Happy new year!

Dear readers, first of all, happy 2017! We wish you that all your dreams come true!

It’s been a while since the last post, so I decided to write a little update on what’s going on recently.

During the past months, my life pretty much revolves around finishing my PhD thesis. Since 2013, I’ve been enrolled on a PhD programme on machine learning at the Jožef Stefan Institute in Ljubljana, and my time as a PhD student is coming to an end. Maybe I can use the opportunity to brag a little bit. Recently, I was a part of the team from Jožef Stefan Institute that won the European Space Agency’s Mars Express Power Challenge. Among the other competitors, we made the most accurate model for prediction of power consumption of the Mars Express satellite. This happens to be very important for ESA and may extend the life of the satellite. That is, this extraordinary satellite may stay in orbit around Mars a bit longer due to our solution. How cool is that! We were invited to ESA’s Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, where I gave a lecture about our solution. The event was recorded, so if anyone is interested it can be seen here: https://livestream.com/ESA/mexopendataday/videos/140338623

Space exploration is cool, but let’s go back to important topics: scaling up rock faces for no apparent reason 🙂

I reckon that the most important thing to improve ones climbing is motivation (or to improve any skill, as a matter of fact). For me, it is much easier to stay motivated if I have a clear goal, so each year I try to come up with some challenge. For example, 2 years ago it was doing 50 routes 7c an harder in a year. Last year is was simple, to do an 8c. For 2016, I decided to take Gorazd Hren’s the four eights challenge: 8c redpoint, 8a multipitch, 8a onsight and 8A boulder. By the way, Gorazd completed the challenge by climbing Cupido (8a, 350m) in Anića kuk on 31st of December! Anića kuk is not really a pleasant place to be during winter.

With Corrida and Agricantus the first two objectives were ticked off. In November, I went for a quick trip to Smrka – the new amazing crag on the island of Brač. Smrka was bolted in 2015 by the French “team excellence” and it’s definitely one of the best crags in Croatia. Tufa climbing at its finest, with amazing up to 50m long routes. Smrka is packed with 8as, so my best opportunity to onsight 8a in 2016 was there. To cut the story short, I did 6 8as but none of them onsight. I got close a few times, but no cigar. However, I did one 8a flash, so a flash will have to do it :).

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Smrka, Igor Čorko (try to find him) in one of the best routes ever Happiness therapy (8a), we both flashed it. Photo: Sunčica Hraščanec

Next, December was reserved for 8A boulder. Luckily, 20 minutes from Ljubljana, near Zalog, there is a hill with a small granite outcrop on top of it. They used to carve millstones there for many centuries. Now, boulderers found a totally different use of this abandoned quarry. Zalog is a home to a few legendary Slovenian classics, including Urh Čehovin’s masterpiece The End, with the mighty grade of 8C. I set my eyes on another Urh’s notoriously crimpy testpiece: Cvile Gumijo (8A). In December, the temperatures started to drop below zero, so the strategy was to have crashpads ready in my car, hit Zalog for a quick session when the sun appears (which is not too often in Ljubljana during winter), and then back to writing PhD thesis. I was really close on a couple of occasions, almost sticking the finishing jug, however, the right conditions, with me being there felling strong, did not align enough times until the end of 2016. So, the 2016 challenge is not completed, but it served its purpose. Anyway, I’m happy that 8A boulder is within reach, hopefully it will happen in 2017.

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Sunny day at Zalog

With a bunch of friends from all over Croatia, and my girlfriend Petra, we wrapped a year with a trip to San Vito Lo Capo. At one moment, there were 17 Croats in San Vito, which must be an all time high. San Vito is one of the classical European climbing destinations, a must for any serious climber. Much recommended. However, due to vicinity of sea, pay attention to rusty bolts and anchors. The local are rebolting diligently but there are hundreds of routes and some are not in best shape. Our main activity there was eating ridiculous amount of mortadella and ricotta, and watching the Godfather series. As we were told, Italians live to eat, not eat to live, so as a part of a cultural experience we pretended to be Italians for a week 🙂 This resulted in getting few extra kilos of fat, however, fat can be lost, but the taste of cannoli siciliani will stay forever 🙂

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The San Vito crew (from left to right): Petra, me, Ivo, Lija, Sandra, Franko, Malik, Enna, Luka&Cocy the dog, Inga, Sunka and Gogo. Niksi, Tamara, Branko, Moco and Iris arrived later.

On the way to Sicily we stopped in Bari to visit our friends. It was so nice to meet the Bari crew again and to climb in Laterza and Pulo. I miss this place, the amazing energy in the Kankudai bouldering gym, the gelato after training, foccacia, pizza… My projects in Laterza and Pulo stayed projects, but at least I have additional reason to return. Preferably when I loose the fat I gained, the routes in Bari are no joke.

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The Bari crew: Sara, Piero, Antonio, Marco, me, Petra, Inga and Luka.

While I was busy with chasing my 2016 goals, Perica changed his job and went to a business trip to USA. While he was there, he did a bit of climbing – in Yosemite valley 🙂 The visit was short, but the impressions have been made, and the seed was planted. We will see what will grow out of it, but I must say that it is sprouting 🙂

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Perica enjoying the granite slabs of the Valley, with El Cap in the background

OK, this little update turned out not so little. Thank you for reading (for those of you who endured until the end). Below you can find a few photos and a list of routes I did in Smrka and San Vito Lo Capo.

Cheers,
Jurica

Smrka tick-list (30. 10. 2016. – 6. 11. 2016.):
– Happiness therapy (8a, flash)
– El patator (8a)
– I believe I can fly (8a)
– Brač à gauche (8a)
– Olive holds (8a)
– Sveti Duje (8a, Marjan, Split)
– Brač le Bol (7c+)

San Vito Lo Capo tick-list (31. 12. 2016. – 6. 1. 2017)
– Variante robin (8a+)
– Dreamworld (8a+)
– Roof rabit (8a)
– Mega dave (7c+, onsight)
– Christo (7c+)

 

Chuck Norris

If Pokojec was University, its final exam would be the route named Chuck Norris, and Igor Čorko would be the profesor. After many years and huge amounts of effort I finally passed all the exams Pokojec had to offer, including Chuck Norris. Can I apply now to become assistant of Prof. Čorko, instead of his pupil? 🙂

Back in 2009 when Igor Čorko did the first ascent of Chuck Norris, it was yet another route on Pokojec, and it didn’t receive much attention. He didn’t do himself a favour by grading it 8a+. With time, however, it became evident that this route is something special. Special in a way that it is bloody hard. Much much harder than Čorko has initially suggested. His effort back then was much more impressive than the modest grade he gave the route may suggest.

Years have passed and the route hasn’t seen a repeat. Few people have actually tried it, I can name maybe one or two besides myself. There is not many fans of relentless mono pulling out there, so the queues were not forming under the route. When I first tried it, I got spanked big time. There is no tricks on this route, just plain hard moves. Mostly on monos, and one campus move from crimp to crimp with desperately bad foothold. After few seasons (not days!) of trying it, I finally did all the moves. However, linking the whole thing seemed light years away. I had serious doubts whether I will ever be strong enough to do Chuck.

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If you plan to try Chuck, bring your mono skills!

Fast forward few more years of countless fingerboard and campus sessions and monos on Chuck started to feel comfortable rather than tendon breaking hell. This year I realised that I’m ready to do the route. This realisation was probably more satisfying than actually doing the route. Chuck Norris was my measuring stick for years. Each year I would evaluate my progress as a climber on it. Getting confirmation that all the hard training is paying off is what really matters, climbing the route was just a cherry on the top. Actually, I would not mind few more seasons with Chuck.

So, how hard it really is? I will stick my neck out and say 8b+. It is harder than its neighbour Kill Bill by a good margin, so adding a plus to Bill’s grade seems logical. But I really don’t have any other similar route to compare with. Well, it’s time to go to Frankenjura to calibrate our Pokojec grading scale 🙂

While we are at Pokojec, I have to mention my brother Perica who recently climbed the classic Maskirni keks (7c).  Doing Maskirni is nothing new to him, but his latest ascent was the most impressive. First time he did it with 60kg, second with 70kg, and now with 80kg. I hope he will not go for 90kg ascent 🙂

Fun fact. Did you know that Chuck Norris is also a climber? He climbed Mount Everest twice. First time it took him 15 minutes, 14 of which he spend building a snowman at the top. The second time, he climbed it by accident, while sleepwalking.

A picture is worth thousand words, while a picture of Chuck Norris is worth two thousand words, thus I shall stop writing and let you enjoy the photos, as always, taken by Luka Tambača.

Agricantus

For few years now, I’m dreaming of doing an 8a multi-pitch in Anića kuk. So, after finishing the Corrida project, I switched my focus to that. Who would say that only one week after Corrida, I would tick-off this thing as well from my life time list? So, yesterday, I did Agricantus in Paklenica! It’s 200m long route, with 7 pitches: 6c, 5c, 7b, 7b+, 6a, 8a, 7b. You can read below few words about the whole experience.

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We were too busy with climbing, so I only have this blurry photo from the top of Agricantus.

I’m so happy to share another news – Perica finally did some climbing as well. He did Johnny (7a, 200m) in Debeli kuk. And he did it in superb “Huber” style: leading all the pitches onsight. Heck, he even improved the “Huber” style, he had two ladies belaying him 🙂

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I think Perica’s photo is miles better than mine 🙂

About the Spider-Agricantus experience:

On Saturday, with my friend Uroš, we went to try the legendary route Spider in Anića kuk. We were making good progress, but the 8a pitch stopped us, and we retreated. I actually managed to flash all the pitches up to the 8a (2x6c, 7a+, 7c, and 7c+). Also, I came agonizingly close to flash 8a as well. The victory jug was within reach, but I got scared and fell while I was trying to clip the bolt from wrong holds, instead of going for the jug. It’s a bit different when you have 200m of air below your ass :).

I was quite disappointed, only once in a lifetime you get a chance to flash Spider. Well, with 3 more 7b pitches after the 8a, Spider is far from over, and who knows whether I would be able to pull it off. In any case, it would have been an epic fight, and I’m sad I didn’t get a chance to indulge into it.

The next morning, we were both feeling shattered and super tired. However, we went to check Agricantus, with the plan to climb until we were feeling it, and then abseil down. I first checked the route few weeks ago with Siniša Škalec, and wanted to remind myself the moves for a proper try next weekend. The first go in 8a pitch was disaster, just barely climbing from bolt to bolt. However, the next go, something happened and I entered the pit-bull state of mind, and screamed myself Ondra style to the top of the pitch. I hope somebody didn’t call the rescue service :). The whole Spider experience actually helped in this case, during the ascent I had one thought in my head: “F**k it, I let Spider slip away, I will not let this one go”. It’s amazing how far the mind can push the body.

But it was not over yet, there is one more 7b to the top, which I didn’t check before. I’m so lucky I didn’t brake anything off and managed to onsight it. This pitch is horribly fragile. It was an epic onsight, with cramps in my body all over the place. All the suffering was compensated by the beautiful moment, when on the verge of exhaustion, I pulled over the lip, the sun hit my face, and I realized it was over.

Big thanks go to Uroš! I know it was a suffer fest for him when I did the 8a pitch and we had to go to the top. I hope I will be able to return the favour soon!

Thanks people for reading! Stay strong and motivated!

Jurica

P.S.

Power bars are a fraud, Kosana mast (aka Zaseka) rules! Thanks Marjan!

 

Corrida

It happened today, I climbed Corrida, my second 8c! Of course, the route is located in the temple of climbing – Mišja peč. It was almost exactly one year ago, when I did my first 8c. It seems other people’s off-season in Mišja is my season in Mišja 🙂

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The crux move of Corrida. Photo. Luka Tambača.

This time, the path to success was a bit easier, especially from the mental aspect, but still it was a bumpy one. Again, I had to go into full on projecting mode, obsess over the route, lose some weight and pilgrimage to Mišja peč few times a week for a couple of months. I even stopped eating sweets for 2 months!

However, since I went through similar process last year, this time I was better mentally prepared for all the tricks Corrida has prepared for me. For example, one day I fell 0.5m from the anchor, then the next two or three visits to Mišja, I was nowhere near that point. What a mind fuck! But, I knew it’s just a natural rhythm, you cannot operate at you maximum all the time. It happened in Vizija as well. Just be patient, and you will arrive at your high-point again. And indeed, eventually I fell again 0.5m from the anchor. Then once more. Then once more 0.25m from the anchor. Then once more in the lower crux… Today I finally managed to stay relaxed enough, not get over-excited when pulling through the last moves, and clip the anchor. Actually, I felt quite solid, with still some gas left in the tank at the top.

In retrospect, I was probably pushing it too far, often going to Mišja peč when the body was not rested enough, and more importantly, when the mind was not fresh. Each try required 100% focus, and it’s not easy to push the body and mind to their limits day in, day out, for weeks. Eventually, the brain will start to scream “Not again!”. Trying the route at your limit will stop to be fun at one point, but I’ve learned that, rather than giving up, you have to overcome that barrier. The success is usually very near on the other side of it. Sometimes it’s not. But anyway, are we here to have fun, or to send hard routes? 🙂

At the end of the day, I’m really grateful to be in this position, living 1 hour away from Mišja peč (and a ton of other great crags), and having a flexible job which allows to escape to climbing at odd times. And most of all, I’m grateful for having a loyal (climbing) partner. It would not be possible without Petra, and her endless support. Recently, she also send her big project: Rodeo, her first 7a! It’s the first pitch of Corrida, so it was really nice experience to project the route together. Sometimes she was even more psyched to go to Mišja than I was. Try to find a girlfriend like that!

As always, author of the photos is Luka Tambača. If there is no Luka, who likes taking photos as much as he likes climbing, most probably me (and better part of Croatian climbers) would’t have any nice climbing photos. You can check his work here: http://lukatambaca.com/.

Hmm… now the question is, whether to eat that chocolate cake, or to find a new project while I’m still fit? I guess I know the answer. Who likes chocolate anyway? 🙂

Thanks for reading people!

Jurica

Stories from the south, part II: Bari

After almost 3 months of being on the road, I’m finally settled back in Ljubljana, which by now got embraced by its regular winter companion – fog. This makes for a perfect opportunity to recount the sunny memories from the south.

As a visiting student, I spend two months in Bari, capital of the Puglia region in Italy. I must admit that this chaotic port city didn’t seem very attractive at first. However, don’t judge the book by its covers, they say, and they couldn’t have said it better! After two months spend there, Bari took a special place in my heart. I’m sure it will find its place on my itinerary many times more.

Being climber at heart, of course the first thing I did was to look for a climbing gym (which was not a trivial task at all). The only bouldering gym in Bari is Kankudai, which I learnt, dates as far as 25 years back. It reminded me a bit on good old Podsused. My first training session there I spend completely alone, wondering if there are any climbers in Bari at all. Then, two days later, I found the place completely packed with psyched climbers! It turned out, they train on Mondays and Thursdays, and everybody train together. Immediately they embraced me as one of their own. I was taught rules of the gym: flash doesn’t count if you touch holds other that the starting ones; after climbing we do body workout; when climbing sequences, hell hooks and toe hooks are not allowed, and for God’s sake don’t do knee bars :). Oh man, I just love places with character, and this place has one!

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Kankudai bouldering gym

Bari has small, but extraordinary climbing community. I didn’t felt that kind of energy in a while. No matter how hard you climb, your effort will be cheered, and your success will be applauded. In today’s shiny new climbing gyms, more and more often people tend to mind their own business and don’t interact to much with each-other. However, in Bari the true climbing camaraderie is still alive.

As you can probably tell, I’m absolutely trilled about training sessions in Kankudai, but of course, we did some outdoor climbing as well. Around Bari, there are a lot of beautiful places to climb. Statte, Laterza, Pulo di Altamura, to name a few. I have to single out Statte, the unusual place where pockets meet tufas, two types of holds I like the most. Simply brilliant routes! I managed to repeat some local classics: Leite de burra (8a), L’artiglio di Dorica (8a), Omaha lunga (7c+), CaH di LumH (7c), Bong (7b+, OS), Superskunk (7b+, OS), and some more easier routes.

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Good company and good overhang, what more can one ask for?

I owe largely to the local climbers, for the wonderful 2 month experience I had in Bari. They were not just climbing partners, but great friends as well. So, from the bottom of my heart, I have to say: Grazie Baresi!

Part of the Kankudai team, “training sessions” would often last well after midnight.

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for the 3rd Spanish chapter of Stories from the south.

Jurica

Stories from the south, part I: Macedonia

Our travels are usually motivated by climbing, but invitation to a wedding in Macedonia was opportunity to travel Petra and I happily embraced. We packed suits and dresses, and hit the south (of course we left some room for climbing equipment).

The wedding itself was extraordinary experience: wedding in the ancient orthodox mansion, traditional music, oro dance, slapping money on musician’s forehead, ordering rakija and having served a full jar of it – all night long… I could go on and on and easily devote the entire blog post just to the wedding, but this blog should be about climbing, shouldn’t it?

Climbing-wise, Macedonia is most known for its world class bouldering venue Prilep. However, summer is way too hot for pulling on extremely sharp granite in Prilep. So, as an attractive sport climbing alternative, the local climbers suggested Demir Kapija.

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Entrance to the canyon

Demir Kapija is a small town in south-eastern part of Macedonia, sitting on the bank of Vardar river. The river has carved a narrow canyon through the mountain, which earned the town its name – Iron Gate (from Turkish Demir Kapı). We had four days to explore climbing sectors scattered through the canyon – and we had a great time. My favorite sector was Vardarska sahara, yellow, slightly overhanging wall, with incredible routes up to 30m long. The climbing there is technical, crimpy, and super-sustained – one of the most sustained routes I ever climbed on.

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Vardarska sahara

With all that rakija consumed during the wedding party powering me, I had no choice but to do most of the hard routes in Demir kapija 🙂 Here’s my tick list: Porošenok (8a, 2. go), Zabushant (8a, 2. go), Kalabaster (7c+, OS), Drozzi (7c, OS), Jamal (7b+, OS), Jelat (7b+, OS), Crna 2 (7b, OS), Chekor po chekor (7b, OS), Skapa žena (7a+, OS).

Petra did her second 6c in just few goes, and skipped few grades in onsight style by doing a notorious 6b+ slab, where the crux involves literally no handholds, and only one downward facing foothold.

If you travel to Demir Kapija, don’t expect huge rock faces and hundreds of routes, but there is a decent amount of well bolted, quality routes. However, what will you get in return is a memorable experience of Macedonian lifestyle, pristine nature and awesome (and cheap) food. I have to advertise restaurant Kutchkin where čevapi were out of this world! A man to search for is Alex Klenov. A Russian guy with permanent address in Demir kapija, who runs the Rock Land Camp, and knows everything you need to know about climbing there. Fun fact: he competed in BWSC 2006!

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Camping place – we had the entire place for ourselves

The »Stories from the south« is about to have a second chapter: Two days ago I arrived in Bari, a city in southern Italy. I will stay here until mid-November to work on a common project between Jožef Stefan Institute and University of Bari Aldo Moro (not to be confused, the project is about science, not climbing :)). Hopefully, I will get to try some local climbing as well, or at least do some quality training time. For sure it will not be boring, since the first hour spend here involved breaking into my car… More on that later 🙂

After Bari, another southern adventure is on agenda: We booked tickets to a Spanish climbing paradise – Chullila.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Jurica

There is no place like home

When the holidays arrive, we climbers often feel almost obliged to travel to some distant place in search for “the best” crag that ever existed. We sit in a car, drive as far as humanly possible in one push, climb a few routes, then reverse the driving torture, catch some sleep, and endure that cursed Monday totally wrecked at our jobs. Sometimes I wonder, why I just went to a place with 500 routes, only to climb 20 of those? Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against visiting places like Rodellar or Ceuse, but my point is that maybe sometimes it is possible to please climbing appetite at your doorstep – as good as in Spain or France.

Driven by the former “wise” philosophical discussion, the day before departure to our dream crag 500km away, Petra and I decided to head for the good old Buzet instead. Istria is slowly (or maybe not so slowly?) but surely becoming a world class climbing destination. There are numerous high quality crags, with different orientation, making it possible to climb all year long. Also, historic Istrian towns, like Grožnjan or Motovun, are absolutely charming way to spend rest days, or just to have a coffee between morning and afternoon climbing session. As an added value, there is a good chance to bump into old friends, which know all the beta, and will help you to send your project faster :).

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Pengari sector – it doesn’t get much better than this!

Climbing-wise, I was feeling in a great shape. By some miracle, I could crank hard crux moves, while being totally pumped. I can’t remember the last time I had this quality – or when did I acquire it :). I managed two 8a routes 2.go in the same day (Too late and Šefka), which is my new personal highlight. Also, I onsighted absolutely phenomenal 7c+ called Skitalica, and a bunch of routes in 7a-7c region.

Enjoy few picture from our Istria trip, and see you at some (domestic) crag :).