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Finale Ligure

Stefano and Laura had raved so much about this place that we decided to check it out for ourselves... We left Zandobbio around 10am and arrived in Finale close to 2pm. Since it stays light until 9:30pm, we figured that we could do some afternoon climbing before the day was out. We headed to Bric Scimmarco, one of Stefano's recommendations. The hike in took a half an hour and was a little tough to find; we got in three climbs, which at this point was quite enough for an afternoon. Once again, we were presented with slippery limestone with tricky reads. The length and abundance of climbs was promising.

Later that day, we set off for camping.  We found the wild camping pretty quickly, as the signs to the Monte Cucco climbing were plentiful. Monte Cucco is a great free campsite with one squat toilet and running water for dishes. The tent sites are much more private and enjoyable but we found a more secluded spot after our first night that we continued to use...until the one night when a couple of Italians put there tent up within 5 feet of our site when there were tons of better tent sites in the area...It is almost as if other campers are magnets for Italian campers. Where we try to find the most secluded area, they seem to be as close to another campsite for safety. WTF?

Finale is a huge limestone area right off the coast; it is part of the Italian riviera, as it is situated right along the Mediterranean. There are tons of areas, each with many climbs. The only issue that we had with Finale besides the greasy and hard to read routes, were the temps. How do they do it? Climbing in the summer is miserable, yet there are always peeps out there.

Finale Ligure has a lot more to offer than climbing. Being on the Meditteranean coast, people from all over Northern Italy come to vacation there. We truly enjoyed both the town of Finalborgo and the coast, during our rest days and middays. Gelato and pizza were plentiful and thoroughly enjoyed.  Internet was always a challenge but Finalborgo ended up serving us well; it just took a lot of asking and creativity.  Also, a little shoutout to the Rockstore. They did a fabulous and quick job on resoling three pairs of our shoes. Thank you so much!

Though the heat was practically unbearable, we did have a couple of favorite areas...Superpanza is fantastic and has a ton of multi-pitches that look phenomenal. We never got to do a multi-pitch while there though; the ones we saw were all a bit too hard and it was a bit too hot. We wanted to do the classic Superpanza but after asking some locals, they advised against it, claiming that the bolts were just too old. I desperately wanted to do my first multi-pitch but alas, I will have to wait. on the higher sector to the right, we found a cave with overhanging, powerful routes that fit Steve just right...me, not so much, but there were vertical slabs to the left that suited me just fine. Here, Steve sent Viaggo nel Futuro, a 7c+/8a on his second go, not bad... Le Manie was another amazing sector. A little trickier to find but with short, stout, bouldery routes. Museo dell'uomo, a classic 7b, turned out to be one of Steve's favorites thus far. The bouldery, powerful moves served him just the right amount of challenge that he could muster on the 31°C day. He also tried the 8a near to the 7b, but the temps were just too high. I worked hard on a 15 meter 6b+ that just kicked my ass...I just couldn't get past the two crux moves...another day, another time...

After a weeks worth of hot, greasy climbing, we were ready to go up into the mountains...we needed to cool off. The area was truly amazing and we hope to visit again, but in the spring or fall, when temps foster sending rather than sliming...

-C

The Heart of Italy

It is rare in life that you meet individuals that in only a few days can have such a wonderful and positive effect on your life. After our time in Croatia we set Alice (our GPS) to the small town of Zandobbio in the Bergamo Province of Italy and pointed the Goose west. Our destination was the home of Stefano Codazzi and his girlfriend Laura Gugolati.

The notorious Tommy G had put us in contact with Stefano after having met him on the sunny shores of Railay Thailand some years ago. We did not know what to expect and thought we would spend no more than two days in their company before we set out again on our way north.

Upon our arrival Stefano greeted us with a big grin and open arms. We realized we had briefly met him a few years ago when he and his friend Paolo had visited Thomas in San Francisco. Stefano ushered us into his home and we met Laura for the first time. We spent a quiet evening chatting and planned to climb the next day. In the morning we had the pleasure of meeting Giulia, their adorable nine month old daughter.  A bubbly, inquisitive ball of joy, Giulia accepted us with no hesitation.

After breakfast we set out for Valgua; a crag that Stefano has assisted in developing over the past twenty years. He continues to develop new crags in the area, always making sure that there are lines for people of all levels. His newest crag even contains a board where climbers can give their input about the new routes, grades, stars, info, etc.  We picked up Paolo (no, a different one) on our way. We spent the day climbing wonderful moderate routes on the tricky limestone.

Thumbs up to a day of crushing limestone!

After dropping off Paolo and meeting his beautiful twins we went to Stefano's home and enjoyed the first of Laura's many delicious home cooked meals.

Sunday morning, we were invited to join the family for an excursion into the historic city of Bergamo. We spent the day winding our way through the cobblestone streets and vast array of stunning Catholic churches.

The wall surrounding the upper city.

Lunch break - Delizioso!

That evening we enjoyed another fantastic Milanese meal, made by none other than Laura the master chef. Laughter and conversation continued until late despite the fact that Stefano needed to wake up at 6am for work. He works as the production manager for Climbing Technology, creators of the Click Up and Alpine Up. Unfortunately, Stefano woke up late...something he has never done. Sorry for keeping you up so late!

Our next day consisted mainly of admin tasks. Changing the oil, organizing and cleaning the van, which included a trip to one of the many autolavaggio in Italy; they are everywhere, and trying to get flights to South Africa with our United miles (what?! South Africa? More later....). We spent the latter half of the day with Laura and Giulia; eating, playing, napping and practicing English. Stefano returned home later that evening and we all enjoyed another night of chef Laura's amazing cooking.

For our last day in Zandobbio, we went to Milan to meet with the consulate general for South Africa; there was this little fine that Steve had to pay for overstaying his visa last summer (a whole 14 hours!).  We had a a bit of a late late start due to never ending rain, but headed to Milan and paid the fine. We then decided to spend a couple of hours actually enjoying Milan and seeing what the city has to offer. After doing a little research, we decided to go and view The Last Supper, as it is housed in the abbey of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the ZA consulate was quite close to the church. We found parking right next to the church but unfortunately, to view one of the most important and famous paintings in the world you need to book tickets three months in advance.  Lucky for us, there was an exhibit of Da Vinci's sketches that was available for viewing in another area of the church.

We viewed twenty sketches and notes in the Great Masters crazy backwards writing. The twenty sketches consisted of diagrams and notes on water irrigation systems but also included one or two sketches on flight and geometry, much to Steve and my delight. The water stuff was cool, but flight and Geometry was way cooler.

Next we decided to head over to the Duomo, Milan's most impressive Cathedral. We walked through the crowded streets of Milan and suddenly arrived at a large open square packed with tourists, in addition to masses of Senegalese men hocking their wares. As we walked up, one looks at us and says "my african friends, come, let me talk to you." Knowing that he was going to either try to sell us something or attempt to have us give him money, I attempted to veer off, but he walked quickly and grinning from ear to ear, he spoke again "look at how dark you are, you must be African". He held his arm next to my white but slightly tanned arm. We laughed and decided that it wouldn't hurt us to talk with him for a few moments. We told him that though we weren't African, we had indeed been to Africa and that we were going back again next month. He put bracelets on our wrists (string friendship bracelets) and we, in turn, gave him a couple of euros. He was so sweet that we just didn't mind being swindled at the time...

The Duomo of Milan is an amazing sight. Stretching up high above the piazza del Duomo, it's the third largest church in Christendom. A staggering 3,500 statues and 135 spires adorn the marble structure, which has a Baroque and neo-Gothic façade, as well as five bronze doors carved by different artists. It's no wonder that it took 500 years to complete and building work continues today.

Stefano says that it is very common to say that you are like the Duomo, if you take far too long to get ready...I guess 500 years is quite a bit of time...

That evening we went back to Zandobbio to spend another lovely evening with our newfound Italian "family"; we enjoyed laughter, great food and conversation for yet another glorious night.  Stefano and Laura are two of the most caring and generous people we have met on our travels and we will cherish the time we spent with them in the small valley town of Zandobbio.

Ciao S&C

Paklenica

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.

-C

We made it!

We arrived on Hvar Island on Friday, May 25th after a two hour ferry ride from Split. We had one night left on our timeshare reservation but we planned to stay at Hotel Timun for a few nights more to get a rest from camping. We didn't really need it but we wanted to go with our original plan and stay in our little studio. The timeshare was 3/4 of the way down the 100km island on a somewhat terrifying road, in my humble opinion; Steve did not feel that the road was bad but I think that it is a much different experience when you are the one driving. The road literally drops off on the sides and sometimes next to a cliff, no shoulder at all and the road barely fits two normal size cars, let alone our van and a passing work truck...

[wpvideo 9wlUKkoD] Some of the roads..... [wpvideo VIBUc6N7] and the tunnels

For our first day/evening on Hvar, we had a mission and it was to chill out. After all the craziness in Trieste, Italy etc, we needed some time to just sit and stare at the ocean and that is exactly what we did. We arrived at the hotel at around 6pm, we went up to the studio, unpacked, took much needed showers and watched some Game of Thrones. It was heavenly.

The studio served its purpose for the four days and four nights and then we decided it was time to head out on the road in the van once again. Finding free wild camping in Hvar is a bit of a mission. There is plenty of paid camping for vans, but they amount to glorified trailer parks.  We hunted for free camping every night after our first four nights. The first night we ended up staying on a road to a climbing area in Milna, near Hvar Town. As we drove up the road, we noticed the road getting skinnier. Steve jumped out and hiked further to see if it was worth it. There was a great clearing at the end of the road but the actual road had a portion that just seemed a little too thin for the van...so, we had to turn around, which was a mission but we found a bit wider area of the road and made our 23 point turn...we then just decided to park on the road but there was waist high greenery on either side, which meant everything stayed in the van...when it is raining or in this type of situation, maneuvering all of our belongings while still in the van is quite a challenge; we first attempt to move anything that we can into the front, then we pop the top and start storing things up top. When we have some room outside, our food bin and our crash pads go outside...this time, all was in...cooking dinner was a bit of a challenge. Luckily, it was an easy pasta night...since the spot was only seconds from the road, cars and headlights were a constant throughout the night.

The next night was a little bit better as we found a spot down another dirt road. It was immediately next to a farmers plot of lavender. It was a bit quieter with only three or four cars passing by us throughout the day and night and this time, we had some room outside...ahh, a bit closer to paradise, but barely.

Our third night of "wild camping" was a bit more adventurous.  We decided to head of to the south side of the island closer to Vela Stiniva. We found a road that seemed to head down to the beach. Unbeknownst to us, the road was a bit forlorn the closer we got to the coast. At one point, I gasped loudly and practically grabbed Steve as it seemed like we were going over the edge. Of course, that didn't make the drive any more relaxing...but the road was small and steep with crazy switchbacks.  At the end, we reached a house that seemed to have been abandoned but did have locks...we just weren't sure but since we drove all the way down, we decided to stick it out...I mean what is the worst thing that they could do? Kick us out...then we would just drive back up...we stayed the night with no interruptions but how relaxing can it be when you just aren't sure whether or not someone is going to kick you off...however, this night was even one step closer to paradise, despite the oven that was left to rot 10 meters from our parking spot...

For our last night of wild camping we went back to one of the areas that we had seen previously on one of our drives. We had saved it as a favorite on Alice (our GPS). We called it Camp Ponds, as it had two manky ponds on it but was actually a pretty little camp with tons of buttercups. We figured that it was on some farmer's land but hey, every little piece of land on Hvar is owned by farmers...we were parked for about 20 minutes in a nice level spot, when we heard a car. We weren't far from the dirt road so we figured it was just someone driving by...Nope. A guy pulled up in his truck, opened the back and started his work. Steve said hello but got no response. The farmer said nothing, just started planting his seedlings etc. This was at 8pm.  He continued working until 10pm. During this time, we made dinner, ate dinner and began to get ready for bed. After his two hours, I guess he was satisfied because he packed up and left...never said a word to us, and actually whistled while he worked! Who knew that farming was a nocturnal occupation...

The first climbing area we visited was Vela Stiniva, only a few kilometers from the studio. Of course on Hvar that meant windy, slow, often one car width roads with the imminent danger of oncoming traffic around every bend.

The village of Vela Stiniva

Stiniva was nestled down in the base of one of the many coves on Hvar. The limestone cliffs surround the small town on both sides then open out to the ocean. Development is limited mostly to the eastern facing crag but the potential for the area is very promising. The crag is known on the island for the best concentration of hard routes. Our first climb was not so great but our second was absolutely stellar and to this day, probably our favorite route of the entire trip. It's name is Lavande (lavander, one of the main crops of the island) and it is a 6b+; it's holds are easy on the hands and the moves consist of  continuous laybacks switching from side to side. The rest of the crag provided great fun for the next two days, but a bit more difficult than Corinne would have liked...

Vela Stiniva cave

The supposed stellar area of climbing, Cliffbase (www.cliff-base.com), was on the other side of the island. We had some intel from an acquaintance of mine but we needed more to find the actual climbing area. So instead of climbing in the morning, we headed for Hvar Town to track down the information. Before our trip, I met this woman Rachel who told me all about Hvar. She originally went to Croatia for three weeks but ended up staying a year. She told me that Hvar Adventure (www.hvaradventure.com)  was the place to go for all of our information needs. We found HA and asked for Pacho or Vese. Diana explained that both Pacho and Vese were unavailable at the moment but if we needed climbing info, Keecho (sp?) could help us out and he was at the cafe around the corner.  We sat and chatted with the HA guides for several hours, where they provided us with info on Cliffbase, in addition to other areas on Hvar, not to mention Paklenica, a national park that we hit on our way out of Croatia, but more on that later.  Hvar Adventure is the bomb; anyone visiting Hvar should definitely check them out. They run trips on climbing, sailing and kayaking and their guides are top notch. Thanks for all your help Vese and for being so accommodating!

Nothing is bolted here yet...WTF?!?!

Later that afternoon, we headed to Cliffbase. There are over 100 climbs in the area, ranging from 5a to 8a, in addition to an area for some deep water soloing.  We went up three pitches and then called it a day, as we had to make the epic trip back to Pokrovnik...We never went back to Cliffbase, as we found the climbs at Vela Stiniva better and not to mention, free; it costs $5 per person to climb at Cliffbase, as it is owned by Miro, a "retired" slovenian physicist, who found this gem and bolted every climb there. Miro provides running water, a toilet and even rooms for those who wish to stay overnight.  Though the climbs were plentiful, we decided that we needed to save our money and that we were happier projecting the climbs at Vela Stiniva...

On one of our last days in Hvar, instead of climbing, I wanted to hang out on the beach. While driving on one of the many, hairy dirt roads of Hvar, Steve spotted a perfect little beach for a visit.

But what really caught Steve's eye was the concave rock that went up over the water immediately to the right of the beach. While I laid out on the perfect pebble beach with some German kayakers, Steve hiked over with his five fingers and chalked up hands to attempt some Deep Water Soloing. Steve spent over 45 minutes scrambling and climbing...he ascertained that the climbs began with a 6a traverse into a small amphitheater with three 15meter routes, all in the 7 grade range. Though he enjoyed the scrambling, he found that his five fingers are not ideal, as the rubber is just not sticky enough and the need for closed toes is essential.

DWS fail / bail

After 7 days on Hvar, we decided to call it quits. The climbing was good but we wanted more and we were truly sick of the amount of driving that was necessary to get from one place to  the other. The lack of truly pleasant wild camping was also incredibly frustrating. On June 1st, we headed north to Paklenica and discovered one of Croatia's true climbing gems, along with half of Germany.