Holidays with me and Heather need to be a compromise.
She enjoys climbing but I’m obsessive about it.
She loves sunbathing but I get bored after one books worth of reading (A Spy Among Friends about Kim Philby by fellow Old Abingdonian Ben Macintyre is a great read).
After a bit of Googling and looking on UK Climbing, Croatia seemed to fit the bill. Heather had been to Croatia before and loved it, the May weather is supposed to be pretty good and there is some info about Paklenica on the internet.
Paklenica is a National Park with a Gorge full of climbing running through it, from single pitch sunny, bolted routes through to quite adventurous North facing multipitch routes up to 350m. It sounded ideal!
Easyjet fly to Split, but Norwegian Airlines offered better times for similar prices (and far better service), so a cheap flight was booked, along with a seaside apartment 5 miles from the climbing and a hire car was sorted too.
The forecast had looked depressingly grim running up to our trip but as it got closer the forecast improved, Paklenica is a limestone crag known for being a bit polished in places so the thought of a wet trip was worrying for me and Heather’s sunbathing aspirations.
The route I really wanted to get done was Mosoraski, an 11 pitch bolted line of 5c/6a on the North West face of Anika Kuk. It’s the easiest and therefore busiest of the longer routes.
On the first day though, we decided to get used to the rock and the notoriously stiff grades by ticking some of the nice single pitch stuff in the Klanci area. These routes are right by the path, complete with nearby toilets and gift shop (where you can buy the guide cheaper than on Amazon) so it’s all low stress and very family friendly.
It was super busy though, we later learnt it was a public holiday in the Czech Republic so lots of very friendly Czechs had travelled out for the week.
The routes felt about right for the grade apart from one route, Jupi, 6a which seemed to have a really stiff start but was ok after that.
The forecast for the next day looked good so we decided to go for Mosoraski, we had a lazy start thinking that most people would be there early to beat the queues, this was a school boy error! It was busy, very busy, but with the forecast a little shaky for the next few days we didn’t want to miss our chance.
We were stuck behind a party of 3 but we did at least beat another 4 to the route… The route is about 45 minutes from the car park and is signposted from the path so it’s easy to find, especially as the beginning of the route is marked by the presence of the biggest Maillion you’ve ever seen. The route begins quite easily with a 3a pitch and then a succession of pleasant grade 4 pitches. The climbing was pretty nice but we were having to wait at each belay for the slow party of 3 to clear the next pitch, even if we’d gone past them there was countless people filling each pitch all the way up, so it was just a matter of chilling out for a bit on each belay and taking some selfies!
We eventually got to the crux pitch, a little apprehensively because we were tired from all the waiting around and the fact it’s described as being “harder than it used to be due to the polish”.
We needn’t have worried though, yes it’s polished, but I’ve seen far worse and it’s bolted as well as any other sport route. The climbing was surprisingly nice, steep and sustained but on good holds, keep pulling and before you know it you’re on another well bolted belay, a hanging affair this time.
The next two pitches are 5b then 5a and finish off a really good route, it was just a shame we got held up so much as it took the shine off a good route in great surroundings, although we did make friends with a few Czechs!
The walk off is about an hour and half back down to the car park, the views are awesome across the gorge to the coast, it’s fairly hard going in places with bouldery terrain but always really well marked with red dots and arrows. Definitely don’t expect to walk down in your rock shoes. We carried a rucksack between us on the route with some food and drink and a much appreciated warm layer each, being a North West facing corner it was in the shade most of the day.
We had a day off afterwards to enjoy the sun and do a spot of unsuccessful fishing, before heading back the next day to the single pitch sport routes in the main area of the Gorge. We got there earlier to avoid the crowds and get a closer car parking spot which was a good shout, it’s much nicer there when it’s quieter, although it quite quickly got busy as it was the weekend. Stand out routes were Il Viaggio at 6a+ and a cool 6a called Marina which had contrasting sections – a straight forward start followed by a steep middle with a very delicate slabby finish.
After doing a fair few climbs I’d say that the grades are maybe a little stiff but not terribly so, some of the rock although solid is a bit polished, but it didn’t detract from the climbing in my opinion.
You could happily spend a week climbing in Paklenica, there’s plenty of routes to go at and a good variety of trad/sport and single/multipitch. Croatia is really nice so a trip here does lend itself to keeping your family happy too, there were lots of families climbing – the access is easy and there’s plenty of low grade routes for children and beginners plus ice cream is never too far away!
Nb. There is an area in the Paklenica guidebook called Karin which is about 45 minutes away, the guide description sounded interesting so we went for a look. The track up to it is pretty sketchy and the directions really vague but we did find a couple of the crags eventually, the rock isn’t as solid as Paklenica but maybe worth a visit en route back to Split.
Budget airlines like Easyjet and Norwegian fly to Split from the UK, we paid £85 return with Norwegian in May with a bag each. You can fly to Zadar which is closer but more expensive.
We hired a car from Split airport at £95 for 7 days and then the drive to Starigrad was about an hour and a half on very quiet roads including a toll road which was about £7 each way.
Starigrad is 3 miles from the National Park car park so once you’re here you could get away without a car.
There’s loads of options for accommodation, we stayed in a lovely self catering apartment on the sea front in Starigrad which is about 3 miles from the entrance to the national park and it cost us £300 for the week. If you’re on a budget there’s plenty of camp sites as well as loads of apartments and a few hotels.
In Starigrad there’s a few fairly basic super markets and plenty of good restaurants. Food and beer is generally cheaper than in the UK, a pint of beer being about £2.
We took a 60 meter rope which was perfectly adequate, but some of the routes do need a 70m one. Some of the routes require an abseil off so a set of twins (locals choice) or halfs (the standard UK choice) would make life easier. A set of 12 quikdraws will see you right on all but the longest of the sport routes but there is plenty of trad to go at too so take your trad rack too. Having read up on Mosoraski in the UK we took some trad gear for it but don’t bother, it’s comprehensively equipped. The bolts are spaced only on the very easy sections, as per the European way of bolting and the belays are all equipped. Routes that need trad gear are clearly marked in the guidebook. The National Park recommend wearing a helmet, I definitely would for the longer routes where there are the odd bits of loose rock.
The National Park charges for entry, we got a three day pass at about £12 per person, you can also buy day passes and five day passes (they don’t have to be consecutive days). In the climbing area you can buy the local guide book in the shop, which is very comprehensive but fairly basic for approx £20 which was cheaper than I could find on Amazon prior to leaving the UK. The same shop sells souvenirs and the odd bit of climbing gear, plus drinks, ice cream and beer.
The best time for climbing is between May and September, although it can get hot in the gorge in the summer there are plenty of shady sections to be found when the heat gets too much and a nice river to cool off in too.