Outside the window, overlooking the pool, cherry blossoms are flowering pink bouquets, bright against the grey, and tulips rise up with slouched shoulders and frumpy bed head. Water percolates, circling back to collect in clouds, weighted vest air compressing, then streams its way into puddles. In the early morning it’s cold enough to chill the tip of my nose. Spring.
Last year I missed this.
I had fast forwarded to summer by flying through to acclimatize on another continent. In a matter of hours I advanced the months, April became June, like the the flippant spin of a radio dial. From where I’ve lived, only in New England does spring get it’s fair share of the calendar’s quarter system.
Last summer there were no lobster rolls. No fish flaked wet sand between my toes. No end-of-the-earth-piering off into the depths of the Atlantic. No heavy-packed days in the Whites. No barbecues (my god!).
Instead I traipsed about another eastern boarder, cross stitching old lines of Latin and Cyrillic, Capitalism and Communism, place and no place.
Actually, it has been like this the past four years (where does the time go?): Mountain View (2015), Accra (2016), New Paltz (2017), Budapest, Plovdiv, Lviv (2018). I, a roving settlement, a stick in one hand, a canvas sack with my belongings cantilevered at the protruding end. Leather straps on my feet.
If I had died before last year I may have been discontented. Pardon the macabre. My point is that I had wanted to travel since uni—I’ve since tasted the fruit and can put sense and color to a wanderlust palette, the wine glass has been tipped back.
That tipping and sipping could have continued while overlooking a wine-dark sea. After all, I should be writing this in Albania.
I was supposed to fly out last week: to Dublin, Budapest, Tirana. Flight 2233 ended up with an extra seat. Maybe it made the journey more comfortable for some other lone passenger.
Those feelings have two-stepped and shadow boxed together, seesawed and smelted, fusing at odd angles throughout the travels. A short time in new places make good on that urge to keep going, nothing and no one securing you somewhere. Until its not, and until that melts away too.
For the most part I was rootless, and felt increasingly so as the trip continued. No roost, much roaming. That’s what I went for, though.
Alas the tether was wearing, the leather thong frayed to thin bits. It snuck up on me, didn’t notice until I had been walking several miles on without a shoe. The gravel had been running roughshod underfoot, blisters and stubbed toes alighted the mind to pay attention, eventually, then abruptly.
The last few months were a bit of a trudge, then I came back for my brother’s wedding. It was supposed to be a temporary stay.
In a recent conversation, a young, spirited woman offered, “I think we travel to figure out which places are meaningful to us.” She’s settled into her own nest for awhile, to regain and rebuild a sense of place.
Something changed for me too. Something about wanting to feel connected, about shared memories; a return to old grounds and the chance to look at the land with new perspective. While the lure of the ponderosa pine or mediterranean limestone shrills from time to time, it doesn’t feel right to go back, or elsewhere, right now. In my neck of the woods there’s no Poseidon to piss off or siren’s lullabying; Destiny can be my own.
There are wood nymphs and granite gargoyles, though, schist golems and sonorous stream temptresses, wily foxes and three sisters. We’ll have our fun.
In the end, I had to step back from all the experiences of the past year to see the bigger picture, then step in close to examine the sand grain mosaic for what it is: A lot of little pieces, a collection of days.
For now the grand adventure follows a storyline closer to home, one day at a time.
A piece of me was left in Europe. It was one last thread to a year spent abroad, and to a relationship that no longer existed. I was set to fly out in a few weeks to retrieve it.
Then my flight to Dublin got cancelled.
In Grizzly Years, Doug Peacock opens the book in the wilds of Wyoming, in winter, when the grizzly bears get slow like molasses, a thick lethargy that sludges through their blood, and makes them want to bed down until spring.
He was there, out of season, not as a griz tracker, but as a troubled man needing to perform a last rites. A bear, one he’d gotten to know, was shot by a sheepherder, illegally. He now had the skull, cleaned by the tainted hands—poorly—strings of connective tissue hanging loose from the bone. Together, they sat by an open flame.
His daughter had said he should return the skull to her home, to bury a life prematurely annulled.
In the morning he would do so.
The day was three seasons in one. Cold rain gave way to damp gray then afternoon sun with a high in the 70s. These spring intervals are fickle just like the traction on the rock as they went from saturated to chalked up.
It’s this uncertainty of footing, of having to trust in the nature of things, of yourself and of the connection to something slippery, that puts you on alert.
I was supposed to be in Albania by now. But I willed the flight grounded.
The email came through, “We’re sorry to inform you…” I was sorry too, but I needed more time. I was awash in doubts: Should I go back? Do I really want this? Do I have to see her?
We were bouldering outside, it felt good to have my hands on sharp granite. I thought about staying and I thought of nothing at all. I thought about what climbing had meant in our relationship, and how that would be something we would carry forward in our woven narrative. I thought about wanting my gear back.
He took the skull and brought it to rest outside the den where the mother’s cub was settling in, left to its own devices from here on out.
The trouble with a change in plans is the need to communicate them with another party. We’d been trying to minimize talking, or at least I had, and I now needed to coordinate a new set of arrival dates, meeting times, exchanges.
The back and forth was hard for both of us. She lobbed a salvo,
“If you don’t really want to meet up, I could ship it wherever you need.”
I hadn’t thought of that, locked in as I was on a plan already set in motion; A march on a path that I wasn’t sure I wanted to be on any longer. The bigger trip was a tour through the Balkans, more climbing, more rootlessness. I had convinced myself I wanted to go and stopping in Budapest was the easiest course.
This new option was a cold shower for all of it.
The skull was placed in a willow that sat at the opening of the cub’s hideaway, to watch over it through their deep sleep. Peacock draped a small bear paw of silver and turquoise atop the skull. He spoke, “your fur against the cold, bear…”
The chrysalis was woven complete: Paper wrapping, padding placed, shipping labels printed and pro forma invoices filled out and slapped on. It shipped out Tuesday at noon, and with it our last tether severed.
Three days and two continents later the mail arrived on the front porch at 4:29pm.
“…When my skull lies with yours will you sing for me? The long sleep heals…
The package in hand marked the tying of our loose ends. The spool was finished.
What’s left is a tapestry, beautiful in its own way, perhaps misshapen, but uniquely ours. It was left unfinished and finished all the same. It’s better that way.
We’ll store it away and admire it for what we created together, a parcel of the past.
Well, my friend, let me offer a heuristic: Plan your 2019 travels around The Coolest Climbing Festivals in Europe!
Each festival offers “climbing and…”a little something extra:
Climbing and… neon Lyrca and fresh terry headbands. Check! Climbing and… developing lines in a post-communist country. Check!! Climbing and… partying with 700 other people in one of the most stunning places on earth. Check!!!
But I am saying you might want to put your credit card on ice now because it will be hard not to sign up for the lot.
Without further adieu, read on for The Coolest Climbing Festivals in Europe.
La Sportiva Rjukan Icefestival
Ice climbing reigns supreme in the Norwegian town of Rjukan, which boasts 170 waterfalls (frozen in winter, of course).
This festival is packed with learning workshops covering topics such as an introduction to randonee skiing (or as the Norweigans would say, “topptur”), avalanche awareness, steep skiing technique, alpine climbing and winter aid climbing, drytooling, and much, much more.
The Icelandic Alpine Club‘s annual event visits popular and remote ice climbing spots across the country. In 2020 they are headed to Westfjords, a large peninsula in the northwestern part of the country.
In 2019, they climbed at Breiðdalur and Berufjörður in the east, which ÍSALP described as “the least explored quarter of Iceland.” These festivals offer the opportunity to climb classic lines and forge new ones.
Though not exclusively a climbing festival, the 8th International Highline Meeting takes place in Geyikbayiri, one of the premiere locales in the Mediterranean (over 1,300 climbing routes ranging from 5a to 8c+).
The festival is 8 days long and will be rigged up with 20 highlines from 15 to 160+ meters long (60 meters higher than last year!). All of the lines are within walking distance of the camps; Once you get yourself to Geyik all you have to do is step out the door of your dorm (or tent, or guesthouse) and you’ll be mere minutes from climbing.
Remember: Bring a costume — it’s a CARNIVAL after all!
Cost: Suggested donation of 25 EUR / 29 USD. Food: The closest village, Akdamlar, has several markets to stock up on produce, meat, and other foods. Hitchhiking is commonly practiced here.
Accommodation: There are plenty of campsites and bungalows for rent. I’ve personally stayed at the Flying Goat and would recommend them. JoSiTo and Rido Camp are other popular options. Wild camping is strictly forbidden.
What to Bring: A rack of 12 to 15 quickdraws and a 80m rope.
How to Get There: There are cheap flights to Antalya. Transfers from the airport can be arranged with the camps. Car rentals are cheap at the airport. More information here.
Prilep Boulder Fest – Macedonia
Tucked away in the south of Macedonia, Prilep is the fourth largest city in the country (with just over 70,000 inhabitants). The Boulder Fest itself is entering its ninth year, and the event has grown in attendance as has the number of new lines.
Complete with a new guidebook, feast on over 400 projects (or go about setting new ones). The area is quickly becoming one of the premiere bouldering destinations and was one of the sites for the Petzl RocTrip through Eastern Europe in 2014. Expect crimpy holds on sharp granite.
How to Get There: Skopje is the closest major city (about 130km away). You can take a bus or train to Prilep.
Paklenica International Climbers Meeting – Croatia
Paklenica is considered one of the top European climbing destinations. With over 600 routes the limestone cliffs of the Velebit Mountain range offer routes from 40m single pitch to big wall up to 350m long.
Heading into its 21st year, this festival features unique challenges including the Big Wall Speed Climbing (on Friday), a Kid’s Speed competition (on Saturday), the “From Dawn to Dusk” climbing marathon, and the Paklenica Film Festival (on Saturday), an amateur films showing about, what else, climbing.
Need a rest day? There are over 150 km of hiking and trail running paths.
What to Bring: A rack of 12 to 15 quickdraws and a 70m rope.
How to Get There: Located about 46 km/ 28.5 mi from Zadar.
Albanian Climbing Festival – Albania
Help develop climbing in Albania!
Albania is a small mountainous coastal country lying on the Adriadic Sea, north of Greece and south of Montenegro and Kosovo. Climbing is young here and this festival — celebrating its fourth iteration — was started to develop the community and showcase the country’s potential. For perspective, the first climbing gym in the country was opened in 2012 and according to the article, “Five years ago, one could have counted nearly every rock-climbing-Albanian on two hands.” Things are changing.
The festival moves around in order to show off the best that Albania has to offer from locales like Gjipe, Përmet and Bovilla. Many of these places are remote, have stunning natural beauty, and limited economic investment for the villages. Through the promotion of adventure tourism, the organizers hope to empower small local businesses and communities.
Climbing routes range in difficulty from 5a – 8b+, from single pitch (12 – 35m) to big walls. All the money from the festival fee goes to equip new routes. And for your money you will get a guidebook, swag, yoga, and a party on the beach.
The area is on notice by the pros: Adam Ondra climbed here in 2018 (and bolted the Balkan’s hardest route, The Dream, 9b), which Seb Bouin sent just before Christmas of last year.
This Lake Faak festival is all about celebrating the joy of climbing in some sweet, sweet spandex style and flashy terry headbands. A nod to history, the 5th edition celebrates the Lycra tights and colourful outfits worn by the early climbers in the area in the ’80’s.
These crags offer over 300 routes, which means you’ll get to sample plenty during the 8 hour climbing marathon as you try and earn as many points as you can. Kings and Queens will be crowned at the evening party, and awards will be given to the team with the most routes complete and team with the hardest route (among other awards). Of course, the place is buzzing with the one question on everyone’s mind: Who will win the “Golden Lycra Award”?!?!? (The trophy for the best outfit.)
Other features include: A talk with Thomas Huber and other pro climbers, workshops, crag cleanup, acro yoga, via ferrata hiking, bouldering, and slacklining.
Food: Grocery stores in the area but they close at 6.50pm.
Accommodation: Hotels and apartments in the area.
What to Bring: A rack of 15 quickdraws and a 70m rope.
How to Get There: The closest airports are in Salzburg and Ljubljana (just over the border). Hire a car as crags are spread out.
Integrowanie Przez Wspinanie (Integration Through Climbing) – Poland
Poland’s biggest climbing festival is entering its 5th year and takes place in the Będkowska Valley, less than 20km north-west of Kraków. The setting is fantastic, simply wake up at the campground and walk 100m down the road to start climbing. There are dozens of crags and hundreds of routes all within a 30 minute walk.
At the festival you’ll find workshops for beginners and advanced climbers, extreme rope games, climbing competitions, mountain running, and a focus on activities for children this year. There’s a great guidebook you can pick up at the E-Pamir Mountain Shop in Krakow or use the super helpful online topo repo, Portal Górski.
What to Bring: A rack of 10 – 15 quickdraws and a 60m rope.
How to Get There: Closest airports are Kraków and Katowice. 20-30 minutes by car from Kraków, about an hour by bus.
Dolorock Climbingfestival – Italy
2020 will mark the eighth year for the event organized by the Alta Pusteria climbing club, Gamatzn. The festival takes place in the Höhlenstein Valley, which combines natural beauty and rock climbing history as the area has been under development since the 1980s. The location sits near the famous Three Peaks (Tre Cime), some of the most photographed mountains in the world.
The Redpoint Fight is a competition for fun and personal challenge. Climbers are awarded points for their five hardest routes, based on criteria such as on-sighting, flashing and redpointing. There are four categories for competitors: Youth (under 18, F+M); Professionals (F+M); 50+; Amateurs, with awards for each. Yoga, kids climbing, dancing and talks round out the festivities.
Grades here range from 3 to 8c+ and consist of slab, flat wall and overhang climbing. The length of routes vary between 8 and 35 meters.
Pecka Rock Climbing Festival – Bosnia and Herzegovina
May is reserved for the oldest sports climbing festival in B&H. Held at the largest collection of rock routes in the country, Pecka features “a kingdom of the pockets” and fantastic local food. This is a combo event, teaming up with the Forest Party, the Forest Cinema, and the Pecka Outdoor Festival.
Enjoy more than 120 routes from 5a to 8b, with lengths between 15 and 35 meters. For the low price of 15 EUR, receive a printed guidebook and a Pecka Rock Climbing shirt. The event organizers like to keep things simple: “Come, climb and have fun!”
Perched in the High Atlas Mountains, savor clean air and nearly 800 problems in the 7th edition of the Oukaimeden Boulderfest.
Boulderers have been coming for years, and organizing a semi-regular event, but the last few years have crystalized into a full-on festival which now includes a competition, in what is probably the world’s highest bouldering field.
Get ready for fingery movements on generally solid sandstone, and plenty of opportunities for FAs all in the thin air of 2,700m above sea level. The price of admission includes entrance to the competition, lunch, dinner, and live music on Saturday night.
Note that by going you can help make a positive impact, as part of the aim, according to the organizers, is to “help stimulate economic and social development as well as promote climbing in Morocco and encourage local Moroccan boulderers and climbers.”
Join during the first weekend in June to find the whole town on board for climbing, mountain biking, highline, yoga, singing, dancing, eating and drinking, all centered around a big campsite in the middle of the village.
Ikaria is limestone perfection budding out of a cerulean North Agean sea. The island is gifted by the gods with over 300 bouldering problems among 9 sectors and 120 sport routes dashed about 5 crags.
The slivered parcel, sits closer to Izmir than Athens, and is renowned for its tranquility and summer-long festivities. Argyro Papathanasiou, a strong Greek climber who has been visiting the island for over 13 years, describes the place as a “vibrating with its own particular energy.”
2020 will mark the second ever festival. Last year featured a climbing competition, not enough Icariotissa beer or Karimalis wine, live music late into the night, a pool party, and visiting athletes, Said Belhaj, Cris Daniil and Victor Sebros. If you’re looking to extend your stay or need a rest day activity, there is ample nature walks and surfing at Mesakti beach.
Development began in 2012 thanks to Evaggelos Kastanias, but it seems they may have only scratched the surface of this Mediterranean gem.
Heading into their 4th year, the festival aims to promote participation in climbing and encourage a community of support. Their stated aims are: To help beginners transition from indoor to outdoor climbing; facilitate women in outdoor leadership; and to create a network of female climbers
In 2018, they had 200 participants from as young as 8 to over 60 years old. Everyone is welcome, even if you’ve never climbed before!
Accommodation: Information coming soon (location changes each year).
What to Bring: Trad rack (if you have it).
How to Get There: Information coming soon (location changes each year).
Women’s Bouldering Festival in Fontainebleau – France
2018 marked the first year for this festival at the world’s premier bouldering destination, and 2019 brought over 120 participants to the festival.
The event has the expressed mission to, “be a platform that allows female climbers to meet likeminded individuals in our sport” and to promote the idea of sustainable recreation.
The festival feature workshops on route-setting (by setters on the French National team!), forest conservation, morning yoga and afternoon parkour sessions, evening talks, and a focus on mentorship. And of course, best-in-class climbing. Attendees last year included the likes of Caroline Sinno, who has done multiple 8B (V13) ascents, and Alice Hafer, a former Blokfest champion.
Herculane was a Petzl Rock Trip 2014 stop which has put this crag on the world stage. It’s still off-the-beaten track but good enough climbing for Adam Ondra to visit in 2018, and free the first 9a in Romania.
In other words, if you’re looking for high-quality climbing (Cerna Valley has hosted the National Rock Climbing Championship) and economical value, all without the hordes, you’ve found your place. 2020 will offer up the 19th edition of this festival with three days of climbing and 30 designated routes for the competition. Movies, yoga, and celebration are in store for the off-wall hours.
Drill & Chill Climbing And Highlining Festival – Bosnia and Herzegovina
Who knew Bosnia and Herzegovina had such a strong climbing culture?! This marks the second festival from B&H on the list.
Join in to make your mark (literally) with ten days of bolting, climbing, and highlining. Organized by Climbing club Extreme Banja Luka, they set out to “playfully combat the status quo.” If you like to travel and climb off the beaten paths, Bosnia and Herzegovina offers a diverse landscape of forested mountains and an abundance of untamed limestone
Last year the festival focused on the development of the Tijesno canyon, which is nestled in alpine terrain and offers a plethora of multi-pitch climbing. Over 500 people attended, including Adam Ondra.
The Gods shine bright on this rock climbing Adonis of crag and sea.
(Just don’t piss off Poseidon or he’ll blow you straight back to Troy — where the climbing isn’t quite as nice.)
Today, the island has over 3,400 sport routes on Mediterranean limestone. The majority of the routes are single pitch, around 20 to 30m, with some 3-5 pitch climbs as well. You won’t be able to cover it all during the three day festival, naturally. Like laying eyes on Helen, you may find yourself drooling uncontrollably… at the anchors staring out at the breathtaking blue Aegean.
The festival features a Climbing Rally, clinics, the chance to chat with pros, deep water soloing, traditional Greek dancing lessons and, of course, parties.
In the words of Rock and Ice, “The search for climbing paradise ends at the greek isle of Kalymnos” (Feb 2001).
Perched in the North West Highlands of Scotland this festival offers some of the best scenery and landscapes in the UK — plus pure dead brilliant climbing!
Organized by Hamlet Mountaineering, they cater to all your Scottish needs: Salt water, clean lines and a pub two minutes on from the campsite. Workshops are offered for those who want to improve their skills or deepen your understanding (and appreciation) of the sport you love with the “Geology for Climbers” talk. Want some evening entertainment? Rope up in your Highland dress for the Saturday night Ceilidh with accordion accompaniment.
Other activities include a half-marathon, kayaking and yoga. Gie it laldy!
Four days in Mediterranean sun. In November? Yes, please. The tenth edition just wrapped up, for what has become a hallmark event in Sicily, Italy and around Europe. The festival features big names, big sponsors, and big crowds (hundreds of people attend) in this idyllic setting of beach, history, and climbing.
Activities include the “Baby speed climb” (for 6-10 year olds) and the main draw, the “Crazy Idea Boulder Event” where competitors can go against national athletes. For non-climbers there is mountain biking, trail running, slacklining (including a 160m line), stunning beaches, and the opportunity to test new gear, in addition to film screenings, live music, and social hours. Of course, if you want more climbing there are over 600 routes in the area.
What to Bring: A rack of 12 – 15 quickdraws and a 70m rope
How to Get There: Cheap flights to Palermo. Rent a car or take a bus to San Vito.
Leonidio Climbing Festival – Greece
Can you name the three most popular crags in Europe for 2018?
If 8a.nu’s Tick List is the be-all-end-all, we have 1) Frankenjura, 2) Kalymnos, and rounding in to form, 3) Leonidio (which saw more ascents in 2018 than the beloved Rodellar, Arco and Railay Beach combined).
Just three hours south of Athens, Leonidio is sheltered along the Peloponnese coastline and surrounded by red and grey cliffs that keep temperatures warm and wind down, making it an idyllic winter climbing destination.
The festival itself is only entering its fourth year, yet attendance skyrocketed with over 700 participants in 2018. Come to enjoy more than 1,000 routes from single pitch to multi-pitch up to 250m high, ranging from 5a to 9a.
Hopefully you found the list useful (and even signed up for one or two!).
If you have been to one of these events or are planning on attending, I’d be keen to hear about your experience. Any festivals that we missed?
Please note: The aim wasn’t to be comprehensive, but rather to focus on interesting festivals. I was hoping for more ice climbing and from places like Scandinavia, Ukraine, Poland, the Baltics, Macedonia, Bulgaria, etc. And nothing for Spain? Really?!
If you have any festivals to add, please share them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.