Brittany Griffith - Croatia

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Making Choss Look Good

By Brittany Griffith

Photos by Mikey Schaefer

“How could this even remotely be considered a five-star route?” I thought to myself as I annoyingly pawed my way up a characterless, lichen-encrusted slab. Struggling with yet another 5.11 two-move-wonder crux, I whined up at Kate, hanging at the belay, “These pitches are like bad routes set in the climbing gym!” They were contrived, forced and awkward.

I had come to Croatia to meet Kate Rutherford and Mikey Schaefer. While Mikey was here primarily to shoot photos, Kate and I had recently competed in the Paklenica Big Wall Speed Climbing competition (I’m sure you’ve heard of it…)that was part of the Croatia International Climbing Festival. Kate and I (despite having flown from Utah less than 24 hours beforehand) pulled off a second-place finish, climbing a 110-meter 5.10c in 17 minutes, 55 seconds. It was fun to be a part of the event, but I was really here to simply go climbing, to experience what the battleship-gray limestone walls of Paklenica National Park had to offer.

Now we were attempting Zenit, a 350-meter route up Anica Kuk, the impressive main feature of Paklenica, and it was anything but speed climbing.  It had taken us over three hours to climb 150 meters. Kate NEVER complains when she is climbing, but I actually heard her mutter “I hate this stupid route”as she tackled yet another grungy, scary 5.11 section. The description in the guidebook for Zenit reads: “One of the longest and the most beautiful routes in Paklenica.” Where is the awesome-ness I had been hearing about from so many of the local climbers? I reached the sixth hanging belay, totally over it.


“Mikey said we could bail onto their route if we wanted to.”Kate offered.  I looked over at Mikey, hanging on a rope waiting for us, having climbed with a couple of locals the route immediately to our right to get the best angle for photos. His jumars, aiders and a bunch of other shit dangled from his saggy harness, camera limp in his hands. His expression said anything but….

Even the mere thought of bailing was shameful. I had really been trying to not complain so much on vacation, and here I was griping. I was climbing in Croatia, a kilometer from the beach on a Monday afternoon on one of the most impressive rock features I had ever seen with great friends.  What an idiot I was being.


Kate had lead the first seven pitches and now it would be my turn to lead.  I looked up at the rest of the route. It actually looked kinda good. Steep, clean and I thought I saw some tufas. Before I could take up Kate on Mikey’s thinly veiled offer, inspiration hit me and I grabbed all of the quickdraws off Kate’s harness. Before I knew it I was questing out a traversing line of bolts that protected a slightly wet, but cool-looking roof feature. Despite some wet jams and questionable flakes, the pitch was pretty damn good! After clipping oodles of bolts and actually skipping the last one because of a flash pump, I caught my breathand yelled down to Kate, “Off belay!” Kate arrived at the exposed belay equally invigorated by the current terrain. 

The next pitch was supposed to be the crux. We leaned back in our harnesses, craned our necks and scanned the rock above. There was an immaculate limestone curtain of steep, chalk-less, tufas and pockets. OMG, here was the awesomeness.

The hardest part looked right off the belay, so I levered off the anchor and pre-clipped the first bolt so I wouldn’t potentially whip onto the hanging belay or Kate’s head (I did end up actually kicking her in the jaw during the initial few moves…). I immediately launched into an athletic sequence of stemming, pinching, pulling and poking on flawless rock and divinely sculpted holds. I ended up falling on the pitch, but I didn’t care. I was so psyched! Not falling would have been better, but still, how could I complain about 5.12 tufa climbing 700 feet off the ground? So sick!

The next three 5.11 pitches were just as spectacular. I mean, how many times have you been runout over a ledge, out of sight from your belayer, 900 feet up, rope running over razor sharp limestone, cruxing out and saying aloud to yourself, “This is so f#@%ing awesome!” These pitches were classic. I would choose to climb them over and over if they were off the ground at my local crag.

The first half of the climb, all I could think about was being back on the ground, about how much more comfortable sitting at the pub would be than hanging in my harness, and how I would rather be sticking my feet in the ocean than on wet lichen. As I finished the last pitch and made my way to the summit, I almost tripped as I looked over my shoulder and beheld the setting sun over the Adriatic Sea. It was too bad that there wasn’t much daylight left—I could have kept climbing for hours .







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