Paklenica national park is about 3 hours north of Hvar and seemed like a logical place to stop before heading to Zagreb. Pacho, from Hvar Adventures, originally told us that we should definitely hit Paklenica on our way back. Stefano, our future bestie, also told us that Paklenica was a great place to stop on our way back to Italy. We reached Starigrad on Friday evening and attempted to find a good place to camp. We did a little recon but could not find any wild camping close to the park. As it turns out, we could have found some, according to a German couple we met on our last day, but you really need to know the area to find it. The first place we looked was the Paklenica park campsite. We figured that maybe if we stayed with the park that we could bypass the daily charge of $10 per person for entry. Unfortunately, this is not the case, but rather you need to pay approximately $25 a night for camping in addition to the daily entry. The campsites in Croatia and Italy are a little ridiculous; people camp right next to each other, like a can of sardines. The campsite was next to the beach, a plus, but each site was less than 1 meter away from each other. For $25 a night, we knew we deserved better. We tried another campsite down the road but it was $35 a night. Since most people want to camp by the beach, the campsites are able to charge unreasonable prices, but there were many other camping areas that are not on the beach, so we decided to try one of those. We drove into Camp Popo, which turned out to be the perfect little slice of paradise.
There was only one other couple there for the first two nights. An older German couple that spoke no English and never seemed to leave the camp area. Yet the wife did walk around the compound often, taking her marmalade kitty for a stroll... Camp Popo only cost $10.50 a night and had awesome showers with hot water. Though we always prefer wild camping, camp Popo was an absolute pleasure.
Outdoor climbing gym...
Paklenica is a climbing paradise. The summer is not the season, as it is a bit warm, but the sheer amount of routes there is overwhelming. The $10 per person a day cost is a bit of a turn off but you can climb routes anywhere from 4b to 8b+ within a fifteen minute walk. This place is not only a paradise for sport climbers but trad climbers as well, as there are tons of multi-pitch trad routes. There is even a bit of bouldering there, however, June is far too warm for bouldering.
We stayed at PNC for four days. We climbed early in the morning and late in the afternoon, as the middle of the day was far too hot. Since most of the climbs are so easily accessible, they are also incredibly greasy, as they have had a lot of traffic. Climbing on greasy limestone is not so easy, especially during the warm summer months; your hands and feet constantly feel like they are going to grease off, which leads to over-gripping, which then leads to a lack of sending due to pumped arms and premature exhaustion.
Steve's proj at PNC was an 8a called Funky Shit. The hike up to Funky Shit is a bit steep, thereby allowing for grippier holds, not much traffic up there...after his first attempt, Steve assessed that the moves were indeed some "funky shit". On our first visit to FS, in the cool cave area called Hram, Steve attempted the route three times. Unfortunately, no send but we planned on coming back the next day. During his attempts, we met two young German boys who were working there own projects in the cave. While hiking up, they saw Steve working FS and thought he was Chris Sharma; I think that they were pretty disappointed when they realized that they were wrong...
Ready to send and ready to get a hair cut.... Steve went back to work in his project the next day but unfortunately, the temps were just too high and his hands just could not hold on. He made three more attempts, his second attempt the next morning being his best one; he made it two-thirds the way up before falling. Though he did not send the rig, he did quite well, considering the temps and the greasy limestone; he should be proud.
No projs for me but Paklenica is where I actually began leading on limestone. Prior to this stop, the tricky, greasy limestone seemed impossible but Paklenica's climbs seemed much more reasonable: I led a 5c and a 6a+. (the funny hing is that my first lead ever was on limestone in Thailand, but that was a 5.8 which is just a bit different) Leading felt pretty good...unfortunately, my leading days were short-lived. Fear definitely gets the better of me and I cease to have fun...sometimes, I even feel that way on top-rope. My head needs lots and lots of practice before I feel confident...it'll just take time and I need to be patient and that is exactly what I am attempting to do.
After working on Steve's proj the next day, we decided to check out the supposed highlight of Paklenica, the huge cave that was full of stalactites and stalagmites, called Manita Pec, meaning crazy woman. The hike from the main area was 1.5 hours but Steve and I decided that we wanted to go too late (they close the cave to visitors at 1pm in the summer, as they do not want the temps inside the cave to exceed a certain temp, so they only allow visits for three hours a day in the summer), so we had to make it in 50 minutes or else we would not get in. We hoofed it and made it with five minutes to spare.
The view on the hike.
We didn't have to rush; they ended up giving the last tour a little later, allowing for some stragglers. The cave was fantastic. The pics below just do not do it justice, as you are not allowed to use a flash and the tour is pretty quick moving. It takes about 20 years to create 5mm of stalactite and some of them were over 15 meters tall... Pretty amazing. The most amazing "structure" was the area called the organ for obvious reasons.
The organ structure.
When women were pregant, breast feeding, or had small children, they hiked up to the cave and either drank the water or credit to their small children. They believed that the water had magical powers; and it did, as it was so rich in minerals and pure, it was probably the best type of water to drink. This hike would take hours for a few liters of water, so these women were deemed crazy; hence the name of the cave.
After five days of greasy climbing, albeit high quality, we decided it was time to make our way to the valley town of Zandobbio in Italy to meet a mutual friend and climb on more tricky limestone.