Having been living in the Czech Republic for almost a year now, it seems a shame that I haven’t yet discovered what the country has to offer in terms of climbing, so when I was invited to join the RHM’s annual summer meet in Slovakia, I jumped at the chance.
I took an overnight train from Prague and arrived in Povazska Tepla, a small village in the district of Povazska Bystrica, on Wednesday morning. Many people have heard of the High Tatras, but few are familiar with the smaller Strazov Mountains in the north west of the country, close to the Czech border. The main climbing attraction is Maninska Uzina (the Manin Canyon), which sits between the Big and Little Manin mountains, and there are several other excellent climbing areas in close proximity, such as Sulovske Saly and Hradok. Many climbers who attended the meet were a little skeptical about the quality of climbing on offer in this area, but they all found themselves pleasantly surprised.
I have to say, it was a very humbling, but incredibly inspiring experience to be able to climb amongst some excellent climbers, of all ages. The RHM (Rendez-vous Hautes Montagnes) is an international women’s climbing network, which brings together climbers of all ages, nationalities and abilities for their annual climbing meets, which are hosted by a different country every year. The abilities range from novice to almost “rock goddess” (something which many of us aspire to be, but are sadly, a little way off!) but, essentially, everyone is welcome. It was founded 43 years ago by a woman who decided to organize a mountaineering meeting for women to share their love of climbing, and thus the RHM was born. She is now 89 years old and lives in Prague, and still regularly attends the meetings. This year, climbers from Switzerland, Germany, the UK, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic attended.
Shortly after I arrived on Wed morning, we set off for an area called Sulovske Saly (Sulov rocks), about 30km from Maninska, and is mainly Cainozioic conglomerate rock. From the car park I could see rows off rocky towers emerging from the trees, going on for miles. It’s a big area with plenty of choice and there’s something for everyone. As it was my first day, I was happy just to second. I started off with some fairly straightforward 5s [nb Slovak grades are usually slightly higher than French sport grades], followed by an unsuccessful attempt at a rather tough 6/6+. The holds were all very positive and the rock was great for climbing on. The climbs in this area are all bolted, although the more cautious climbers may want to add some trad gear in between (and especially beneath the first bolt) as they’re a little spaced out. To finish the day, 3 of us did a two-pitch climb called Blue Rhapsody, a nice slabby first pitch (5), followed by a steeper, more exposed second pitch (6), finishing with fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and a long abseil straight down into the trees! [For many of the routes here, a 60m rope is sufficient, but a 70 or 80m rope would come in very handy for the longer climbs.]
On Thursday, we went down the road to investigate the climbing in the Manin Canyon itself. While still a very big area, the climbing was not quite as nice as Sulov and the easier routes were, for the most part, unbolted so trad gear was essential. I seconded a great, classic route (4) and did my first lead in nearly a year (just a 3, but it’s a start!). The rock was a little polished in places and the grades a little hard, (a couple reported some loose rocks around the corner) but still lots of very positive holds and good routes. The last climb was listed as a 5+, but had quite a tricky move near the finish – I was quite glad to have a top rope above me!
That day, some of the girls went to another climbing area called Bosmany (just few km from the canyon) and were joined by Olina, who was once one of the best climbers in the Czech Republic. She had arrived the evening before to give us a slide show of her climbing/mountaineering days in Czechoslovakia and the Alps. It was quite amazing to see the things they managed to climb, especially considering the equipment they had at the time! She went with them to Bosmany and had a go at some of the easier climbs in her 30-year-old climbing shoes – not bad for a woman of 80!
On Friday we returned to Sulov, to explore a different part of the rocks. Feeling more confident, I lead a fantastic route (4) which was well-bolted and really enjoyable climbing, followed by a 4+. I think it’s safe to say that the most dangerous aspect of both routes was the belaying as the ground was a rather a steep angle and incredibly slippery, so the belayer had to anchor/herself to a nearby tree to stop herself from sliding off down the slope! Around the corner, some others were doing much greater things – an Italian woman had just lead an 8- (clean, but for the top part, where she had the sun in her eyes – it’s a comfort to know that even the best climbers make the same excuses as the rest of us!)
Saturday was our last day of climbing and with many people feeling a little worse for wear after the previous evening’s party, it was a very relaxed start. We headed for the opposite side of the Manin Canyon to where we were on Thursday, and found a small crag which had a reasonable selection of routes. The first was a two-pitch 4+/5 which had a bit of a grotty start, but the climbing got much better as we gained height and the second route was fantastic, classic alpine-style climbing, following a sloping arête up to a slightly steeper finish with very positive holds all the way up. Due to the length of the climb, we had to abseil down in two parts, but this enabled us to leave a top rope on some of the other climbs on the lower slab, which offered some very nice 5s and 6s – lots of small, sharp holds and very delicate foot placements.
All in all it was a great few days climbing and I would thoroughly recommend this area to all climbers looking something new. While it is not the most accessible place, it’s definitely worth a visit if you have the time. I believe the easiest way for most people is to fly to either Vienna or Bratislava and hire a car (you could take a train, but most outcrops are not reliably served by public transport). I has more than enough routes of all grades to keep you busy for well over a week and the High Tatras are just some 180km away with beautiful granite walls, for those on an extended trip!
For any women in the club who are interested in finding out more about the RHM, or even attending their next meet, please look at their website: www.rhm-climbing.org . It’s just a 10 Euro contribution and the meets are always very sociable, with a good mix of people. Next year’s meet will be somewhere in the Ecrins region of the Alps. [Or if you are keen on winter sports, they usually have a winter climbing meet, and a ski touring trip as well.] Hopefully I’ll see some of you there next year!