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.
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.