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.
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.