3 Tips For a Relationship Surviving Van Life

Andy said I only need one tip: “have a perfect husband.”

Lol! Very cute…

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Andy and I have been together for a few years now and got married six months before heading on our European adventure. Also, we’ve traveled together for a few weeks here and there. Most of which were in my Mitsubishi Delica. We’re not strangers to spending a  weekend in a van.

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My Delica “camper” van on our first holiday in it (2013) – At the Murry
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The view we woke up to from the back of my van last Christmas (2015)

So I wasn’t too stressed about spending six months with him in a small space. Most of the time it was happy days, however there were times when it was more intense than I thought it would be. Six months in a van, is definitely different to a weekend here and there. In saying that, the things I learnt have definitely benefited our relationship. So, keeping in mind that I’m usually the grumpy one, here are the three big things I learnt on this trip:

  1. Ask yourself; does it matter?

I’ve had three friends of mine, who are mothers, say they use this philosophy with their children. It’s no less relevant in adult relationships. There are always going to be those times where you’ve had a bad day, your fuse is short and you just snap. Or times when that lovely, wonderful, awe inspiring person in your life, has left their dirty shoes in the hallway… again!! Or they say something that isn’t well thought out, and while you know they mean well, it just comes across as offensive. And yes yes, if there are two ways to take something and one of those is offensive and the other is no, you mean the non-offensive one… The thing is, sometimes all of these situations collide.

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When you live in a van and spend every waking moment with that person, these little moments can become much more intense. It’s a lot harder to walk away, spend the day doing something else and to let that fuse burn out. It’s also easy to project frustrated or negative feelings onto the person who is in closest proximity. Doing that, however, is not fantastic for a long lasting relationship.

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So! I learnt to ask myself: “does it really matter?”

For example, if Andy wanted to climb for an extra hour and I wanted to finish up for the day. Most of the time, it really didn’t matter. Seriously, what’s an hour?!

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Nine out of ten times it didn’t. Nine out of ten times I just needed to take a few breaths and work out what was really wrong. I found that generally it was something totally unrelated. A surprisingly large amount of the time I was hangry (packed snacks were super handy). It also meant that if I realised I was upset about something else, I was still in the good books and able to ask for a hug, or a listening ear. Or you know, for some more food.

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In saying this, I also found it wasn’t always easy to be introspective. At times it was outright unpleasant to do this; to see things in my self that I didn’t necessarily like in myself. In those moments it can be easier to blame someone else. However, the times I blamed was also the times when things went to poo. I found that in the long run, it was way better to work out what’s really going on rather than unnecessarily hurt the amazing person I was living in a van with.

Like my friend Liv once said when teaching her daughter to tie shoelaces. They were running late, but rather than rushing her out the door she said this: “time spent now is time saved later.” In the long run, being five minutes late just didn’t matter.

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2. Communicate… nice!

So I guess the next thing I learnt was… “But, what if it does matter?”

What if it’s that 1 out of 10 times?

If something really did matter to me, I talked about it. Then and there. Letting it sit and fester just made things bad when it finally exploded in a shit storm of insults and meanness. Again, this sounds simple, but knowing the difference between what mattered and what didn’t was sometimes hard.

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A not so nice communication method

 

For example, does it matter if Andy wanted to stay and climb two more climbs? If we’d only been out there for a couple of hours, it was a nice day and I was just feeling a lazy… probably not. But if it was the fifth day in a row we’d been climbing, I was exhausted and the sun was making it stupid hot, then yes it did matter to me.

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Feeling exhausted on a walk up to a climbing area

So I discovered it was important to communicate this in a nice way. I fount I had to talk about how I was feeling. This did not mean talking about him being unthoughtful or selfish for wanting to climb more. In most relationships, it’s actually really rare that someone will do something to purposely hurt the other. In fact, if I assumed Andy was being unkind and it just made things nasty between us. Instead I found that me wanting to call it a day actually wasn’t about his behaviour, but about my needs. I think we’re conditioned in today’s society to think we aren’t allowed to ask for what we need. But it’s a powerful thing to know and be able to communicate:

“Andy I’m super tired, the sun is hot and I really just need a rest day. Do you mind if we call it…?”

That goes down waaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than: “God! you’re such a jerk! Can’t you see I’m tired? You’re so selfish!”

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Learning to communicate nice has been great for me in my relationship with Andy

I learnt to ask myself how I would want him to say it to me.

3. Compromise

So this is an obvious one. I found that if I followed the above steps this was also an easy thing to do. This was because Andy knew what was going on with me and was able to respond in kind. However, if I did this before I’d really worked out if it mattered I would find my self feeling put out if it did matter. Or if I didn’t communicate nicely, neither of us ended up feeling great about the compromise or outcome. Thing is, if it truly mattered and I communicated it nicely, Andy, being the wonderful and caring person I married, would always try to make reasonable compromises. Just like I do for him.

“Oh, your tired, I get that. Do you mind if I do just one more climb?”

And back to step one, would it matter? Probably not: “One more, of course not. Thanks for calling it early. I love you”… and all that other sappy stuff and stuff.

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Andy compromising and coming for a swim with me. He did this, despite disliking deep water, because I’d communicated how much I love his company when I take a dip. So he came in for 5 minutes of my 30 minute swim.

So yes, our relationship survived six months of living together in a 3m by 6m space. I actually think our relationship is better for it, I feel like I know him and who we are as a couple much better. Oh, and we’ve decided we definitely won’t be spending our retirement in a van. This was a compromise we could both agree on.

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Having a fantastic partner is a good start.

 

European climbing 101

The last few weeks of weather in Europe have turned to poo. Apparently this is a normal part of a European Autumn. We could have gone far south, but because of stupidly small roads, were just weren’t going to do it in our van. So we rescheduled some earlier flights and came back for a week of gym climbing in Germany.

We tried some climbing in Frankenjura, but it was properly cold… and then it started raining there too.

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The rock in Frankenjura was cold and a little mossy in places. We had one good day of weather and then it started raining. So we admitted defeat and headed indoors.

We also sought out some comfort in a Bavarian apartment. It was toasty warm and a great way to end our trip.

So I thought it would be nice to finish with a post about what I have learnt about taking a  climbing holiday in Europe. It’s basically some tips on what you should and shouldn’t do. Or… a list of what I would and wouldn’t do again.

Where to climb:

The climbing in Europe is extensive and diverse. There  really is something for everyone, it’s about finding the right place for you. Obviously, in a six month period we couldn’t see everything. It would take you years and years to see every crag in Europe. I mean years. So this my take on what we’ve seen in our six months.

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European climbing is diverse, well developed and there is something for everyone
  • If you are new to sports climbing, or new to climbing outdoor’s I would suggest climbing on Krk Island in Croatia. There is a crag there with over 20 fantastic climbs under an Australian 18 (5a-5c). They are well graded and have really good bolting. It’s a fantastic place for someone learning to lead climb. There are also plenty of climbs for the mid 20’s (6c-7c) climber there too. If you decide to climb on Krk Island make sure you have a small car to get around with and I would highly recommend the town Vrbnik for accommodation; beautiful town which grazes the seaside cliffs, great food and it has a nice beach. This is what I wrote about Krk Island.
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View of Vrbnik town. It’s much nicer than the more popular Baska.
  • If you are looking for a BIG ADVENTURE you cannot go past Chamonix. Yes, it will be expensive because there are so many cool things to do and yes, it is temperamental with weather (summer is for climbers etc and winter is for the hardcore snow lovers). However, you can free camp in a camper van and the scope for adventures is seriously up there. There is big wall multipitch climbs, mixed alpine routes out the kazoo, paragliding, really really great bouldering in a large variety of grades, a really good indoor lead gym for wet days, huge hiking tracks (including ones that link between cabin on the mountains and can only be reached by foot), white water rafting, single pitch sports routes… the list goes on.  Nearly all of this can be done with a guide or on you’re own. It’s also spectacularly beautiful and the place is packed with other adventurer’s so you can meet some really cool people. You can read more about Chamonix here.
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A pic of us in the valley while doing Aiguille du Midi at Chamonix; a mixed alpine route which is great for anyone of average fitness.
  • If you are a sports climber in Europe for just a week or two it has to be OltreFinale. Finale Ligure is the more famous one, but being newer, OltreFinale is much less polished, has similarly great lines, is well graded and the bolting is thought-out and really well placed. The rock itself is diverse with Tufa’s, over hanging yellow blocks and grey slabby walls. Most of the climbs were set in 2003 or 2012 and there are thousands of climbs there. OltreFinale is just 30km south of Finale Ligure near a town called Albenga and you can get the guide book from the climbing shop called Rock Store in the old Finale Ligure Town.I would suggest staying in, or close to a town called Colletta. This was probably my favourite climbing area of the trip. You can read more about it here.
  • If you are a boulderer in Europe for just a few weeks I would actually suggest the Peak District. I know most people want to go to Fontainbleau because that’s “the place to go”, but the grit stone in the Peak is just amazing! The lines are freakin’ incredible and the stone walled treeless countryside is gorgeous. While the UK is stupidly expensive, this may change with the UK Brexit and the resulting crashing Pound… but keep in mind it is illegal to sleep in a vehicle over night in the Peak District, so you will have to pay for accommodation. Also, gritstone is porous and weeps slightly in weather warmer than 20°C. This means your hands slip and “goodbye skin”. So it’s best in Winter, Spring and Autumn. That saying, we went there in warmer weather and still had a fantastic time.  In fact, because of my experience there, I fell in love with bouldering. I would say I prefer bouldering over sports climbing now. Oh, and the climbing gyms in England are phenomenal. If you’re ever there try to get to any of the Awesome Walls, Chimera Climbing (bouldering) in Turnbridge Wells or the Lead climbing at the Reading Climbing Centre.
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Trying the first moves of this dynamic V5, I didn’t get far
  • So with this in mind. Fontainbleau is also fantastic. I wouldn’t brush it off and it would actually make a great combined holiday with the Peak District. Just keep in mind that Fontainbleau is one of many many bouldering areas in Europe. I also really liked the boudering in Chamonix and Finale and we spoke to someone who said the bouldering in Austria is out of this world. He said the most famous place in Austria is situated on a big plain near the mountains scattered with boulders. He said it was wonderful to boulder with huge snow capped mountains on the horizon. I would love to see this place on my next trip.
  • If you want a super social climbing trip I would highly recommend Margalef in Spain. It is a small town an hour in land from Barcelona and when climbing season is on, the town is packed full of climbers, climbers and more climbers. There really is something about being completely surrounded by people all of the same interest. It is too hot to climb there in the summer months, but wonderful in Spring and Autumn. You can stay in the campground there, but you definitely need a smaller van or a car so you can get to all the climbing areas. Remember that while the roads are small in Spain, the food is amazing and the people are really warm and friendly.
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Climbing in Margalef. The rock is grippy and the lines are inspiring.
  • If you are small… because your younger, or your just a little on the shorter side, Margalef is also a great place to go. The rock there has many little pockets. This means there is often intermediates, which is especially good for those with little, strong fingers. I think the climbing there allows people with smaller statures more opportunities to climb hard grades.
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Angie on her project
  • If you like laid back stuff and don’t climb over mid 20’s (7b+)… stay in Australia. Jks, There isn’t a lot of it, but probably stick to or Kalymnos. There is a few sectors with laid back Tufa’s in OltreFinale as well, but it’s not oozing with this style of climbing. I haven’t climbed in Kalymnos or on the Tufa’s in Rodellar, but I’ve heard it is really insanely good. Seriously, everyone who has been to either place raves about it.
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Andy climbing OltreFinale Tufa’s
  • If you want scarey multipitch try Paklenica or, aparently the Dolomites. The big multipitch which are in both of these places are supposedly sport, but I think they are realistically mixed routes. They regularly have up to 5 metres of run out. Chamonix is another place where there are supposed to be really fantastic big mutipitch climbs, but I can’t say if it was good or not because I didn’t do any of them.
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Abseiling off the first pitch of a multi in Paklenica because the run outs scared us
  • If you are keen on Deep Water Soloing Croatia is fantastic. We did some from the mainland which is in the town of Split. If you stay in the beautiful old town you can walk to two of the crags. There is a third called Katalinica which is next to a busy crowded ugly beach, don’t go there, it is not deep enough. The other two are on the quiet side of the harbour and are much much much nicer. Those can both be accessed by traversing until you find the climbs which are outlined in the online guide.  There is also deep water soloing on a number of islands, including Hvar which is the more famous one. But most of these need to be accessed by boat, which makes things more expensive. But, it’s a great way to get a wicked tan and enjoy both climbing and the ocean.
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Andy climbing a great 3d problem on the traverse. Look at that tan!!
  • If you are looking for something really different I would suggest climbing the shale mines in Wales. There isn’t a lot of sports climbing in the UK. Apparently there is some politics about it, so the only sports climbing you will find is in old quarries. The shale quarry in northern Wales are out of this world. They have basically mined out half a mountain. I’m not talking a wee little hillside, I mean a massive arse fucking mountain. I thought it would be a little lame and industrial, but it was outstandingly beautiful… And the rock is really different from anything I have seen. The flat walls are slick and the edges are sharp as anything you’ve ever touched. It does get a bit wet there, but the rock dries really quickly. You can buy a guide for the area in a town called Llanberris. It is also a really beautiful place and there are lots of climbers, hikers and mountain bikers in the area. Oh, and great pubs.
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Us in front of one small part of the quarry. There is a 50m drop just behind us into a giant pit
  • If you are in Europe for six months to a year try spending at least two to three weeks in each place. The rock style changes a lot from place to place, even just 50km apart, so you need a few days to get used to it. Then you can start to pull and find the lines you like. I would also highly recommend you do you’re research and follow the weather. You can find great information on the Climb Europe Website. If it says it’s generally too hot or too cold at certain times, it will be just that.
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Feeling cold at the very start of the Frankenjura season
  • Also, if you want a Van holiday, get something smaller if you plan on going south of the alps. We found many of the access roads to climbing in Spain, Italy and Croatia pretty scarey. It was similarly scarey in parts of the UK. In Germany and Denmark a larger van was not an issue, and you can easily wild camp in a van in the northern countries.
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My cousin’s wife took a snap of us squeezing through an Italian town

So, there is a lot of do and see in Europe. This is really just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much climbing in the European continent and so much more that I want to climb there. Just do some research and work out what you want to acheive before you go, it will help you narrow down what you want to see. Oh, like my wise old dad said, it will always be different to what you expect, wonderful, but very different.

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The day this sports climber converted to bouldering

 

Goodbye Europe. What an amazing trip it’s been!

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Climbing OltreFinale and the Italian Emergency Services

The Climbing

Let me start by saying that the climbing in Oltrefinale is outstanding. Absolutely fantabulously wonderously amazing! It was some of the best climbing we’ve experienced in Europe to date.

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Andy Climbing in Valle del Vero – Oltre Finale

Why OltreFinale?

When we were in Croatia we met a lovely Spanish couple. They spoke almost no English and we spoke even less Spanish, but we managed to have a nice ‘chat’ anyway. They told us that Finale Ligure could be pretty polished, so to head to Oltrefinale. It was only 30km south of the Finale Ligure area, near a town called Albenga. They explained how Oltre Finale actually means Alternative Finale in Italian. Apparently it was much newer and less famous, but with the same line quality of Finale Ligure. They basically said the climbing was schmick as. They were right.

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Warming up in Valle del Vero – Oltre Finale
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Andy being a wonderful Belay Bitch

The Rock Quality

Most of the climbs in the area were bolted in either 2003 or 2012. Not only is this impressive, considering the huge number of climbs in this area, it also makes the climbs here some of the freshest in Europe. For those of you who have climbed on it before, you’ll  know that over time and with heavy use, Limestone can become pretty polished. Like Andy said; it almost like sunscreen’s been rubbed in to the holds. This was certainly our experience in some places in Europe, but not in Oltrefinale.

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Climbing in Oltrefinale with sun on my back was magnificent
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Valle Del Vero. There are 14 locations in this area, a lot of the rock in this picture is bolted.

The Rock Formation

We went to four different crags while we were there. There are thousands of bolted climbs in the area, so while we barely scraped the surface, but we definitely got a taste for it. Something we found really enticing about it was the variety. In those four areas we climbed Tufas like you find in Rodellar, slabby, sharp grey limestone like you find in Paklenica, blocky 3d lines like Portland or Kambah Red Rocks and even some pocketed walls like Margalef or Frankenjura. It was almost like experiencing all the European rock types in one place.

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Andy climbing Tufas in a cave in Val Pennavaire
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Just look at those amazing Tufa’s in Val Pannavaire!!

The bolting

The other thing I found really inspiring in this area was the bolting. The first three bolts were always close together, which means you never worried about a ground fall. Then the rest of the climb never had more than 2m between each bolt. This was for both easier and harder lines.

Over the last six months we’ve experienced places in Europe where they basically grid bolt the climbs. This means we ended up with some hairy moments trying to clip bolts or climbing way off line. Our experience of Oltrefinale was that it was always thoughtfully bolted: it was easy to clip and bolted for the harder parts of the climb. Unreal! It meant I felt really good about pushing my boundaries and climbing harder grades than I usually do, especially when putting on the draws.

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Feeling great about placing draws on climbs in Oltrefinale

Friends

While we were there we were joined by a friend from Australia; Birgette. It was lovely to see her and fun to catch up with someone from home.

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Group shot of the three of us at the crag.
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Birgitte climbing at Oltrefinale

Rain Rain Go Away

Our first few days of climbing in Oltrefinale were fantastic. Warm, nice cool breeze and split between slight cloud cover and sunny blue skies. Unfortunately about a week into this part of our trip the weather took a serious down turn. We had a few more days climbing as it got cooler and cooler and windier and windier, but then the rain set in too. After two days of sitting in our van with more than 40ml of rain each day… and not much better forecast for the next week, we sadly decided it was time to move on.

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Andy on our last climb in OltreFinale. 
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Cold and wet weather pushed us out of the area 😦

 

Finale Ligure

The old town, Finale Ligure is really pretty and well worth a visit. There are around 10 outdoor shops in the old town which cater for the many mountain bikers and rock climbers that flock to this part of the world. The one you want is called “Rock Store” as this is the only place you can buy the OltreFinale book. Just remember they take part in a mid day siesta, so don’t expect to buy you’re climbing guide between 12 and 16:30.

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Walking through the old Finale Ligure town
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Old Town Finale Ligure

Like I said before, it is only 30km or so from the OltreFinale area, so it makes it a great place to go on a rest day. We went there with Birgitte, walked up to the top of a hill behind the town and saw an old castle which is being restored. The old basilica in the town is also worth peeking inside. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the inner structure is pretty interesting to see. Kind of like an over the top Chinese restaurant meets Italian renaissance.

You can see some really great pictures  of the church and the rest of the town on this website. You’ll see what I mean when you see the picture of the church: Pinbike

So, even if you don’t see the castle or the church, there are lots of things to look at as you walk through the town itself.

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Just a little graffiti on some of the walls
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There was some really unique and beautiful street art too

 

Italian Emergency Services

One of the sounds you never want to hear while at a crag is a big scream followed by an almighty thump. It sends chills up you’re spine. I’ve met a few people who have made a ground fall before, but in eight years of climbing this is the first time I’ve been in the vicinity of one.

A German girl was climbing just round the corner from us. Apparently she had been cleaning a climb…

NOTE for non climbers, so you understand why she fell: “Cleaning a climb” when Sports climbing is when you get to the top of a climb and need to thread the rope through two rings bolted into the rock. These last ring bolts are called the anchor. This is done so you can be lowered off the climb. You can watch this video, where she even says “this where a lot of people make mistakes” or… This is done by:
  1. Clipping the last bolt (the anchor) of the climb with a quick draw (there should be two at the top, you only need to clip one when cleaning)
  2. attaching yourself safely to the other bolt with a sling, quickdraw or something similar, this is called “putting on a safety.” So you now have the rope AND a second piece of climbing equipment keeping you secure
  3. You then pull through some rope from your side of the bolts, tie a knot and attach it to yourself, so you don’t drop it.
  4. Then you untie yourself from the end.
  5. Then you thread the rope through one or two of the bolts.
  6. Now you re-attach the rope to yourself
  7. This step is important and my brother Ib instilled this in me (thank you Ib). You need to check the rope runs from the ground or from your belayer, then up the wall, through the ring bolt at the top and then attaches to you on the other side of it. Double check this. Triple check this. Shit! check it four times if it makes you feel good.
  8. Then you untie the second piece of rope from yourself.
  9. Then, lift yourself a little so there is some slack in your safety and ask your belayer to take your weight.
  10. If and only if, you can feel your belayer has your weight and the rope runs up the wall, through the bolts and then attaches to you, take off your safety.
  11. Then lower off down the wall and clean off the rest of the bolts.

…So she had been cleaning the climb, she was new to climbing and she didn’t retie herself into the end correctly after threading the rope. She also didn’t check her belayer had her weight before untying her safety. She fell from the top of the climb. Poor thing was not OK, and kept apologizing for making this simple mistake, thankfully she was alive.

We rushed over after the thump. I was the only one with any reception on my phone so I dialed 112 for the Italian Emergency services. Despite this area being one of the more popular tourist destinations in Italy they did not speak any English… Or German, or Spanish. I tried desperately to explain where we were in a broken mix between English and Italian and after a minute or so the guy just hung up on me. Pretty disappointing!

So our friend Birgitte ran down to the car park where there was a cafe and asked the staff to call the Emergency Services. Once they arrived, the actual emergency personnel were fantastic. It was a hard decent for them and they needed to carry her down in a stretcher, but they managed and kudos to them for it.

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Italian Emergency Services doing a great job

 

Overall

So while this was a definite shock to the system, the rock itself was so good… we didn’t want to stop climbing. We got ourselves a coffee, found a new crag and quadruple checked our knots and anchor cleaning for the rest of the day.

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Birgitte climbing at OltreFinale

To sum up, if I had just a few weeks to climb in Europe, Oltrefinale is where I would be going. No doubt about it. It had everything you could want from a climbing destination. I’ve already written too much so I won’t go into detail, but the food, the landscapes the plentiful and wide variety of accommodation were all spectacular. It’s the perfect place for a climbing holiday for any type of climber.

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Vierws from the crag at Olrefinale

Other

Oh, we also went to the Cinque Terra. If you don’t know what that is, click this link

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Climbing Krk Island, Croatia

We spent out last few days in Croatia on Krk Island. My cousin’s wife, Annette had said it was a lovely place, and we met a Spanish couple who said the sports climbing there was great. It was also possible to access by road, which was a plus for us with a big van. Not only that, it was on our way to Italy. So it was a bit of a no brainer.

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View of the mainland from Krk Island

The climbing

We only had two days on the rock in Krk because on day three it bucketed with rain, and I mean bucketed. But the two days we did have were spectacular. The lines were incredible, the island views were to die for, the bolting was safe, the holds were grippy and the grades were spot on. I did the best 5b of the entire trip there. That particular line was phenomenal; well equipped, 3d, a little pumpy, some great technique moves and exciting, while still being really well graded.

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At the top of a 5c, there were some wonderfully tall climbs too.

We only climbed at Portofortuna as it was the easiest for us to get to. There are three crags on the Island; Portofortuna, Belova Stene and Bunculuka. They are all covered in the Croatia climbing guide by Boris Cujic. The guide explains that the Bunculuka crag, which is on the ocean near the popular town of Baska is not only small, but also a little unsafe. Due to the salt water both rock and bolts get weathered quickly. We had also heard that Baska had prostituted itself to tourism. It has one of the largest beaches in Croatia, so it attracts a lot of people. Apparently the town has now lost it’s original charm. But, the main reason we didn’t go there was because the roads were crazy small on the drive down and we decided our beast of a van might not make it.

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Belova Stene currently has 38 climbs. If we had more climbing days we definitely would have made our way there. However it was a 35 min walk straight up a steep hill. So we only climbed at Portofortuna, a 25min walk straight up a steep as poo hill. But the climbing was definitely worth the walk.

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Feeling puffed on the walk up the steep steep hill to Portofortuna

In Portofortuna there are four sections divided into A, B, C and D. Section D is where the spectacular 5b was. There are 25 climbs, with seven of them being 4’s (Australian 12-13), 17 5’s (Australian 14-18) and one 6a (Australian 19). It would be the perfect place to take a beginner climber. Even Andy really enjoyed doing these easier climbs. They were magnificent.

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A local climber trying his hand at a 6c

We also did a number of climbs in Section A. These were a good mix of 6’s (Australian 19-22) and 5’s. We climbed a couple of routes on the end of Section C, and had a good eyeball of the middle of this wall. It  was a great big wave, with tufa’s running vertically through the middle. It’s grades were mostly in the 7’s (Australian 23-28). So this would be an amazing crag for nearly all climbers. I know I certainly enjoyed it.

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The big wave of wall C. Look closely and you can see climbers at the bottom of the orange streak

Accommodation

We spent our first two nights in the only open caravan park in Punat. It is a harbour village with beautiful crystal clear water. Unfortunately from Mid September all the camp sites start shutting down because everyone just exits. The place was starting to become a ghost town. The first night there was wonderful, quiet and I even made new friend… who I found saying good bye to very hard.

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My friend. I called her Frankie

The second night wasn’t so great. A group of middle aged Slovenians arrived for their usual weekend get away. At about 11:45pm I decided to go and ask if they would turn down their music. I’ve done this many times in my life and never had a bad response. Until now. I had to yell so they could hear my request over their music, they then pretended not to understand English, while responding to me in drunken, but perfect English and then one of the old men sleezily asked me to join them. Andy went and made a complaint to one of the guards. He was super helpful and apologised, apparently they are a regular problem. They get lots of complaints about them and the guard bemoaned the Slovenian tourists, saying they act like they own the place. Maybe they are the Slovenian version of the noisy, embarrassingly rude Australian tourists in Bali. You know the ones I’m talking about.

Oh, and we saw our first autumn leaves. Pretty… and it means we are soon coming to the end of the trip…

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Red Autumn leaves

So we left Punat the next day and had a loot at Vrbnik. It was so beautiful. The original Slavic Language has been kept alive there for hundreds of years by a small group of Monks. It is also out of the main tourist drag, so it has kept a lot of it’s original charm. We arrived there and found a dingy car park where you have to pay the owner of the land. It turned out it was a Croatian guy who grew up in Perth. He was lovely, we paid a little extra and he allowed us to stay the night in his car park.

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Looking at mainland Croatia from Vrbnik old town. 

While there aren’t a huge number of beaches at Vrbnik, there are gorgeous cliff lines and still plently of places to go swimming in that crystal clear water.

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The town sits right on the edge of the cliff

And it was very picturesque. You can see the girls who were taking it turns to have their sea side picture taken and then the second picture shows a guy posing for a picture up on the hill behind Andy. I find that one quite funny.

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girls posing to have their picture taken
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What a great photo bomb.

If we ever go back to Krk Island I would stay at Vrbnik in a hearbeat. Like the rest of Croatia, the apartments there are very reasonably priced, especially if you book ahead.

Climbing in Paklenica

Andy and I spent about two weeks climbing in Paklenica National Park, which is breath taking.  It was a really wonderful few weeks and we met some outstanding people.

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You enter the park through this beautiful old town
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There are masses of big cliff faces throughout Paklenica National Park – a climbing Meca

 

 

 

 

 

The Climbing

Paklenica is reportedly one of the oldest sports climbing areas in Europe. It was first established some time early in the 1980’s but because of the war, the climbing went on stalemate in the country until the conflict cleared up in 1995. I’m guessing it was a few more years again before climbing truly kicked off again.

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There was really great height on some of the single pitches.

Since then the local goverment has invested in some serious infrastructure for anything that brings tourist money (it costs about 5 EURO per day per person to enter the park, but is well worth it). Paklenica is packed with climbers and walkers so it has become one of those invested in places. And they have really catered for the crowds. They even have toilets built into the walls. No crag toilets for us! And no piles of toilet tissues hidden behind unseen boulders.

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One of the two toilet blocks in Paklenica National Park

They have also placed little plaques for some of the climbs so you can easily find your away round. Marking a few climbs so you can navigate your way around a crag is an extra super plus in my books.

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One of the many plaques at the crag which help you find your way around

The climbing in Paklenica has many many tall walls. There are multipitch sports climbs which are as high as 300m and a huge number of single pitch sports climbs. The majority of the single pitch climbs are in sector A  which is right at the beginning of the parks walking trail, there are 17 sectors in total. This walking trail runs down the middle of the canyon and the walls were scattered with climbers on both sides.

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Sector A in Paklenica National Park

The rock itself is very different to any where else we have been in Europe. It has lots of sharp deep flakes for hands and little edges or smearing for feet. It also has loads of little water drip pockets for fingers and squished toes. Being lime stone, there were even tufa like structures on some of the walls. It was a cool and super friendly place to climb.

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Andy climbing. Pockets all over the wall, flakes on his right. Photo credit to Karine

So, I think it’s important to know how old the climbing is in Paklenica is so you can understand how used, and therefore polished, the more popular climbs/areas are. Don’t get me wrong, the lines were still incredible, it was just that some of the most popular and easily accessed climbs feel like they had sunscreen rubbed into their holds. This meant that while the climbs were feasibly rated well when they were first put up, many of them are likely a few grades harder than what they originally were. Either that, or those Slavic climbers are truly, seriously hard men.

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Andy climbing on the popular side of sector A in Paklenica

What we did discover was that the climbs on the other side of the dry river bed were much less polished. This meant the climbs there were well graded. I assume this more grippy rock is due to lack of access to those walls because of the raging river when there is snow melt in spring. So if you ever go, head straight to sector A, wall 16. It will give you a good idea of how the rock climbs and the lines there are really fun.  In fact every climb there was outstanding and I definitely finessed my footwork while climbing in Paklenica. I even ticked my third 6b (Australian 20) for the trip.

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This is me climbing in sector 16 on one of the best 5b’s (Australian 16) I’ve done in Europe

I should also note that the bolting in Paklenica is much more like Australian setting. In some parts of Europe the bolting is almost like a gyms; you get pumped from clipping every metre. In Paklenica it is much more run out. This was actually really good for me because it helped me become more comfortable with climbing above my clip again, especially on those spicy slick footholds. However it became even more run out on the mutipitch climbs. Up to five metres in some places. We attempted a couple of multipitch climbs, but found ourselves psyched out with the run outs and ended up sticking to the single pitch climbs. Unfortunately I think the mutipitch is where Paklenica becomes truly spectacular, so we may have missed out there.

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Absailing off the first pitch of a multipitch.

Friends

On our first day of climbing in Paklenica Andy heard an Australian accent, along with the accompanying f-bomb. We haven’t seen Aussies in a while, so we made a B line. I think it was a little like when a kid goes to kindergarten and there is another kid with the same coloured t-shirt: insta-friends! Craig (the Aussie) and his partner Karine (a gorgeous French lady) were super lovely.

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The four of us on the day we met. Pre-beers

We spent the next few weeks climbing with them.

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This is Karine coming up to the crux of a 6b… we thought it was a 6a. She did really well.
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Here is Craig on that same 6a as Andy.

…and touring around sight seeing with them.

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Sunset on the hill behind Sarigrad

Craig also writes a blog. He is about to turn 50 and about 18 months ago completely turned his life upside down. He said he started his trip by calling one of the five people in the world he would like to hang out with: Monique Forrister. Turns out she was happy to hang out and they ended up spending two weeks climbing in the US together. He now travels, climbs and has met the love of his life, the gorgeous (and not a Muppet) Karine. He’s a pretty interesting dude. You should check out his blog if you have time.

https://summitupdownunder.com/ 

We also met other people. Dad, this one is for you. One of these others were an older couple of men, a French guy in his early 70’s and a German man called Reinhardt who was 80. These guys were climbing outstandingly well. Reinhardt said he had been climbing since he was 17. For those of you who are good at maths you would have worked out he has been climbing for 63 years!!! What a legend.

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Having a quick beer after a day of climbing with Reinhardt

The Accommodation

We arrived there on a Wednesday afternoon and found a small family run camp ground called Camp Popo. It is a small set of holiday apartments surrounded by a backyard campground. It was very basic, but had hot running water, was walking distance to the beach, restaurants and other shops and, most of all, was cheap compared to others in the area ($25 AUD a night).

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Camp Popo

So, I’ve probably said this in other posts, but if I was to ‘do’ Croatia again, I would definitely do it in an apartment, not camping. Not only is the price difference negligible, but the comfort and facilities tend to be much better. Also, the hosts are renowned for being uber friendly and welcoming.

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Craig and Karine on their sea view balcony and Milka below, about to wave us goodbye.

Our friends Karine and Craig stayed with a lovely lady called Milka. They found her apartments on AirBnB. We visited them a couple of times so we also had the opportunity to chat with and get to know Milka. She was a really lovely person who loves to be a host. She speaks German, Italian, Croatian and a smattering of English. Craig and Karine said she welcomed them each night with home made grappa (a Croatian liquor) and some sort of freshly made food. She even cooked them dinner a few nights. We said it would be lovely to experience a real Croatian meal (most restaurants here just serve Italian food or BBQ’s, and I’m vego). She was really excited and said we had to come round for dinner one night. And wow! The food was incredible. She cooked us a feast and sent us home with baggies. If I ever go back to Paklenica I’m definitely staying with her.

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The mostly Vegan dinner Milka made for us all one night. Photo credit to Craig Hitchcock

If you’re interested these are her details:

  • email: alen70@gmail.com (for English speakers) milkavukelic47@gmail.com (for Croatian and German)
  • www.apartmani-starigrad.com
  • Velebitska 21, 23244 Starigrad Paklenica, Croatia.

 

Starigrad Town

Starigrad is where you will be staying if you ever visit Paklenica National Park. It is a pretty-ish town witch still operates as a fishing town, just mixed with huge numbers of tourist. It means you have lovely board walks, small pebble beaches and sea side restaurants to visit on your rest days.

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Starigrad harbour with the mountains in the background
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Andy and I eating ice cream in the sun on a rest day

Just to the South of the town there is an old relic of a fortification. It can be reached by foot if you just follow the path along the water. Apparently there are lots of myths and legends about it, including something about a kind who had the face of a dog. It was a nice little adventure.

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The old fortification just south of Starigrad

There is also an ancient burial ground on the mountain behind the town. It was traditional to carry the body of the deceased to the grave site. However, the body was only allowed to touch the ground once, when it was finally laid to rest. When you see the rocky landscape of the area, you can understand how momentous a task it must have been to carry bodies up to their final resting place. Once there they placed stones at their head and feet and more stones to cover the body.

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One of the old burial grounds above Paklenica town

In Starigrad is one of Croatia’s few climbing shops; Iglu sport. This was very handy for us as we needed the guide book and chalk. It wasn’t a huge store, but it had all the basics. It was also right next to a fantastic fast food place which did amazing burgers and chips.

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Iglu sport – one of Croatia’s few outdoor and climbing shops.

 

Other Tourist stuff

We also took the time to visit Krka National Park. They are some gorgeous lakes and water falls surrounded by beautiful green forest. It is meant to be a lot like Plitvice Lakes, but you can swim in this one.

 

We also visited Zadar where there is the most amazing ocean organ. When the swell moves, the water flows in and out of pipes, which make this eery and beautiful sound.

 

Thanks again to Craig and Karine. We had the most wonderful time with you two. Hopefully we catch up in Australia.

Good bye Paklenica, thanks for an awesome couple of weeks.

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Good by Paklenica

Climbing in Istria, Croatia

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The sunset view from dinner in Navigrad

We arrived back in Croatia at the beginning of September. We spent two nights in beautiful Navigrad in north Istria to relax before hitting up one of the main crags in Rovinj. It was the start of shoulder season. This means that the crowds were thinning out, it was still warm, but also cool enough to climb and while everything was still open for business, prices were being dropped. It was fantastic. The local’s also seemed a little more relaxed and we were able to have a chat, getting to know people living in the area.

The climbing

There is climbing right through out Istria. The latest book lists 19 different crags in the area. We visited two and plan to visit a third, which came highly recommended, when head out of Croatia in a few weeks time. The climbing was consistently good, with many great lines.

Rovinj

Rovinj is the first place we climbed at and where we spent most of our time in Istria. The town itself is stunning. It has these gorgeous cobbled streets through the old city, which fronts onto the harbor and ocean. This  is surrounded with Italian like new buildings and many little places where you can jump into the ocean for a swim.

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Rovinj fronts onto the ocean and is incredibly picturesque
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The harbor in Rovinj was really busy, in some places the boats were three deep
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One of the many swimming spots that are just 5 min walk from the Rovinj old town. I loved how crystal clear the water is.
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One of the cobbled streets of Rovinj’s old town. Beautiful. The swimming spot in the picture above, is just beyond the last house you can see in the street here.

 

The climbing itself is located in a large park just south of Rovinj. If you approach the climbing area from the South of this, you will see just a few cairns on the beach before it to mark the way.

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The Cairn beach marking the way to the Rovinj crag. There were 100’s of these things

The climbing itself was fantastic. The lines were interesting and considering how many people were at the crag, it was mostly unpolished. The grades there start about 4a and the hardest grade is a 7a. This means it is a perfect place for the beginner or intermediate climber. If, however, you are looking for something a bit harder, you will need to drive 15-20mins out of town to one of the other crags close by.

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This is me top roping a 6a+ (Australian 21).
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Andy climbing a really fun 6a.
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You can see how close this crag is to the ocean. The views were fantastic. 

Even though the crag was very busy, we were never waiting long for a climb and the people there were really friendly. We met an American couple with their fantastic colourful tights. They were super lovely and we had dinner with them that night. Like I said, it was a really friendly place to climb.

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Melissa from America climbing a 6a
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Sam from America top roping an exciting and thiiiiin 6c

I should mention here, if you are planning to go there are a couple of things to remember.

  1. There are two sections to this crag. One which is on a lower tier and just metres from the ocean and the main one which is on a tier above this. The lower tier is not overly safe to climb at, some of the bolts are semi lose and we found the holds to be a little unstable. But there is still plenty to keep you busy in the larger upper section.
  2. The other thing to note, is that while most of the climbs are graded well, some of the 5c’s and 6a’s were a little soft for the grade. As with most crags, there were a couple of sandbagged climbs, but as a general rule, the grades were easy. For me, this was a nice little ego boost.
  3. Anything that can be bolted has been. The bolting is fairly close together, so very safe but many of anchors are shared by two climbs. This does, however, have a positive side. I saw lots of people climbing the easier of the two, which allowed them to have a burn at a harder climb. I thought this was a nice little added bonus.
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Some of the many climbers

 

I also loved the proximity of the crag to the ocean. I took the opportunity on most afternoon’s to cool off in the water on the cycle home after climbing. I even managed to drag Andy into the crystal clear water with me most days. It was a fantastic week. I loved climbing in Rovinj.

 

Pula – Vinkuran

The second place we climbed was a crag called Vinkuran, which was just outside of Pula. Pula is about 70km from Rovinj and only about 1hr drive. The climbing is located in an old quarry. Now when I say old, I’m talking 2000 years old. It’s where the rocks were quarried and produced for the roman amphitheater which still stands in Pula. Both are pretty incredible to see.

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Walking into where they used to quarry for the amphitheathre
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It was really cool to climb in this ancient quarry
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climbing the ancient amphitheater walls
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This is meant to be the most intact roman amphitheatre in the world. They had gladiator fights here until 500bc

The climbing at the Vinkuran quarry was fairly hard for the grade. Dare I say sandbagged… There were a couple of 5a,b,c grades, but they looked chossy and the bolts were a rusted colour. So we stuck to an area in the quarry which had grades ranging from 6b to 8a (Aus 20-29). I seconded a 6b, but the climbing was just too hard for me so I played belay bitch for the day.

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I felt like I was really rocking these belay glasses. 

So while the grades were hard, the lines were still amazing. Andy did two 6b’s, which he said felt more like 6c’s or 7a’s in parts and we decided we’d had enough confidence smashing for a day. I think if you climb in the high 7’s (26-ish) or low 8’s, (31-ish) this would be really great place to climb for a few days. The lines are inspiring, the walk in is really short and there is tons of other things to do in the area.

 

As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of climbing areas in Istria. We only visited two and were really pleased with the experience we had. I would definitely recommend the area to others.

Accommodation

There are lots of accommodation options in Istria. We Spent just over a week staying in an apartment on the outskirts of Rovinj. We booked it through AirBnB. It cost us about $60 Aud a night, had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a sun room and a balcony. It also included free bike hire which made it easy for us to get to climbing, the beach, shopping and to town. Our host was also fantastic. I had a filling come out while there and she found and booked a dentist for me (the dentist was incredible too, and the filling was only $70 AUD!!). She also helped with a few other administrative things we needed and made  a real effort to help us feel comfortable. It was wonderful.

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The view from our balcony in Rovinj

When we stayed in Navigrad we paid for one of the big caravan parks. It was huge and had everything from pools and restaurants to bike paths and a pharmacy on it. It was impressive. It was also about $60 AUD a night. We decided that while it was lovely and well equipped, we didn’t want to pay that much again to sleep in our van.  (You aren’t allowed to sleep in vehicles unless in a campground)

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This was left on our car when we were staying in an apartment in Rovinj as they thought we were sleeping in the van. 

While in Pula, we found a small backyard campground. It was much cheaper than the big one and was much more personal. It still had a pool, shower block and small backyard restaurant, but it was only the size of three or four house blocks. The guy who ran the place made a huge effort to make us feel welcome, showed curiosity about where we were from, making jokes with everyone and kept a very tidy and clean campground. The Croatian hospitality is certainly something to write home about. It was a good experience.

 

 

Next

We’re now off to Paklenica National Park. It’s one of the biggest and tallest climbing areas in Croatia. If it’s anything like Istria, I’m sure it will be fantastic.

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Good bye Istria. It was great!

Bouldering in the Peak District, England

We arrived in England in the beginning of August. It was, thankfully, lovely and cool compared to the heat of Croatia. We headed straight to a climbing shop, looked through the guides and decided to head to the Peak District National Park for bouldering. The thought process behind this was that if it rained it was easier to pack up and bail. We’d also heard some good things about the bouldering there.

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Peak District National Park

Bouldering in the Peak

During this trip I have come to really love bouldering. Before we left I had a preference for sports climbing,  but I’ve had the opportunity to do lots of bouldering in Europe and it has becoming the bees knees for me. I love the problem solving and the beauty of having just mat, shoes and chalk bag. I also like that you can easily move onto the next problem if you don’t enjoy a climb. Alternatively you can get off the problem and try again five minutes later without too much stuffing around with ropes and equipment. I like the simplicity of it. The bouldering on Peak District grit stone ingrained this.

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Bouldering at Stanage in the Peak District National Park

So we learnt some things while bouldering in the area. The first is that grit stone is porous. This is important because it means the rock soaks up water and when it gets warm it sweats. It may not be a visable sweat, but it’s enough to make your hands slip just a fraction as you grip those gritty, textured holds, especially as it gets warmer. This leads to the rock tearing up your hands. This leads to your hands leaking lymphatic liquids, which then compounds the slip factor problem.

We got talking to a local climber who said that most hard core boulderer’s won’t touch the rock there unless it’s a fresh crispy cold day. However, we still had a great time and  experienced loads of great problems. We  just made sure we used lots of Climb On to repair the skin and took a rest day every third day. You can see our shredded hands in the pictures below.

 

We went to…

The Roaches: which was some of the best climbing we experienced. I now know that was partly because of the crisp weather on that day. However, the climbing was easy to access, there was a wide range of grades and lots of bouldering in the area. It was also a really popular area for trad climbers.

Stanage: is the most popular and well known area in the Peak District. We went to the Pebble area and a place called the Far Right. The climbing here was 3D and very thought provoking. I loved the mini roof problems in this area. Unfortunately it had started to warm up, so this is when our hands became wrecked.

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Bouldering in the Peak District at Stanage Far Right. This was a wicked campus problem.

 

Sheffield: We went to just one crag in the Sheffield area. It was right on the edge of the city and we parked almost in someones backyard to access the crag. It was a short walk through a Robin Hood in Sherwood style forest before coming to three big amazing boulders. Again, they were really 3D and had a variety of grades under V4. It wasn’t my favourite crag because it had the usual city crag trash and broken glass, but it’s saving grace was the amazingness of the bouldering problems.

 

I also really liked the sheep and cows that populated the area. I did, and still do, find it strange that there is a national park with live stock being run on it. This would never happen in Australia, but at the same time I understand that space is a premium in the UK, so it has to be done. I also found it strange that there were almost no trees in the park. Apparently that has something to do with the live stock again.

You can see how few trees there are in the back ground of this picture

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I am also learning how tiring bouldering can be. The exhaustion that takes over after a day of bouldering is consuming. We had one day of climbing where I was so tired I didn’t even realise I was tired. I became grumpy and a big lump of sad sack before I realised I needed to stop. You can see the progressing of emotions in the photo’s below. I had a good laugh at the facial expression in the photo after I fall off the climb. I thought Andy was exaggerating the ridiculousness of some of these faces are till I saw this.

 

And here is just a silly little video of us here:

Accommodation –

While we managed to do it for a few nights, sleeping in a carpark is not allowed in the Peak District. We found this out after being woken up at 6:00am one morning by an irate park ranger. Lesson learnt. Stay in the caravan parks. While I completely understand the reasoning behind it, it sucked, because it is so quiet and isolated out on those peaks.

We stayed at the Swallowhome campground. There are two reasons for loving this place. Firstly, it had free Wifi, this is actually been really uncommon in other places we have stayed. The second reason was the ducks. There are about 50 or so resident ducks. They are very comfortable around people and will even eat out of your hand. Just make sure you give them something that doesn’t upset thier little stomachs.

 

 

Gyms we went to:

Awesome Walls in Sheffield and the Edinburgh International Climbing Federation.

Awesome Walls was just that, awesome. The staff were super friendly, the lead climbing was epic (over hung, good setting and over 20m in some places) and fun and the facilities were clean and comfortable. It was also really cool to see so many of the older generation there. They have a little bouldering as well, but the lead climbing was so good, I didn’t bother.

We went during the day because they have a mid day deal ($9 AUD per person with a free coffee at the end between 11:30 and 2pm: DEAL!!). It turns out this was when most of the local ‘oldies’ went too. Most of the clientelle there were over 60, with some of them well into their 70’s. They were really lovely and friendly and many of them out climbed me. I hope I can be that cool when I’m their age.

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Edinburgh International Climbing Federation advertises itself as the tallest wall in Europe. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was true. Their tallest wall was over 25m and the rest averaged out at about 20m. Unfortunately it was very pricey and their setting was a bit unimaginative with both bouldering and lead climbing, but that was OK because the climbing was so long so you still got a good work out. I think with the new bouldering gym opening in Canberra, the logical thing for anyone else in the game to do is to have decent, tall lead climbing walls.

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Edinburgh’s massive climbing wall

Other

  • We saw Kate and Joe again which was really lovely. We spent a day with them at their  local gym and had dinner and too many drinks that night. We should see them again before we leave.
  • We went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It rained. A lot. So we went to the National Museum which we both really enjoyed. I know I’m getting old when I prefer a museum day over drinks and a comedy show. However, while we at the museum there was a flash mob/dance thing there. They were really good.Edinburgh Fringe Danc

 

We are off to Mainland Europe in the next few days or so, but we hope to see a medieval reenactment before we go. Some siege thing at Wentworth Castle. Could be fun, hopefully the weather holds out.