|Date: 20th May 2008
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney
A large section of the club are away tramping through the Himalayas this May, so Wales was suggested as a trip for the "left-behinders". A few weeks ago PJ suggested Croatia instead and the idea of climbing in warm sunshine on the Adriatic coast was too good to pass up. With me working in Birmingham my company said they'd pay flights to anywhere in Europe as long as it was of similar cost to flying home to Belfast, so I actually got flown there for free! Naah nah nah nah nah.
I met PJ and Pete in Venice Treviso airport, changed some money (about 6 Krona to the Pound) and went to pick up the hire car. The first of the weekend's "Malteser Moments" started with us beaming happily at the size of the car we'd got (we were expecting something much smaller) but then wondering why the key fob wouldn't unlock the car. PJ eventually spotted the indicator lights of the tiny Lancia Ypsilon next to us flashing. To explain, a "Malteser" is someone who looks brunette on the outside but is really blonde underneath. We had quick stop in Decathlon where, expecting good weather, Pete and I rigged ourselves out in 3/4 length shorts and cut-off t-shirts, designed to show off the well defined muscles of our athletic bodies. Ahem. We weren't too far on the road to Trieste when the rain started. Trieste is a curious mixture of typical red-tiled villas, hulking 60s concrete tower blocks, interspersed with petroleum plants and other big industry. All crammed onto the port hillside with a maze of inter-connecting motorway bridges. We managed to get lost relatively easily and ended up heading back to Venice despite following signs for Slovenia constantly. An hour later though we'd crossed the Slovenian and Croatian borders and it didn't take long to get to Rovinj, maybe 3.5 hours driving time in total from Venice (if you don't get lost). Rovinj is a bustling coastal tourist town with tight limestone cobbled streets and a marina.
We settled on the Povali camp site despite being directed away the other side of town by a heavily mustached (and heavily armed) bank security guard. Decent value at around Ã‚Â£8 a night, with an excellent swimming pool and top-notch sparkling clean facilities right on the shore. It was nearer the rock climbing just south of the town and the fact that it also included a naturist beach had nothing to do with our choice! A few pints of Ozujsko beer quenched the thirst and a pizza at the campsite restaurant sorted the growling belly, with Pete leaving a head shaped dent in the metal shutter on the way to the toilets. We got an early night to catch up on the early start that day.
I woke at 6am to bright blue skies and went for a wander through the quiet camp, admiring a very athletic girl practise yoga on the pier and taking pictures of the bay and the red squirrels scampering round our site. No sign of Pete or PJ so I sneaked back for another 2 hours kip. At 8:30am we breakfasted on the delicious local bread having been invited to sit at the table of the big German couple in the caravan opposite. They never did approach us with an invitation to "swing" but the deal was that, if they did, PJ and Pete would sort them out while I legged it.
And so to the bolted rock! The climbing area at Rovinj is on a peninsula within a national park on the egde of town. It must have been an old limestone quarry because there are lots of holes and surfaces too flat to have been anything but machine made. The limestone is very rounded and smooth in places, whether naturally or through frequent use, and it's definitely a different ball game to climbing on nice frictiony granite. The area was already busy by 10am and we figured out the route names by PJ's excellent guide book and the help of a few locals, whose broken English was still better than our non-existent Croat. We settled on the B4 section which included a bunch of 10m grade 5 routes and one 4b. Pete led a 5a, I led a 5c then PJ led the 4b, by which time we were a little bored. Each route consisted of 2 blocky steps up, followed by a 3-move blank middle section that was very crimpy and smeary followed by 3 or 4 steps to finish. Nice on the middle sections but nothing inspiring. Incidentally some of the routes had clips on top and some had a pair of rings. Clipping is straight forward but with the rings you use a sling and carabiner to make yourself safe on one ring, then untie and feed the rope through the other, before tying in again and lowering off.
We moved up to the B1 section and I led something that was supposed to be a 9m 6a but looked easier than the 5a to the right. This may have been a printing mistake but we found quite a few climbs over the weekend that were graded oddly, like a 5c that made Pete sweat bullets while a 6a and a 6a+ were wee buns to him. The whole area is smothered in graffiti and when I went to look at another short 6a the paint had actually ruined the lower section by making the edges slippery as hell. I was still top roped to the first route and figured I could bypass the lower move with a dynamic leap to an edge about 8 feet up. I made it on the 3rd try, smeared high with the feet then lunged high and left for the next edge. 2 more crimpy moves took me to the top but it was an exciting wee climb and I took great joy in explaining (and applauding) the moves to a few other climbers that day. "Yoo jamp like ziss?!" :)
Next PJ had a go on what she thought was a 4b but we think was really an elusive 5a. Like the first routes we did there was a blank middle section and she had a wee wobble until I climbed the easier local section to direct her feet. She sailed the rest of it. Pete then had a go on a 16m 6a that followed a corner up before stepping right up through horizontal cracks. It was a popular route and we had to queue in the hot sunshine, marvelling at the speed of the locals clambering up a 5c to the right. We were constantly re-applying the sun cream at intervals, but it was thoroughly enjoyable climbing stripped to the waist. Trees grow right up to the base of these routes and you can find some shade here but as you leave the ground you tend to be baking on the face. PJ followed Pete as usual and then I led the 6a but I think we all used too much of the crack on the right which made the start easier. I was also tending to have an easier time with my big reach on most routes where PJ and Pete had a more delicate time.
After the 6a we went for lunch and a pint in one of the wee snack bars scattered throughout the park that the rock climbs are in. On the way there we spotted a series of 3 cairns built from the washed white limestone on the shore. "Excellent photo opportunity" thought Pete and sent me and PJ down to the two tall, precariously balanced, outer cairns. "Imagine if I accidentally knocked this over", laughed Malteser Woman before accidentally knocking hers over. We desperately tried to rebuild it but it looked more like Doherty's Tower compared to its previous Empire State height and we fled red-faced as we heard some people approaching through the trees.
Back at the crag Pete and I both led a 5b up through a series of well rounded limestone edges, followed by PJ who gave us respect for a tricky lead. I had a bit of a flap in the middle when I clipped into the runner the wrong way round and hung around trying to sort it out. Eventually I just climbed past and breathed easy after the next bolt. To round up the day Pete took on a 5c that went through an overhang and then up some fine face climbing. There was a fair bit of shouting on the move through the overhang and we waited for a fall that never came, though he shook and trembled for the rest of the route. Definitely one route that was oddly graded when compared to the 6a's earlier, even if tiredness was a factor. Despite being pumped I had a go on the 5c, the move up through the overhang was straight forward but it takes some strength for the lunges and when I got to the crimpy face I was done in. A tight rope kept me on the face and I completed it but we were all ready for more Ozujsko, a chilli dinner and another early night.
Next morning started the same, an early bread breakfast under slighly cloudier skies. PJ led a 4b on the far right of the "B3" section, where most routes are around 15m. I was admiring a couple of Italians climbing a 6a and a 6a+ to the left and, full of bravado and early morning strength, I declared I was going to try and lead them myself. The 2 Italians seemed to want to climb them repeatedly however, so we shuffled over to what I thought was a 5a but later turned out to be a 5c after a re-read of the guide. It was a crimpy climb that made you think and get the body balance right but I managed it without too much trouble. Pete then led a straight forward 5a, followed by a 6a and 6a+, while PJ and I took turns seconding. The 6a's were well chalked up so it was easy to see where to go, even if the holds were of the "2 finger tips and a thumb edge" variety. I for one was buzzing from the fact that I was 4 or 5 routes into the day and still able to hold the body weight on such delicate stuff. It was exciting and heady stuff and we were all smiles after every climb.
Having climbed all there was on this section we stopped for lunch and rasped at another pair of Italians who had the audacity to sing loudly while climbing the two 6a's we'd just done. It's just not fair to be that good! We headed down to the "D" section near the shore and I got all set up to lead the first 5a, through an bulging overhang and over a very marbled finish. At the overhang you can choose to go left or right and I initially kept choosing left because of the bomber hand hold there but further up it was all slopes and round edges. Eventually I chose the right side, which leans out more and has smaller holds. I got through the first moves but just before I could clip I had to step up using a VERY smooth downward sloping edge for the left foot. Not happy with the friction and finally tiring I tried to back off, felt the grip go and fell but I couldn't extract my fingers from a tight crack and tore a chunk from my ring finger. Despite that I hung around and tried again leaving bloody fingerprints to mark the holds. It was to no avail because I couldn't get the position right to enable me to clip the next bolt. I lowered off and Pete led it but even he had to grab the bolt because of that slippy foot hold and PJ had the same trouble. Annoyed with my failure I top roped it and this time found a different hold that made all the difference, but I was so tired I could lead nothing anyway.
Pete then set himself up for a 5c while the two singing Italians joined us to do a 6b on our right. The first guy sweated and swore in hearty Italian, until he backed off and let his stronger friend climb it. Even this athlete had a hard time and we laughed as he shouted "Con Bastardo!" when the final move defeated him on the first go. It was obvious that we were able to translate somewhat and they laughed along with us. Meanwhile Pete was back at the grunting up the 5c and when I saw his legs and arms tremble as he down-climbed a little I pulled in the slack immediately, expecting a fall. He hung on mightily despite me nearly pulling him loose and lowered off the top drenched in sweat. Despite my injured hand Pete asked me to second the route "to appreciate how hard the bugger was". I agreed but in reality I didn't climb much, just got pulled up it, but I could definitely appreciate the difficult nature of the 2-finger sockets and tiny undercut edges.
Back on the ground the Italians were making the same noises that not all the climbs were graded the same. No two similarly graded climbs had ever felt equal over the weekend but I'm still happy that I was leading mid to top end HVS stuff while PJ was leading mid to top end VS. Pete was definitely into E1 territory and even on bolts that's no mean feat. We had a nice meal at the marina and a wander round the town before yet another early night. I don't think we were ever up past midnight! The locals had different ideas and, where Friday and Saturday were quiet, Sunday was suddenly all-out party time. As I woke for the 4th time I could have sworn they were 2 caravans away but Pete, who actually got up to ask them to be quiet, walked nearly a mile through the camp to find the local disco in full swing, the sound carrying amazingly across the bay.
Monday was another scorcher and I was very down getting dropped off at Trieste airport. Pete and PJ had another couple of days left and they were under strict instructions not to text me about how good the weather and climbing at Prosecco was. Of course it was pissing down and 20 degrees cooler back in England but I've got a tan to show off and some great pictures. Summer holiday in Croatia next year anyone?