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.
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.