Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Adventure Sport Climbing in Croatia

Checking out the views on top of Anica Kuk
Jonathon and I knew little about Croatia when we picked it as our September climbing destination.  We later learned that it became an independent nation in 1991 and their economy is highly dependent on tourism.  We learned that they make wine and grow lavender and are really into their homemade moonshine.  We also learned that they have tons of great limestone climbing and its a fun European climbing vacation.

Lunch break in Hvar
We began our trip by checking out the island of Hvar.  The island is located off the southern coast of Croatia and it is a beautiful two-hour ferry ride from the port of Split.  The next day we walked along the ocean side trail for about 20 minutes to the crag called Cliffbase.  It is a private crag and there is a small fee to climb there.  The owner is a rather eccentric man, who was really mad at me because we had chosen not to stay at his apartments as they were a little primitive for us.  While his actions did discolor the experience a little bit, the climbing and the setting more than made up for it.  We enjoyed 35 - 40 m bolted climbs right out of the water.  Every route we climbed was great and the views of the rocky Mediterranean coastline were beautiful.  Swimming around the rocky limestone boulders was also a highlight. We spent two days climbing there and then packed up and headed a bit north to Paklenica National Park.

View of the Adriatic Sea from the hike to the crag on Hvar
Jonathon on the hike to the crag on the island Hvar

Checking out the town of Jelsa on Hvar
Seeking shade at Cliffbase

As one of eight national parks in Croatia, Paklenica is home a variety of large and small limestone formations with over 400 routes from grade 3 to 8b+ from single pitch to multi-pitch.  The park is uniquely beautiful consisting of two broad limestone valleys (climbing is only allowed in one of them) and filled in with pine and beech forests.  As you climb higher above the valley floor, views of the Adriatic Sea begin to peak out in the distance.  The park is well maintained and there is one wide walking path that leads to the majority of the climbing.  We rented a small apartment in the little town of Starigrad at the base of the park for 30 Euro/night.  We spent our first few days dodging rain showers and sampling some of the cragging in the Klanci area and some of the shorter routes on the nearby formations.  On my birthday we climbed the 4 pitch 6a+ Karamara Sweet Temptations on Veliki Cuk and then cragged at Crljenica high above the clear, blue Mediterranean Sea.

Finishing up the last pitch Karamara Sweet Temptations

Topping out on Karamara Sweet Temptations just before the rain

Unknown climber on one of the 5.11 tufa climbs at Crlgenica
When the weather got nicer, we sampled some of the routes on the bigger formations.  First up was the 4 pitch, 120 m Domzalski on the Stup of Anica kuk.  At 6a, it was some of the best limestone slab and edging climbing we had done.  After lunch, we checked the unique Bears on Toast (6c+) climb which ascended the very distinct water runnel formations up the limestone face, typical of the karstic limestone commonly found in Paklenica. While the bolts were big and new, we were finding that the bolting was a bit sporty forcing you to climb at the grade.  It definitely kept things exciting!

Jonathon enjoying the slabs at the top of Bears on Toast

Starting up the third pitch on Domzalski

The next day, we climbed on the famous Anica Kuk formation.  This 350 meter limestone wall is the jewel of the area.  There are hundreds of routes on the formation raging from 6a to 8a.  We started up the classic Klin route.  Prior to starting up the route, I mumbled that I hoped we wouldnt get lost, as it was a huge face with tons of bolted routes intersecting all over the formation.  Jonathon just laughed at me and responded that all we had to do was go up.  As if I foreshadowed the day, route finding was a bit challenging on the lower angle and grassy terrain but eventually we found our way and things were going pretty smooth.    The climbing was fun despite being a little wet.  After I lead up the crux pitch, we somehow managed to get ourselves completely off route and begin climbing up a very steep route up the center of the wall.  After getting worked on what was supposed to be a 5c traverse, we started to think that maybe we had traversed onto the 7b Zenith.  We continued up wildly exposed terrain to the top and had a good laugh about our poor route finding skills on the summit.

Midway up Klin on Anica Kuk

Steep and exposed terrain somewhere on Anica Kuk

Jonathon starting up the final pitch on Anica Kuk

After a rest day checking out the historical city of Zadar, we spent our final day climbing up numerous formations in the park.  We first checked out the 200 m Senza Pieta (6b+) on Debeli kuk.  It was a fantastic route up the sunny face with some really fun slabs, edges and over-hanging terrain.  After finishing up that route, we decided to run up the mellow Sjeverno Rebro on Veliki Cuk's West ridge (4b+, 170).  Still not quite tired out, we cragged a few more pitches at Klanci for a total of 450 m of climbing and 14 pitches.  It was a great end to a fantastic trip in Croatia.

Traversing across the crux pitch on Senza Pieta

On top of Debeli kuk

Checking out the historical city of Zadar

View of the harbor in Zadar
That night we enjoyed beers by the Adriatic Sea, a big plate of meat and of course the complimentary schnapps at the end of meal. I would highly recommend a trip to Croatia.  Logistics were easy, most people spoke English and it was not overly expensive.  The food was good, the scenery was beautiful and the people were accommodating.  Life was simple and easy.  Sleep, eat and climb.  That's what I call a good vacation! 

Sunset in Starigrad

View of the Stup and Anica Kuk

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Road tripping Switzerland and Italy: Rock Climbing in the Val di Mello

What do you do when the Swiss Alps are having one of the wettest and coldest summer season's on record?  Do you still plan on climbing your chosen alpine lines despite the extensive amount of precipitation in the forecast?  Or do you look for a drier area and adapt your itinerary? We chose the latter and we ended up exploring one of the most beautiful and lush valleys we had ever seen.
Jonathon and my journey to the Val di Mello began in Brig, Switzerland after we got our rental car at the local Shell station.  After about a five hour drive over narrow mountain passes and dark tunnels, we arrived in the tiny town of San Martino.  This little village is the last town before the Val di Mello National Reserve.  We oriented ourselves to the local bar and pizzeria and then found a cheap but nice hotel.  At the gear store we perused the guidebooks and asked the locals about their favorite climbs.  The guidebooks are only in Italian and German so information was limited but we hatched a plan for the next couple days.

Cragging at the Sasso Remenno boulder seemed like our best option for the next day as the weather forecast looked less than promising and the rock in the upper valleys was likely still wet from the heavy rains of the previous day.  This is supposedly the largest boulder in Europe and it is literally the size of the hotel.  The rock is some sort of granodiorite and is of excellent quality.  There are probably about 100 plus routes from 4a to 8a, mostly about 80 feet but some routes go to the top of the boulder for a full 180 foot pitch.  There are a couple crack climbs but most of the routes are bolted.  We were easily entertained and enjoyed the fun climbing and beautiful views through the clouds of the upper valleys.  

Jonathon climbing one of the few crack climbs at Sasso Remenno
The following day was forecasted to be sunny at least for the first part of the day.  We learned that cars are not allowed into the Val di Mello but there is a shuttle that runs from town starting at 8 am.  In anticipation of afternoon thunderstorms, we wanted to get an earlier start than the shuttle would allow and so we borrowed some ghetto but functional bikes from the hotel and biked the couple miles uphill to the entrance of the park.  We were hoping to climb the uber-classic 380 meter 6b Luna Nascente on the Scoglio delle Metamorfosi.

With our vague directions, we hiked around in the woods for awhile in the general direction of our intended route.  Miraculously, we somehow found the start of the route.  Apparently this route can be very crowded but we did not see any other people and the trail was definitely not very obvious.  The route began with two challenging but short 5.10 pitches characterized by some overhanging fingercracks and slippery laybacks.  The middle pitches of the climb were much more moderate and were some of the best granite crack climbing we had ever done.  The views of the lush valley below, alpine peaks above and hanging waterfalls all around were some of the more inspiring landscapes we had ever seen.  The remaining pitches followed the low-angle slab to the top of the formation about 1700 feet above the valley floor.  While there was quite a bit of fixed pins on the route, there was not a single bolt and the whole route felt very pure and traditional.  We hiked off the dome over very exposed grassy ledges and made our way back to the clear blue swimming hole that we had discovered on our approach.

Following the 2nd pitch on Luna Nascente

Jonathon following the third pitch of Luna Nascente

Luna Nascente mainly follows this skyline

As predicted, it rained that afternoon and the next day.  The next day, we did a couple more pitches at Sasso Remenno, which we learned dries out very quickly.  We also checked out the thermal baths at Bagni di Masino.  While relaxing, the pool reminded me a bit of an old high school swimming pool.  

On our next clear day, we made plans to climb the other classic route Oceano Irrazionale on Precipizio degli Asteroidi. This is "The Line" that you can see from town.  We were stoked to give it a go.  After befriending the owner of the Gatto Roja restaurant in the Val di Mello, he allowed us to park our car in his lot.  We were very glad to avoid the uphill bike ride on our old-school bikes.  The approach to the climb was epic in itself.  We essentially climbed and traversed around a waterfall on a series of very exposed grassy ledges.  There were a handful of old fixed ropes that we used, some with the actual core of the rope exposed.  The rocks and grass were extra slick from the previous rainfall and morning dew.  After two hours of extreme hiking, we got to the base of our route only to discover that it was soaking wet.  It was disheartening to say the least.  We sat around and debated our options, quickly deciding that this route needed at least two more days of sunshine to dry out to at least be somewhat climbable.  Fortunately, we didn't have to reverse our approach hike and we were able to rappel the lower to dome to get back to the valley.  As if we needed another slap in the face, our ropes got stuck not once but twice as we were utilizing a new rappel pull cord system.  Jonathon, being the gentleman that he is, graciously prussiked up both times to fix them.

On the epic approach to Oceano Irrazionale
When we got back to the car, it was before noon and we new that we didn't want to waste the day.  We re-fueled with cappuccino and cake and made our way to a slabby buttress where we had seen people climbing the other day.  We ended up climbing an easy 5 pitch slab route that was nothing to write home about but it was dry and it was in a beautiful setting.  The scariest part about the climb was the massive, poisonous snake that was hanging out in one of the cracks on the first pitch.  We finished the day with a couple more pitches at the Sasso Remenno and then went to our favorite or rather the only pizzeria for some of the best pizza we had ever had.

The forecast deteriorated for the reminded of our trip and we new that it was time to leave the Val di Mello.  We drove to Chiavenna in search of a multi-pitch sport climb on Dalo, the mountainous formation just outside of town. What we found instead was a very quaint Italian village with tons of rock climbing that was beckoning to be climbed if it just wasn't so wet.  We ended up doing some shopping at the outdoor market and then found an overhanging crag literally in someone's backyard that was miraculously dry.  The local Italians were crushing and provided some good entertainment.  We finished the day with a great dinner at a tasty Italian restaurant that was built into an old castle.

View of Chiavenna
The next day we drove to Ticino in Switzerland, halfway between our current destination and our final stop in Brig.  We cragged at Ponto Brollo  on Setore Est and found great bolted routes on some sort of granitic rock.  After our bodies were sufficiently tired, we made the drive back to Brig and began the journey home.

Downtown Brig
While we didn't complete the objectives that I had planned on, this trip instead centered around being flexible and adaptable, traits that are challenging for me.  I am a planner and I like to stick to my plans.  However, climbing has forced me to work on becoming more flexible and to work on letting go of expectations.  Once again, this funny sport continues to teach me new things about life and I am grateful for these opportunities.  I have learned that when I let go of the shoulds and supposed tos, I can begin to more truly experience the present moment and often that moment is quite good.  In this case, we found ourselves in one of Italy's gems and experienced a beautiful place we likely would have never found ourselves had my initial plans panned out.

Despite the rain, we climbed six days in a row and completed one of the most memorable routes we had ever climbed.  Northern Italy continues to be one of my favorite places to climb and visit.  There are so many beautiful landscapes to explore and climbing venues to check out.  We have only begun to scratch the surface.  The food is delicious, the people are friendly and its relatively affordable.   I have found that climbing internationally, is not entirely about the climbing.  It is about exploring a new country and navigating the logistics associated with climbing in foreign lands.  It is these things that help make the journey complete and climbing is only a means to experiencing different parts of the world.  

Thanks to Patagonia and Petzl for providing me with the best gear out there.


The Val di Mello is located in Northern Italy just past San Martino.  The closest airport is Milan and it is about a 2 - 3 drive from there.  
It has been described as Italy's Yosemite but we did not find it nearly as popular or as crowded as Yosemite.  We did find it every bit as stunning and beautiful.  That being said, it is typically a fall and spring destination as it is usually too hot in the summer for climbing.  There is everything from single pitch sport routes (from 4a to 8a) to multi-pitch trad lines to aid lines.  There is lots of slab climbing and the alpine rock routes are just a day's hike to the refugio.


Fiorelli's Pizzeria is the best restaurant in town.  For 6 - 8 Euros you can get a big, homemade Italian pizza.  The Gato Roja in the Val di Mello is also a great place to get a post-climb meal as its the first restaurant you will come upon after climbing in the Valley.  The food is quite tasty.   Gelato and cappuccino  can be found at a number of cafes in the town center.  Bar Monica and Kundalee are great places to get some drinks.  There is a small market in town but groceries are limited.  We stocked up at a grocery store in Morbego for snacks and other supplies.


We stayed at Hotel Bucaneve for 46 Euros/night including breakfast.  It was clean, quiet and simple.  Although we thought it might be some sort of retirement home as we were the youngest people there.  There is also camping at numerous sites in the general vicinity.

Waterfall in Val di Mello

Hanging out by the swimming hole in Val di Mello

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gear Review: New Petzl Meteor Helmet

After using over five helmets during the last several years, I think I have finally found my perfect match.  That is not to say that the previous helmets I used are inferior; only that I have found a new model that meets my requirements in terms of function, safety and fashion.

I used the new Meteor helmet on a climbing trip to Italy and Switzerland.  With variable weather conditions during the trip, I tested the helmets ability to function in a variety of different environments and temperatures.  The helmet is very breathable in hot and humid weather and I was comfortable using it on sweaty sport climbs in Northern Italy.  The helmet is also very adjustable and the strap system can be configured  into a variety of different settings.  The interior pads can also be removed to provide more space.  I was able to comfortably use the helmet with a hat on a 15,000 foot peak in the Swiss Alps.  I use the size small 1 (48 - 56 cm) and I did notice that it fits just a bit smaller than the previous Petzl models I have used.

One innovation that I am particularly impressed with, is the ability to fit a low sitting pony-tail into the "V" shape that the adjustable straps make on the back of the head.  I realize there are women's specific helmets out there that are designed for a pony-tail but the women's specific models are not as light weight as the Meteor helmet.  I am not sure if Petzl developed this strapping system with a pony-tail in mind or if this is a creative adaptation on my part.  Either way, it is a great feature for us long-haired climbers!

The helmet also comes with the patented magnetic buckle.  On the Meteor helmet, I noticed the buckle seems to have improved a bit from the buckle on the Sirrocco helmet.  I have had no issues with it coming undone mid-climb and it seems more secure on the Meteor than the Sirrocco.  A headlamp can also be securely attached to the helmet.

One of the best features about the Meteor helmet is the fact that it is very light weight but also very sturdy.  At 220 grams, it is 15 grams lighter than the previous model.  While not quite as light weight as the foam constructed Sirrocco, the hard outside material of the Meteor adds some sort of mental component in terms of safety.  The Sirrocco has certainly been through rigorous safety testing but there is something about having the hard external shell on a helmet that inspires confidence.  Additionally, the helmet is very durable and has stood up to travel across several countries and being packed in my backpack up glaciers and steep trails.  It actually packs quite nicely as the strapping system neatly tucks into the inside of the helmet.

The helmet comes in four different colors with unique graphics depending on the size.  While this may not be a selling point for everyone, I personally love bright clothing and gear and I have already gotten several compliments on my new raspberry colored helmet!

All and all, this a great all-around helmet for the climber that is looking for a lightweight model that is comfortable, breathable and durable.  There is no excuse not to wear a helmet these days, when there are products like the new Meteor.  For more information see: Petzl and to purchase see

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Zion - Voice from the Dust - Trip Report

Since moving back to Utah, Zion National Park has become one of my favorite places to go on climbing adventures.  In Hebrew, one translation states that Zion means 'a place of dryness.'  In a religious context, it is another word for the holy city Jerusalem.  More secular definitions of Zion suggest that it is used to describe a spiritual sanctuary.   For me, Zion represents a land of contrasts.  On one hand, there is this beautiful and stark desert environment that invites a sense of calm and relaxation.  This is in contrast to the character of the majority of the climbing routes in Zion, which generally entail some sort of adventure.  These contrasts keep me coming back for more. 

After climbing in Red Rocks for several days, Jonathon and I decided to take a detour through Zion on our way back to Salt Lake City.  We had our sights set on climbing an nine pitch route on Mt. Moroni called Voice from the Dust.  Earlier in the fall, I had rappelled over the lower half of the route after climbing a neighboring route and those pitches looked quite inspiring.  The route itself was very good with a mix of splitter cracks, delicate face climbing and adventure choss topped off with a beautiful summit. Here is the beta:


Take the shuttle to the Court of the Patriarchs stop.  The large huecoed roof and splitter second pitch crack are visible from the road. Cross the road and follow the trail to a bridge that crosses the river.  Continue to follow the trail until you reach a corral.  At the corral, head right.  After a couple hundred feet, look for a faint trail the heads up the hillside towards Mt. Moroni.  Follow the path of least resistance through a couple low-angle cliff bands and traverse towards the base of the route.  Allow about 30 minutes.

Pitch 1:

Climb up a 5.8 chimney under the huecos. Look for a bolt to the climbers left and traverse through the huecos to reach a 1 bolt belay backed up with some smaller cams.

Crawling under the huecos on the first pitch.

Pitch 2: 

Step out left and climb the tight hands splitter for 100 feet.  Starts out with BD .5 to .75 to #1 and finishes on tight #2s.  With all the the features on the wall, the pitch is quite manageable.  Belay at a 2 bolt anchor in a little alcove. 5.11a.

Starting up the second pitch

Jonathon following the upper bit of the second pitch

Pitch 3:

Climb through a pumpy roof and then continue up an enjoyable hand crack.  The pitch finishes up with a 5.8 offwidth that can be protected with a #5 camalot.  Belay at a 2 bolt anchor on a large ledge.  Of note, Jonathon took on a piece just above the roof and the piece popped due to the rock breaking.  While very splitter looking, the rock is still a bit fragile. 5.11-.

Jonathon starting up the third pitch

Pitch 4:

Moderate face climbing leads to a cruxy, sequential and slopey move protected by a drilled angle.  The rest of the pitch has bomber bolts and a couple small cams and nuts protect the lower part of the pitch.  Belay at another 2 bolt anchor. 5.11b/c

From here move the belay across the huge ledge to the base of a 5.9 offwidth.

Pitch 5:

This 175 foot pitch begins in an unprotected (possible a #6 camalot would fit) 5.9 offwidth.  After the offwidth, traverse to the right to a bolt that protects a reachy and exposed step-across move into a hand sized crack system. Continue following the crack system for another 100 feet or so.  Build an anchor at an awkward spot where the crack starts to trend left. 5.10a

Zoomed in on the upper part of pitch 5

Views from pitch 5 belay

Pitch 6: Traverse and undercling left up towards a short offwidth that leads to another undercling system that can be protected with a #4 camalot.  Continue moving left across loose boulders and climb down a little bit to a tree with slings on it. 5.10b.

Pitch 7: Head up and slightly left through the 'book of the dead.' While not too difficult the climbing is quite loose.  We ended up belaying on the ledge just after the 'book of the dead' and just before the 'book of life' due to rope drag and the potential to dislodge loose rocks.  There are some slung boulders and a small cam can make a decent anchor. 5.8.

Pitch 8: Continue up the low-angle splitter for about 60 feet.  Go right after the crack ends and then climb through some easy terrain.  Belay on a ledge just above the two bolt rappel anchor. 5.8.

Pitch 9:  Go left and then back right through easy terrain.  Pass a bolt and fixed pin rappel anchor and scramble up to the summit. 5.7.

Summit Shots!


Rappel the route with a combination of double rope rappels and single rope rappels. Be careful not to get your rope suck on the second rappel

Walking back to the shuttle after finishing the climb.


  • 1 blue tcu, 1 yellow tcu, 2 .4 BD camalots, 3 .5 BD cams, 3 .75 BD cams, 3 #1 BD cams, 3 #2 BD cams, 1 #3 BD, 1 #4 BD cam, 1 #5 BD cam
  • small set of small to medium nuts.  
  • If you want to protect the 5.9 off width on pitch 5 you need a BD #6 or something bigger
  • About 10 total Petzl Dyneema slings and Petzl Ange quick draws
A 70m Petzl Rope
A 6mm tag line for rappelling
A comfortable pair of La Sportiva Muira
Patagonia Morning Glory Tank