature reserve about 90 minutes north-east of Prague. It is a well known area in the Czech Republic due to the striking sandstone towers that shoot up out of the forest. Some of these towers are densely packed together and are called rock towns. It is a very picturesque place to hike around and a fantastic place to climb. Český Ráj does translate to Czech Paradise afterall. For this particular adventure to the nature reserve we went to an area called Hrubá Skála. This area is known to have some of the softest sandstone in the Czech Republic. My goal was to explore the area and climb some nice easy climbs.
You don’t have to walk on the trails long before you see the large rock towers. Some of the towers are upwards of 200ft and are very impressive to look at. Because the rock is so soft the wind and water have eroded them into interesting shapes. The nature of the rock also changes how it is climbed. You are not allowed to use metal climbing protection like nuts, cams or hexes because it will pull right through the rock if you fall on it. I could never really stand to climb with hexes but I do miss my nuts and cams. I have not placed a cam in nearly 8 months which is absurd with the amount that I climb. Some routes have large metal rings that are drilled deep into the rocks for protection, like bolts on steroids.
Make no mistake, these are not like sport routes. Many times the first ring is 30 feet off the ground and the distance to the next ring is similar, if there is a second ring. In addition to these mental/safety obstacles you are not allowed to use chalk. This rule has been a hard change for me as I started climbing as a boulderer in the United States, using so much chalk I could be confused for a mime. It is forbidden in the sandstone areas because the porous rock absorbs the chalk and makes permanent white blemishes on the surface. This is deemed unsightly by some and leaves unwanted clues about where good climbing holds may be hiding. I have climbed many routes where you just follow the chalk marks to the top.
It took me the full three days of my trip to get used to the climbing here. I started on some nice easy routes as was my intention for the trip. The easier routes often do not have any large rings drilled into the rock so they are purely traditional climbing on knots. Typically I would fly up routes of an easy grade but the lack of protection and the insecurity of the holds had me hesitating more than normal. The climbing is characterized by having large slopey holds, weird cracks, deep pockets and shapes like the middle of an hourglass where you can grab all the way around. When using the slopey holds you can feel the compacted sand detach from the rock which gives you much less friction to work with. The base of most of the towers is a beach of sand and is the closest feeling you can have to the seaside while living in the Czech Republic. The trick is to be delicate with your climbing and keep your cool. You must place your foot with intention and mustn’t shift your foot after placement as that can add to the reduction in friction you are already working with. It can be pretty mentally challenging to lead routes here but they are super fun to follow unless you are my reluctant wife who does not enjoy climbing.
My confidence grew the more routes I climbed and I enjoyed the different challenges that the climbing here provides. My good friend and climbing partner Mikuláš is more experienced in the area and took me up some routes I would describe as dandies. The biggest and most challenging tower that we climbed toward the end of our trip was the most memorable for me. Miki picked out the line and took the lead of the VIIc. The start was vertical climbing on all manageable holds but no place for protection until a hollow sounding horn that could be slung 20 feet above the ground. From there you used a few decent holds on slabby ground to get to the first ring 15 feet higher. It was intense to watch my friend climbing so far above the ground with no solid protection. There was one move in particular I had to make while following that I was not 100% confident making. After clipping the first ring with two quickdraws to shore up the only good point of protection, you need to move up an extra sandy arete. It was only 20 feet to the next ring but it was through some suspect holds so he moved carefully. Preceding the third and final ring was 40 feet of vertical face climbing where you could place some knots here or there. This was beautiful climbing to follow but must have been quite the mental challenge to lead. The final 20 feet to the top of the tower had the crux where one has to get on the final slab from sandy feet and slopey holds. It was a very memorable climb and it provided a beautiful view of the other towers in the area.
I really enjoy the climbing culture here. Each tower you climb feels like an adventure instead of just climbing another bolted wall. You always mark the completion of your climb by giving your climbing partner a handshake and signing the logbook that each tower holds in a weather protected container at the top. It is interesting to look at the history in each book and to be part of it.
Srbsko is a small town located along the Berounka river, about 30 minutes south-west of Prague by train. The town itself is quite small but has a few nice spots to have a beer after a day of climbing. Srbsko is a well loved climbing area by Czech folks and for good reason. This area has a plethora of limestone sport routes ranging from easy bolt ladder 5.4 to 5.15 (YDS) overhang. It is easy to get from wall to wall via the bike trail that runs along the base of the crags and is my preferred mode of transport. Limestone climbing is my jam, although you rarely actually get to jam on limestone, so I spend a lot of time here. My climbing partner, Squirrel from Colorado, said, “It looks like cragging heaven.”
There are some challenges when it comes to climbing in Srbsko. First of all, it can be a challenge to find out what and where you are climbing. While Mountain Project is far from perfect, I did not realize how useful it was until I did not have it anymore. There are several Czech websites that have climbs listed, but they often lack detailed descriptions or photos to help identify the climbs. I often use www.czechclimbing.com. It is helpful to get a climbing guide book for the location you are planning to climb, but they are in Czech language, so it is only so helpful for us English speakers. The climbing guide book for this area in particular was produced in 2000, so it is quite dated.
Due to the fact that this is a well loved and used climbing area, some of the classic climbs are polished to an impressive level. I thought Rifle Canyon in Colorado was polished, but the routes here take the cake; most footholds have the friction level of a bar of soap. Learning to climb on this kind of limestone has helped me to refocus on my footwork, and I have probably improved my finger strength from overgripping. That being said, there are plenty of routes with good friction if you know where to look.
Czechs are known for their bold climbing, and if you didn’t know that, now you do. Runouts are the name of the game here. I have been on several climbs where the first bolt is 15 ft or higher. Quite often, you find yourself a little higher above your bolt than you would like to be. It is not uncommon to place two quickdraws opposite and opposed in a crucial bolt placement to ensure safety. I have found it prudent to bring my rack to the sport crag if I am climbing an unknown route or in an unknown area. Keep in mind you can use metal protection on granite and limestone, but do not use it on sandstone in the Czech Republic. If you talk to any of my partners, you will find out that my head game is not the strongest facet in my climbing arsenal, but it is something that has improved since climbing on the rock here.
This is a great area to spend a few days climbing. There are hundreds of routes in this area, and you could easily spend a full day at various different walls. It is nicest to take a bike and ride to the different crags and through the Czech towns. Many Czech folks in small towns like to be as self sufficient as possible. I often ride past small gardens and chickens, and you can usually catch the homey smell of wood-burning stoves. Karlštejn is 2.5 miles away and is home to the second most famous castle in the Czech Republic. It is one stop away on the train or an easy bike ride on a country road. This spot is a little built up for tourists, but it is not the kind of place where people hassle you. The castle is awesome, and there are nice spots to grab a drink or get some Czech-style food. The bike trail that goes along the climbing areas in Srbsko connects with the town of Beroun. This is the biggest town in the area and has a great brewery and several nice restaurants. Both of these options are a good way to end your day of climbing. Taking the train to this area is quite easy. Trains leave Prague every 30 minutes, and you don’t even need to purchase a ticket in advance. You can just pop on the train and purchase a ticket from the ticket checker on the train. This works for this train line in particular, but not all train lines. It is pretty easy to take your bikes on the train to either return them to their place of rental or to take them back home. It will cost you 30 czk, and you should load your bike on either the first or last train car.
Srbsko area is a great place to climb and certainly worth a visit if you are into the peaceful countryside terrain. I am looking forward to warmer weather and my continued exploration of this area.
I am a climbing instructor who moved from the United States to the Czech Republic. Here is where I share some of my adventures and talk about what it is like to climb in the Czech Republic and Europe.