Hard to believe it’s the edge of a capital
“Yeah that one is hard. 7a+, even 7b, 7b+ maybe”
It was nice of him to humour us but having sat on the rope while he breezed up the 7a+ to my left in a borrowed harness and barefoot, there was only so much better it could make me feel. We’d been introduced to Bosnian grades already and knew that here, the most popular crag in the country, this was probably benchmark 7a - but he was right, that was most likely 7a+ in the UK, 7b in Spain and 7b+ in Kalymnos.
Our hopes for soft euro-grades had sunk after Blagaj, our first stop in Bosnia. The town sits 18km south of Mostar and along with the famed Ottoman monastery there’s crags of dripping tufas and a gorge with a few developed crags and potential for thousands more routes on an impressive variety of limestone.
Approach to the gorge
Our first day we waited till the gorge would be in shade in the afternoon and did the easy via ferrata approach, spotting the first snake of the trip. The tufas of Sector Publika, a small crag in the gorge, maxed out at 6b+ so we were hoping for a calm first day. Pumped and looking at a big move to a pocket on the 6b “warm up” I slumped onto the rope, Bosnian grades slapped us hard.
Will preparing for an evening send in the gorge
Blagaj really isn’t a summer destination, more a climate for sitting drinking Bosnian coffee (strong with unfiltered grounds) than climbing. All the climbing outside the gorge - the best looking of what’s currently developed - was baking in the unclimbable sun after 10am, until more routes get bolted (or you go bolt them) in the gorge, I’d leave a trip to cooler months.
The Šube cave, only 3 routes bolted currently with a grand project through the middle
That’s what we did after an unsuccessful attempt at a 7a multi pitch, getting the train up to Sarajevo. We stayed in an Airbnb 2.5km from the old town and 1km from Dariva, the main crag of the area. Despite the proximity to the city centre, the few houses around our Airbnb felt like it’s own village with the wooded hills blocking the view to the capital.
Will’s throat was feeling the affects of roaching rollies so I headed down to Dariva a bit earlier the first day, hoping there’d be other climbers. With it’s wide range of grades, quality climbing and walking distance from the city centre, there was a nice scene at the base, not hard to wrangle a belay off a local to warm up.
Will appeared and we decided Sretan Put (7a) looked like a good route to try. We each gave it a couple burns and it felt close but on our last tries of the day we both pumped out really quick and left it for the next day.
Will on Sretan Put (7a)
First go the next day and I got up to the second crux but couldn’t remember the best way to get established over the small overlap, I pumped off but was pretty happy to get that far putting in draws. Will gave it a go and couldn’t get through the lower crux, even after resting on the rope he couldn’t stick the move. I gave it another go and got past both cruxes to the easiest climbing, so of course I forget about my feet, grab at the nice holds too early and I’m suddenly flying. I’d taken the biggest possible whip on the route, the only point where it’s so easy there isn’t bolts every 6ft (Bosnian bolting is as friendly as the grading is mean). Pumped out my mind I went over to the left of the crag to a higher platform where a couple routes start from to get photos, while Will got a belay off a local we’d been chatting to. Having been shut down on the crux earlier he’d said he wasn’t feeling great but might as well give it a go. Next thing he’s pulled through the lower crux comfortably and was resting before the overlap. Pulling on the nasty side pulls and adding a foot-hand match for good measure he got through the overlap, slowly and carefully climbing to the top.
The bastard had done it before me.
Cheeky foot hand match to finish the hard climbing
Thankfully I managed it next go, I mean I had to at that point. It really was a great route - well it does roughly translate to “Happy Way”.
The next day Will arrived from the bazaar with Burek (Bosnian Pies) and we each lead a nice 6a+ before Dino arrived. We’d met him the first day at Dariva and offered us a lift up to another local spot above the city; Špicasta Stijena (spikey rock) or Spicã to the locals, was hidden in the trees that overlooked the city. We met up with some of his mates and had a great evening session. I belayed on then climbed a 6b while Will fell off a 6a+ trying to use mono undercling at the first bolt, getting it comfortably second go (sans mono).
Will on Europa (6b), Dino’s favourite climb at Spica
Will was trying Dino’s favourite route there and I thought I’d check out Oskarov, I could see it looked really cool while lowering off earlier. 6c+ in the guide and 7a according to locals, I thought I’d give it a solid onsight go but probably just check out the moves. An awkward slab start lead to a big sloping ledge before the crux yellow wall with a smattering of crimpy side pulls. I climbed into a dead end using the only nice hold, having to reverse then climb up crimps just to the left. Scraping through the clip and slowly onto higher and higher holds I got to the top of the yellow wall and to nice holds. Power screamed as I almost fell off jugs, I barely got to the top, absolutely spent. I’m sure it looked like an absolute mess and did 4 times the necessary moves - but I’m shit at onsighting, so I’ll take it. Haven’t onsighted a 7 before and probably can’t count this but with Bosnian grades being what they are I was bloody chuffed.
One of Dino’s friends (sorry I’ve forgotten your name) trying Oskarov (6c+/7a) on top rope
We drank from 2l bottles of Sarajevo pivo (beer) and were shown the ‘Bosnian fish trick’ to cook sardines in their tin, a top notch crag snack.
We had one more day to climb and headed back to Dariva, climbing a 7a starting on the higher left hand platform. It had a hard boulder start before one more not as hard but droppable move. We both got it ‘final go’ as the lower crimpy boulder was shredding our skin.
We then wondered down to Babin Zub (Grandma’s tooth), a 70m limestone tower at the edge of the city. An odd approach involved scrabbling under a road, where we found a souvenir each in two dumped license plates (and now we’re probably accessories to stealing a car) and started off the first pitch. We’d been told it was easy but a bit loose, which would be fine if anything you knocked off wouldn’t hit a main road. I lead the didn’t think it was too loose then heard rock hitting tarmac first pitch then Will lead the second pitch, exposed and on better quality rock.
View from the belay at Babin Zub
Topping out to a view over the whole city was amazing. It was already getting dark and after the abseil off the back it was totally pitched black. The short scramble along the base felt like a bit of an epic, as much as it could given how short it would’ve been in the light, or at least with head torches. Trying not to go flying down the steep slope by grabbing trees (and rating them from a bomber number 7 wire when you’ve got a big tree to a bunch of equalised RPs when you end up grabbing small bushes that want to rip out the ground) we eventually got back down and back to the bags, now guarded by a snake.
View over Sarajevo from the top of Babin Zub
Back under the bridge and into Sarajevo for food, a city not associated with climbing but worth visiting for it - plus the cheap food and beer.