Destination: Croatia

Posted on: December 12, 2007

Volker Kleespies climbing hard on a large, free-standing tower at the far west end of Cliffbase. [Photo] Christian Beckwith

It's late September in a certain landlocked US mountain town, and we're contemplating a climbing trip to Europe. Several important factors come to mind: a turquoise sea, good coffee, an offbeat location, some culture, delicious food, and a country where the dollar isn't drowned by the Euro and the classic routes aren't clogged with climbers. Bikini weather would be an added bonus.

Close to sunset at Cliffbase. The tower features several excellent quality sport climbs. [Photo] Christian Beckwith

Croatia, especially the Dalmatian coast, has been on the travel hotlist for the last couple years, its bountiful islands having emerged unscathed from the wreckage of former Yugoslavia. Friendly, clean and—most importantly—rich in limestone cliffs, my new husband and I yearned for the possibilities: deep water soloing, hillsides covered by grape vines and olive groves, clear seas with fantastic swimming. All the grilled calamari and local wine we could consume. Perfect.


The author, bouldering through a tunnel in the cliff. [Photo] Christian Beckwith

After arriving in the buzzing coastal town of Split, we took a ferry to Hvar, one of the largest islands of the Dalmatian group. Most Americans come here to sail in the Adriatic Sea, which gives access to charming stone villages dotting the coastline. Access also is possible by car along narrow roads that wind in and out of rocky tunnels.

The water tends to become choppier as the day progresses. [Photo] Giovannina Anthony

We exchanged a few emails with the Croatian Mountaineering Association before leaving home, and the good people there connected us with Ivo Tudor, a young engineering student who took up rock climbing two years ago. When we arrived, we met with Ivo: tall and lanky, with sinewy limbs and an absence of body fat. He showed us lovely sport climbing spots on Hvar, and best of all, he included us in a family dinner in the village of Milna, a tiny enclave on the sea's edge. Over glasses of wine from the family's vineyards, fresh pressed olive oil, and a bit of prosec—the sweet dessert wine of the region—Ivo informed us that he had a friend with a boat who could bring us to some deep water soloing only twenty minutes away.

The same email effort that led to Ivo also hooked us up with Miroslav Stec, a Slovakian climber who, five years ago, established an intimate and idyllic climbing oasis on Hvar's southern coast, near the stone village of Svetla Nedjelja. It turned out to be the same deep water soloing area that Ivo was psyched about, but since we had a car with tons of packs, gear, and luggage, we decided to make the drive rather than travel by boat.

Walking east from the village docks brought us to Cliffbase after fifteen minutes. Over the past five years Miroslav had developed the climbing area that now boasts more than seventy sport climbs, grades 5a to 8a [5.8 to 5.13b], lining the limestone cliffs just above the Adriatic.

Miroslav Stec not only owns and operates Cliffbase, he also set the majority of the routes in the area. [Photo] Christian Beckwith

But we found the unbolted cliffs east of Cliffbase, deep turquoise water lapping at their edges, the most spectacular. The rock is pale, intricate and smooth—quite different from the sharp and polished limestone I've experienced in other parts of Europe.

I have never been good at bouldering—nor cliff jumping. So, at first, I stayed low, dropped into the water, and swam to another spot on the cliff where I could hoist myself out and continue. Remarkably the sticky rubber of my climbing shoes stayed that way despite many unplanned falls into the sea.

Ivo Tudor watches another climber fall into the water. Tudor is an engineering student on the mainland, but grew up on the island. [Photo] Giovannina Anthony

Down low at the water's edge I found the walls steep and the holds sharp and crimpy, but moving upward there were huge jugs of myriad shapes and forms on which I pursued numerous lines across the cliffbands. Peeling off up high was far scarier, but eventually I found the excitement of a long fall to the water completely worth the fear.

When air and water temperatures dropped in the late afternoon, I was ready to dry myself off with a few south-facing sport climbs. My husband, however, found dusk the perfect time to deep water solo, despite the inevitably rough afternoon chop. I enjoyed deep water soloing over glassy water in the morning: perfect conditions to fall, provided you could get out of bed—which my husband could not!

The sport climbing is a moderate climber's paradise, offering well-bolted routes that feature interesting hanging pillars, and—best of all—belaying and climbing in swim gear. Since I could not entice my husband away from deep water soloing, I talked a young American backpacker into learning how to belay so I could check out these cliffs, many with quite long routes where an 80-meter rope came in handy. I got hot after a few routes, even in late September, but a quick dip in the Adriatic was the perfect remedy before returning to my harness and wet climbing shoes.

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hi giovannina, i don't know if you remember me, but we used to climb at chelsea piers together quite often, and then you headed west. today i read an article in the nyt about a guy who was going back to climb everest and it mentioned kennedy, the editor of alpinist magazine...and i remembered you had left to go be with the ed. of that mag. so, i got on line and found you! congratulations on your daughter!! i loved the pic of you in the cave. if you ever get to ny, let me know. all best, POG

2011-04-17 05:34:09
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