Having scary fun on Czech sandstone

The route home after 10 months of traveling and climbing led through the Czech republic. Home to one of the best climbers in the world, Adam Ondra. The country is full of climbing but in many places it’s not to be compared with any other climbing in the world. This is my story of exploring Czech climbing.

Non-climbers need to excuse me for the spraying of climbing terms, I can imagine that this will make a hard read.

I have been climbing for more than 10 years now and even though I’m not a very strong climber I did consider myself to be fairly experienced. Until I had my very first experience on Czech sandstone. Even though I had some experience with trad climbing it didn’t compare to anything I’d done before. I’m really glad that beforehand I already decided that I wouldn’t want to lead anything, since I never became confident leading on trad gear. When I saw the gear that is used on Czech sandstone I was so glad that I had a partner happy to do all the leading.

Now I see that this is sounding quite negative, but overall my experience was very positive. I was so happy that I found two partners who are both very experienced within this climbing style. They made it look so easy. I had a lot of fun following up. Removing the gear as I went, being amazed at these simple things that create safety. The moves in the climbs were often very different from what I’m used to. With no experience in hand jamming I tried my best to stuff my hands in cracks for better grip. The end was the most fun part of the whole climb. Sitting on top of the climb together, enjoying the view. Take some time to have a good conversation.

Once done we rappelled down to then find a new route to repeat the whole process. The whole experience, the vibe, during these climbs had nothing to do with the sport climbing that I have experience with. The leading feels more centered around survival, the grade is of so little importance. I felt that I, as the follower, had more opportunity to actually enjoy the climb.

You might be curious how climbing on Czech sandstone works. I didn’t really understand until I saw it with my own eyes. So I’ll do my best to explain.

The lead climber gears up with UFO textile cams, slings in various sizes, ropes with knots in various sizes and quickdraws. They start to climb and often can only place the first piece of gear when they’re already 4 or 5 meters up. Gear is wedged in and pulled for testing. When lucky there is a solid hourglass instead, where a sling or rope can be put around. Once that is in, a quickdraw connects the gear to the rope.

It can easily take a full minute to get the gear in and the climber isn’t always in a comfortable position. Resulting in hand switches and moving a lot of back and forth to rest as much as possible. In sections where the rock offers no opportunity for gear, often a big ring is glued into the rock. Most of the time it’s not more than two rings per pitch. In the top there is one big glued in ring for belaying and rappelling. Most of the time this ring is for all the routes that end on the top of that pillar. Resulting in some awkward positions for belaying.

If you’re reading this because you’re trying to decide if you want to give Czech sandstone a chance, here’s my advice to you. Make sure you have time to fully indulge yourself in this world. Either find a very experienced Czech sandstone climber who is willing to teach or find a local teacher. Besides having to learn to place the gear safely there are so many things to learn about the etiquette of climbing on Czech sandstone. Since you are a visitor it’s up to you to adjust to how they decided to do things.

Let me end with thanking my partners once more. You made me feel very safe and I left with a very positive experience.

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