While I’m definitely no pro climber, for me climbing is synonymous with exploration. So when I saw a picture of the beautiful Czech sandstone towers, I figured 'why not give it a try'?
Over the summer, I spent a week climbing the unique rock formations of the “Czech Paradise” (Český ráj) on a Mapo Tapo trip. It was an incredible experience characterised by stunning routes, great beer, even better company and - of course - a few scary run outs. Here are 5 reasons why I think any adventurous rock climber should take a climbing trip to the Czech Paradise.
1. The climbing community
Local climbers in the Czech Republic are really something -at least the ones I had the pleasure to meet! Incredibly technical climbers (regardless of age, size and sex), these guys are definitely not afraid of runouts, proudly protective of the fragile sandstone rock, yet extremely happy to share their paradise with foreigners and show them around.
The local climbers may appear a bit aloof at first, but don’t be fooled: you'll soon find yourself at the top of one of the many towers, being congratulated heartily and simultaneously mocked for how badly you placed your protection. Or you'll find yourself dragged to a local pub for the best (and cheapest) beer. Just remember, don't challenge anyone to a beer drinking contest!
2. The scenery and rock
Český ráj, known as the Bohemian Paradise, is the oldest nature reserve in the Czech Republic. Despite only being an hour’s drive from Prague, climbing here has a remote, wild vibe. You'll find lush valleys filled with old castles, green pines, and crazy oddly-shaped sandstone towers.
The rock is extremely varied, with cracks, chimneys, friction climbing, edges and walls. In some areas it is more solid, has a darker color and more crimps. In the more traditional areas, the rock tends to be lighter and covered in small grains of sand (somewhat similar to some Fontainebleau boulders), and the formations get more and more spectacular with huge cracks, steep faces and multiple towers rising side by side.
The summits of these towers are sometimes as small as an old phone booth, and often you can even jump from one tower to the next. There are summit books at the top, where the ascents of the tower are recorded, stored in metal boxes. When you look around you can see all the small metal boxes on the nearby towers: sometimes you are surrounded by tens of towers and it is funny to see all these small boxes, and climbers popping up on top as they summit.
3. The style of climbing
There are literally endless possibilities for climbing in the Czech Paradise. Within a range of 40km there are more than 30 sectors with 3000 rock formations, offering a total of 18000 routes. Since route setting became a whole way of life for some of the locals, there are tons of unrepeated routes.
All the routes have one thing in common: an extremely technical style. Even the most pumpy overhangs require you to climb delicately and with style, as the fragile sandstone can crumble if you pull too hard on a single hold. Climbing here is like a dance - a dance that prepares you technically and mentally for big alpine ascents! When it comes to slabs, cracks or chimneys the climbing gets even more technical and aesthetic, and the dance more and more beautiful.
4. The mental aspect of it
There are very few bolts (or sometimes none) in the Czech Paradise and using friends, nuts and other metal gear is prohibited to protect the rock from damage. Instead, climbers use knotted prusiks and slings of different sizes for protection. It sounds odd but it works - well at least if you let the locals teach you how to place the knots correctly.
If you've trad climbed before, you'll be familiar with the feeling of being hyper-focused on every move and reading the rock to find the best gear placements. In the Bohemian Paradise this feeling is taken to an extreme. The adventurous style of climbing is closely linked to the local climbing mentality: very traditional and purist. Climbing the Czech towers goes far beyond the grade and performance: you need to “feel” a line before attempting to climb it, and when you reach the summit, well, true satisfaction awaits!
5. Beer (and food)
It’s no secret that the Czech Republic is home to some incredible, cheep bear. Choose a climber's pub overlooking the sandstone towers of Czech Paradise instead of a touristic café in Prague, and you'll find this to be even more true. The food is mouth-watering too, with slow-cooked meat stews accompanied by delicious homemade sauces and sides. You will not be disappointed - well, unless you are vegetarian, sorry! :(
Two important things though: 1. Good luck climbing after one of those super-filling meals 2. Never ever challenge a local to a beer-drinking competition. The same humility that is required to climb the sandstone towers is needed at the pub.
If you're looking for a non-alcoholic option (FYI there is 0 tolerance for drinking and driving), the Czech Republic is the only country I’ve ever been to where the main soft drink is not the usual Coca-Cola or Pepsi, but the local Kofola! Created as an alternative to Coca-Cola and Pepsi during the Cold War, Kofola is now widely popular in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and it’s all over the billboards. Savour the nostalgic communist vibe with a cold glass of this original drink!
Now, for some history: why did Czech climbers invent such a unusual, scary way of climbing (with few bolts and no metal gear)?
Words by one of the local guides and climbers, Jan Zahula
Climbing in the Bohemian Paradise started at the beginning of the 20th century. Back in those days the goal was not to perform any hard moves or try to establish a difficult route. The first climbers simply wanted to know if it was possible to reach the top of the towers. So without any knowledge of climbing techniques or gear, they managed to conquer most of those towers before the Second World War. The first real climbing routes were developed in this era. Since the easiest way to get to the top of the tower was by squeezing through a chimney or a wide crack, these routes are usually unprotected.
As time went by, climbers started to try climbing the face of the towers. But it felt more insecure, so they were forced to develop some kind of protection. The first logical step was to use a piece of rope and try to tie it around some spikes, put the knots into constrictions and trust it. But there were places where you couldn’t find any of these placements, so ring bolts were invented. As there were no drills, it took a lot of effort to place these rings, which resulted in some pretty scary routes.
The legacy of the first generation is still alive and there are pretty strict rules for sandstone climbing. There are plenty of things that you need to know about sandstone before you start climbing in order to protect the rock towers for future generations. The reason why few foreigners visit the Bohemian Paradise for climbing is mainly the lack of public information on how to do it properly, and that is what the Mapo Tapo Czech Trad Climbing clinic is about. We will show you the beauty of sandstone climbing, tell you about its history and explain to you how the non-metal gears work.
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