Boulders and Mushrooms.
An opera in an Amphitheatre? Don’t mind if we do!
It was way too hot for climbing around Lake Garda. Looking for other things to do, I found we weren’t that far from the city of Verona. Not only being the city of Romeo and Juliet, it also has one of the best-preserved amphitheatres around. After a quick search it also turned out that they perform Operas there, we booked tickets for Nabucco and headed off.
The drive through Arco to Verona showed how much of a tourist trap this area is, not our cup of tea at all. We managed to find a quiet spot to have a final dip in Lake Garda with a spectacular backdrop of the mountains. I can imagine that this would be a great holiday spot when the kids are back at school, September maybe.
We parked up right in the middle of Verona. The opera was due to finish at midnight and we didn’t want to be traipsing for miles at that time of night. A short walk and we were outside the amphitheatre. More details on the venue here.
It’s an impressive building, although slightly crumbling in places. We heading in to one of the modern booths nestled in the arches to collect our tickets before heading for a celebratory meal out (I’d just accepted a new job!).
Full of pizza and beer it was time for the main event. We’d bought the cheap seats so no dress code for us. The two thousand year old limestone steps to get up to the arena are amazingly smooth.
We chose our perch for the three and a half hour show. It was interesting to see the band set up and watch the tech guys make the final touches to the elaborate sets.
It was an interesting evening watching the Opera. Neither of us have watched a show before and it was mesmerising to see the power of their voices carried around the Amphitheatre without digital amplification. Although we had no real idea what was going on it was a great evening.
A few images from our rainy hikes around the black forest. Wild strawberries are nearly ready!
Sometimes you just have to leave a couple of bits of gear and bail. Then you deconstruct what just happened on the walk out before stuffing your face with cake.
Our first full day in the Dolomites and we decided, since we we’re up in the mountains, it would be right to go try our luck at multipitch. Lee is a skeptical soul when it comes to limestone, he doesn’t like it at all, but as he’s a nice boyfriend he agreed to give it a go.
We didn’t have a guidebook for the area as we weren’t planning on staying long, but 27crags and summitpost pulled through and I found the topo and directions to a nearby ‘classic’. Route notes screenshotted, and a handwritten copy duplicated as backup, we were sorted.
It was a lovely, but steep walk in, I can say that now it’s over. I really have no stamina, and it shows as soon as the path is anything but flat – something to work on I guess. Just over an hour after we left the car park we were staring up at Ghedina Spur on Castelletto, looking for where to start the route.
We managed to work out where the route went, and nothing looked too tricky from the ground. It was 220ish meters of Diff to VS climbing we reckoned. The route was six pitches, so Lee will start then I get both the crux and the glory pitch at the top, seems like a fair deal. We scoffed some grub, racked up, flaked the ropes and we were off.
Starting up the first pitch Lee was swift and efficient, as usual. He quickly picked his way up the corner, placing gear regularly, and started to move out of sight.
“Move!”… “Move! Move!” It took me a second to work out what he was shouting. I looked up to see a wave of limestone shrapnel starting to bounce down the ledges towards me and it suddenly clicked. Fuck.
It wasn’t just a few rocks, and they weren’t just small pebbles, these were sizeable and increasing in number. I dived in toward the wall then across to a little alcove in the corner. My hands wrapped tightly around the ropes hoping Lee had decent gear in. My head tucked low, I crouched slightly to bury myself into the rock as the patter of rocks on my helmet started to increase in number.
The rocks didn’t seem to stop. I couldn’t hear Lee shouting anymore, all I could hear was rocks tumbling down the face, bouncing off ledges. A rock that felt about the size of a soup can hit me in the middle of my back, right between the shoulder blades. I winced, I knew it wasn’t anything serious, but it gave me a shock.
A few moments later the torrent had subsided. I shouted up “Safe” and stepped back squinted to see what was going on. Nothing. “LEE” I shouted up. Still nothing.
The ropes suddenly started to move again. A sign Lee was ok. A few moments passed and he shouted down, asking if I was ok. Phew, we’re both safe. Shit. I’ve gotta get up there and clean the pitch.
I waited as he set up a belay. You get to know how the ropes move when someone’s making themselves safe. One rope goes taught, pay out a few meters. Back comes a bit of slack. Repeat on the second rope. Then lots of sharp pulls to signal safe. I took him of belay and put on my boots ready to climb.
Waited for the ropes to go tight, I paused, then started up the corner. The climbing wasn’t so bad. A little polished, and now gravel on every ledge but steady climbing. The whole time I was thinking to myself, I’m not sure how I’m going to make myself lead the next pitch. Turns out being on the receiving end of some rockfall made me pretty shaky. Not the best position to be in for leading.
Making my way up the pitch I finally popped my head over a ledge to see Lee belaying. He was ok, there was no blood in sight. Relief. “Do NOT touch that block” was the response I got. I looked to my left. Right where you want a nice block to pull up onto the scree slope was a nice big block. I looked quizzically back at him. That block is loose. The block had just rolled down the scree slope after he touched it. And stopped on the edge. That block the size of a side table. Shit, that was close.
I suddenly realised why Lee hadn’t been shouting ‘below’ or ‘rocks’ like usual. This time I really had needed to move out the way.
Scrambling up the scree slope in Lee’s footsteps I reached the belay. “do you mind if we bail?”- “no, we’re bailing” that was the response I was looking for. Looking back, we were now past the most dangerous bit of the climb, but neither of us were in the mood to do another 5 pitches.
Whilst we sorted out which sling and carabiner to leave and inspected the pegs for abseil worthiness Lee gave me the full run down of what happened. He’d got to the start of the scree slope, which we were unaware of the existence of, gone down a bit and placed a bomber nut. He then pulled over onto the scree. He barely touched the large rock before it started to roll towards the edge. Right to where he’d been climbing, and above where I was belaying. He’d started shouting for me to move whilst watching the rock slowly rolling down the slope. It stopped right on the edge. Scrambling up to the belay he’d made himself safe, and well, we know the rest.
Before we could head back to the van, and cake, the rock needed clearing. Setting up the abseil Lee went first and, checking there were no walkers or other climbers underneath, trundled the rock off the edge. It shattered into six, a couple of the bits landing right where I was belaying.
Maybe bouldering isn’t so bad afterall.
For those that are interested, Summit Post info here, It’s not all excellent rock like they describe.
One of the things I have decided I will improve on this trip is my crack climbing ability. This seems like a simple task, bearing in mind my company on the trip (for those of you that don’t know Lee is a crack climbing connoisseur). I knew it would be painful at times, and a bit of a struggle – but little did I know how knackered I would feel after just one route.
We heard about Simonsberget from a Swedish climber we met in Kungshamn. As we have no guidebooks for this coast, we plugged his co-ordinates into the satnav, downloaded the topo, and added it to the list of places to hit up. Side note: 27crags is pretty useless here, try this PDF instead.
Driving over was like being back in the English countryside, but bigger. Houses, fields and trees all bigger. We pulled up at the parking and I made a quick coffee before packing the bags up and heading off.
A five-minute walk through a field and we were there, I like walk ins like that. It’s only the ticks that spoil walks through the grass and fields (tick number one flicked off leg before it got in – haha). This looked like a great crag, slightly in the trees to shade the start of the routes, and your belayer, some really obvious lines leading up the rock. I quickly spotted a 5+ that looked like a nice easy rambling warm up, approx British S-VS. But I had a potter down the crag anyway to find a few more to do later. Tick two flicked off t-shirt before attack, bonus.
After much wandering, nothing looked as appealing at the lower grades so I racked up with everything. Weighing a good stone heavier than normal I started up the route.
Well, the first two metres were slightly trickier than expected, a potter it was not. Fingerlocking behind a loose block whilst placing the first nut was not part of the plan, but all good practise. First gear in, suddenly I was safe, onwards and upwards. I pulled round onto the slab and tried to get comfortable. These footholds felt smaller than they looked from the floor, and that crack above me looked much bigger. I forged on, placing another nut to keep me feeling confident although that feeling wasn’t to last long.
Getting to the nice foot ledge below the wide crack I peered up, hoping for some nice hidden ledges for feet and crimps for hands. I was disappointed, no such luck. I shouted down to Lee “maybe I’ve bitten off more than I can chew?”, “That’s your MO” was the reply. I’d better get on with it then.
Thankful that I’d brought the big cam I reached up as far as I could and gave myself as much ‘top-roping’ as possible. Psyching myself up I got a knee involved and buried my hand into a jam right at the back. I pulled on the jam, kicking myself upwards with my outer foot, edging upwards I found a crimp for my left hand. Pulling hard I tried to shift my right leg. Bollocks, calf was stuck against the rope, reverse! Wriggling and struggling trying to de-weight my leg I eventually got it free and backed down to my comfy ledge. A fair bit of energy expelled for no gain.
That plan of attack didn’t feel unrealistic. So, after a quick rearrange of the rope, I dived back into the crack, I squeezed hard and pulled on the jam. This time managing to get above my cam. Whilst tentatively anchored on a creeping armbar and an insecure kneelock I managed to cram in another cam and clip it. Safe again. However, it now turned out that my plan of attack was flawed. I was facing a wall, with my back to the slab and holds I needed to get up and into the next section. Reversing time again.
A combination of bad route reading and not having the head to get up climbs is seriously improving my down climbing skills. Improving them, but from a fairly low start point so the down climb was still a sketchy affair with a couple of slips. I had decided that if I was coming off this climb I was falling off it, there was no shouting ‘take’ or pulling on gear allowed. So, with a determined attitude, I managed to do a controlled slip and slide down the crack back to my ledge.
Third time lucky? After a rest and getting some of the pump out I started up again, this time facing the correct direction. I squirmed and struggled up, fist jamming, arm-barring, and all sorts of funky back heeling. Finally, I got myself to the top of the wide crack, again. This time I was facing out and spotted a nice foothold to aim for.
Time for the next section, a thinner hand crack. I was now starting to get into this crack climbing thing, so bring it on. I spin round on my handjam (look at me go!) and hit that foothold square on.
I managed to get comfortable enough there to place another cam. I seem to be apprehensive of falling at the moment. Well I’m not sure if it’s failing or falling, either way managing to plug in gear when I feel like that is a good thing. I shouted down to Lee, “I’m knackered” and I was. Out of breath, pumped, and already feeling the bruises starting to come up on my knees -this was definite type two fun sort of route. Words of reassurance came echoing back up the face, I took a few deep breaths and started upwards.
Now, it looked like there were some nice ledges above me. Turning the climb into a pleasant corner rather than struggle with another crack or maybe even a power lay-backing attempt. The first ledges I could reach were not nice ledges at all more like sloping non-holds that, in the 20°C heat, felt like glass. I stepped back down a few moves and rearranged my feet. Screw it, I’ll layback it the holds further up look better.
I switched my feet around and started up. Two moves, three moves, cram in another panic cam. Four moves, right that ledge looks better, launch. Good enough to catch but not a jug. Scrambling my feet up, one onto a crimp the other jammed in the crack I managed to get just high enough to go for the next hold. Jug, finally. I matched my hands, relieved.
Looking down, I was now a few meters above my last cam. Alternating between staring down at my harness and across to the rock, I knew I didn’t have a suitably sized cam remaining. But I grabbing one and tried sticking it in the rock anyway. Surprisingly enough that didn’t work. Clipping it back on my harness I looked up, the few moves up to the bivvy-sized ledge did look much easier. I decided to risk it and climb on, hoping my hands didn’t give up on the way.
A few moves later, relieved and exhausted, I mantled on to the ledge. Clipping the bolt I shouted down “I’m on the ledge, just having a rest”. I said I was having a rest, I wasn’t sure. There was a part of me that just wanted to stay on that ledge and sleep. But, after a few moments I pulled myself together. Peering round to the next section I found easy climbing, actual easy climbing, shallow angled rock with a giant blocky crack system. It was the type of pottering that I thought the whole route would be, enjoyable pottering.
I took a good long rest then extended the quickdraw on the lower-off for that section and rambled up. I finished just ten meters or so further up, beneath the top short pitch. It was another bivvy sized ledge and perfectly placed trees for belaying.
Pulling up the rope I had a sense of accomplishment. It may not have been the hardest climb in the world but I had tried hard, really hard. I had practised my jamming, mostly succeeded and, importantly, I’d got to the top without falling off.
Lee made swift work of the climb, he tried telling me it was probably severe when he arrived at the top. I strongly disagreed and after he saw my face he conceded that it might have gotten VS. (Edit: he later said, on reflection, it would get VS). After we chatted and sorted the ropes I did the short top pitch. It wasn’t really worth it, and with lower off rings at the top Lee declined to second. so I set up the abseil to retrieve my kit and join Lee back down on the ledge.
A small delay in proceedings when I discovered one of my cam’s had walked its way into a pod. I struggled for a while to free it before asking for assistance. Lee jugged up the rope and managed to retrieve it. I was relieved, it was my favourite, my Purple Dragon.
Whilst setting up the abseil we heard another couple on the route we’d just finished, locals it seemed. I wondered if they were cruising up it. As Lee set off down the ropes, and I was sat daydreaming I heard the unmistakable sound of a pre-fall shout and clatter of kit. As mean as it makes me, I felt a little better that I wasn’t the only one to struggle with the route.
The route was Direttissiman** Swedish 5+ (p10 on the pdf) for those who are interested.
Lack of photos due to a dead GoPro battery. So have a photo of the bay we went for a post-climb dip in instead.
We found a great block to visit just outside of Helsinki. Stood on a platform looking out to sea we could dip our feet in the ocean to cool off. Perfect day out.
Back at the start of the trip when we were buying guidebooks for Sweden Lee got chatting to a sales assistant about the Gränsfors Bruk Axe’s they had for sale as he owns two already and apparently they are rather good. Well, it just so happens that the Gransfor Bruk factory is open for visitors, and it’s not too far away from Stockholm so we made a plan to visit.
It’s a fairly low-key affair at the factory, we turned up and had a wander around the shop. Being very British, we didn’t want to actually ask about having a look around but lucky for us the shop assistant must have guessed and headed over. She quickly switched to perfect English (they don’t half put us to shame with their language skills). We were quickly informed that all we needed was to pop on one of those fetching high-vis vests and we could walk right on in. H&S field day!
Testing them out. Found a favourite.
Juniskär is a gem of a climbing destination. Boulders strewn across a granite plateau looking out across a calm sea. A light breeze and the only other souls in sight are the sailors out in the distance.
After visiting the Gransfor Bruk factory we travelled just 45minutes further north to seek out this crag. Parking was easy amongst the well-spaced houses on the outskirts of a small town and after a short walk we came across the first block hidden in the woods. ‘The Tube’ problems looked great, but this is where the ants had decided to hang out away from the sea in the humidity of the trees, the ants are worse than the humidity so we grabbed our bags and carried on. A very good decision it turned out.
Within moments we were right at the sea, stood looking out at the small waves lapping the rocks with a warm up block right next to us. The warm up block is a great little roof with two f5’s and two f6A’s, and with safe flat landings -bonus.
A quick trip to the block round the corner and on to a harder climb for Lee. Another f6C in the bag, a tough one with a powerful start into some slopey holds – I could only just get off the ground! I did however manage to accidently do a stand-start to a f7b after misreading the topo, oops. Worth doing tho, a tricky rockover to a mantle.
Next was a rising traverse, Lee’s turn to not read the topo right and struggle with trying to get up between two problems. I actually managed to do the start of this first go and flailed on the top. After I showed Lee the correct start position he did it without trouble.
Lee had his sights set on a f7b next, with a sketchy landing and a fridge hugging start. After working out all the moves and figuring a good sequence out he had a few good goes at it. Unfortunately, today was not the day the heat and lack of skin meant it was not to be, maybe one for next time. Next up I’d spotted an enticing looking block with a crimpy vertical wall, at f6C it’s on the limit of what I can do, but I won’t know until I try.
Now I’m not exaggerating here if I say the attempts were well into the late 30’s or early 40’s. It took so long to get the right start foothold, then to realise I actually needed to start with a lower hand on the right to get the static move to the next hold. But I won’t bore you with all the details. All you need to know is I tried hard and eventually got to the top.
And with that, we both went for a dip in the sea to cool off, and clean off- it’s been a while since we were at a campsite.
After finally managing to get hold of a guidebook we were on our way. Up past Gothenburg to Bosulän.
On the drive in Lee was eyeing up every bit of rock he could see “there has got to be routes on that”, “that looks like something in the guidebook”, “look at the climbs on that one”, you could tell he was eager to get his boots on and some granite under his fingertips. I was feeling a little more subdued, after three days of solid driving climbing some trad for the first time in months wasn’t sounding that appealing.
We headed to the campsite and after a quick back and forth I managed to get a receptionist that spoke better English than me. We picked a spot with a good view, electric hook-up and we were sorted. Time to head out to our first European climbing spot.
Lee decided on a little crag called Kleven, on an island to the south-west of the area, only a ten-minute drive away. The map and the directions seemed to contradict – so when we got to roughly the right area I followed the map, mistake one.
After parking up and faffing with the bags we went for a wander down the harbour front. We came across the first crag, the climbing was a bit too hard for warm-ups on different rock and trad to boot, so we followed the map and wandered to the end of the jetty. No crag appeared. I checked the map again, it definitely should be this way. But then we checked the description. Should have parked further down. Oops, my bad.
A quick head back to the car and we were sorted, a great footpath out along the cliffs led us to a little eight metre crag on a platform looking out to sea. By the abundance of little flowers and grass patches on the rock we weren’t to be worried about the tide washing us out any time soon.
Lee led a route first, confident and considered as always. The rock was a tad damp but he didn’t complain, instead commenting on the grippiness and texture of the rock. It was easy climbing steady with good gear placements, just what we needed to start the day. I had trouble with a pesky size 4 half way up. After struggling for what felt like an age, I shouted up that we’d have to ab it, and carried on. I got to the top and Lee quickly set about making an anchor. I scrambled back down and by the time I got there he was at the floor with the nut in hand, apparently I’d loosened it off so it took him no time at all.
A light sea mist started to come in, but I thought I’d try to get one climb in. An attractive corner that looked like it would eat gear, and therefore be as safe as houses, was my target. I pottered up the start and got some gear in on the ledge. Now for the faff. I’m getting quite good at down climbing it turns out. I was up and down, putting one more bit of gear in, climbing down to the ledge, climb up one move and bit of gear further, all the way down. After a final freakout and – if I may – some super smooth technical down climbing moves (Lee – “it would have been less difficult just to finish the route”) I had psyched myself out, and handed the reigns over to Lee. He proceeded to cruise it in his trainers, well I had put a top rope on most of it I guess. Got to the top on second via some pully moves. Time to head back to the van for tea. Rock 1 Becky 0 Lee 2 – well it was just a warm up day.
After a fun ferry trip over – those places are a people watchers dream – we had finally landed in the Netherladns. Border control thought we were a bit mental, “you’re going to live in this, for a year? No hotels? Well, have fun!”
Now time for lots of driving! The Netherlands was pretty, but we managed to drive through it and into Germany in a couple of hours– border control is none existent, there was one sign that we were shifting countries, literally one sign!
The next entertaining challenge was trying to find a crag. There was a little obscure crag on the way to the Netherlands that we thought we’d stop at, just outside Rheine. We found the parking after a couple of detours. Next challenge, find the rock. It was a lovely little forested area, we packed the bags and started trundling down the path “it can’t be that hard to find”, famous last words.
After a couple of hundred metres, we spotted rock. Just a little outcrop, not big enough to climb on but it showed us we were going in the right direction. So we carried on trundling, a nice little worn path, right then left, then right again – roughly trying to find our way on the screenshot of a map from 27crags (which is basically useless as an offline app, complaint going in….).
Gunshots. What the?! We’d seen some images of wild boar on the information stand, so Lee was quick to point out it was probably just some hunting. Not put off we carried on walking through the woods, towards said gunfire.
We found the edge of the forest, lay before us was a firing range but sadly no rock. The bugs were starting to bite now. We took a detour around the other path, still no rock, still more bugs. Time to head off.
Disappointed at our first attempt to climb in Europe we headed off north towards Hamburg and beyond.
Note – service stations are great in Germany, camped overnight with our little van next to the big trucks.