New Central Direction in Velika Baba
These stories of adventurers and alpinists brought us the idea of climbing Velika Baba’s New Central Direction, an easy -difficulty IV- but long -700 vertical metres- climb. Nothing comparable to our guests adventures, but something challenging for us.
After having read on the tourist office booklet that it’s the most popular climb in the valley, that it’s bolted from bottom to top, that the way back is easy and spectacular, we cannot wait to climb it.
G’s alarms rings an hour later than planned, what we call a good start. After an abundant but quick breakfast we are ready to start walking to the bottom of the wall. The approach reveals to be more complicated than expected. The climb is not really indicated and the original path to reach it has been erased by a recent landslide. By looking at pictures of the climbing route we manage to spot the starting point, a big yellow circle on a rock.
The first pitches are very easy and protections are only meant for descending. The real climb starts from the fourth pitch, a beautiful and easy slab that lasts two more pitches. Then a small chimney and Chaos. We cannot find other bolts.
Chaos and terror
We spot a belay stance on the right. G reaches it, belays M and climb again towards the right not seeing any bolt or other signs of a climbing route. After 10 metres G starts to feel uncomfortable. He doesn’t even find a stable rock where to set a ‘quick’ protection. The rock doesn’t hold, it falls apart, stones fall down towards M, who is well hidden, fortunately. G goes on hoping for something, at least a solid rock to set a rappel. Nothing. He ends up putting his right hand in the wrong place and a 40cm long and 20 wide rock falls, outbalances and almost make him fall. G is scared and doesn’t trust the rock, he realizes that the only chance he has to rappel down to M are trees. There is a mountain pine a metre away, it looks well rooted. G reaches it and somehow, sweating, terrified and trembling, manages to place a sling around a small trunk. Until he touches the ground he fears for the tree to collapse and to fall on him.
When G touches the solid rock and clips in he starts crying. M is scared by his reaction. It’s her turn to explore towards the left. We need to find something soon, time is passing by and we are not over the half of the climb. We look around until we see something resembling to a belay stance, an orange cord. Before to climb towards it we take a picture, zoom, yes it definitely is a piece of rope on a bolt. M goes for it. G stopped trembling and is ready to belay her.
M easily reaches the belay stance and belay G towards it. However, afterwards we cannot see anything. Once again. We read the description of the climb one more time, we find some similarities with what we see around us but we are not sure of anything. First M explores a few meters further to spot a bolt, then it’s G turn, both unsuccessful.
G tries again, he finds a chord tensioned between two mountain pines. It almost corresponds to the description we found online. He goes further to be sure that is the correct way. But nothing. No bolts or piton. G climbs back to the belay stance. We look around. Time is passing by. G tries one last time. After 10 metres of traverse he spots on the left, some 30 metres away, a brand new bolt with a carabiner in it. We are definitely lost, and it’s not nice to get lost when climbing.
Calling for help
We contact our guests. They are supposed to know by heart the climb and be able to explain us if we are lost or not. The first thing that Anja says do not reassure us: a lot of people get lost, if we find some chords or piton it doesn’t mean we are on the right path. However, on the phone we are not able to explain exactly where we are nor they are able to help us. Anja decides to call her mother in Češka Koča hut. From the hut, with a binocular, they are able to spot us on the wall and to realize that we are way too far on the right, following some non-existing or very old route. We are supposed to climb down some 50 metres and take the left towards the actual trace. It’s now 7pm. We start rappelling to catch the correct path. At 7:30pm we are at the crossroads where we got lost. From what they explained us we are more or less half way to the top, which means that in a couple of hours we could be done with the climb, then in about an hour we could be at the top and in 1 hour and 30 minutes to the parking lot. In total 4 hours and a half, with the possibility to get lost again. Otherwise, we could rappel until the bottom, coming back from the way we came. We have no frontal lamps, G’s phone has 20% of battery and M’s around 50%.
Deciding to climb down
We loose some more time trying to make the good decision. If we want to rappel until the bottom, with a 50m rope, it is far from being an easy task. Indeed, we can descend only of 25m at the time. In order to set a rappel -you have to know that it’s M’s first time doing this for real- it takes us about 10 minutes each time and 5 minutes to climb down the rope. We have to descend some 300 metres. This means 12 times 15 minutes, three hours. Sun is setting at 8:45. Both the option involve finding ourselves in the complete dark at some point. We decide that it’s more reasonable to go back from the way we are supposed to know. This is what we do.
After a couple of rappel, M starts to master the technique and the way back seems possible. When it’s starting to be dark we recognise the first pitches and the beautiful slab. An additional problem sums up to this unlucky day. In the dark we cannot see the half of the rope, the sign that normally indicates it has been erased by time and numerous climbs. When we find it G puts a patch on it to find it back easily in the night, this is vital when throwing the rope down for rappelling. Somehow, it works. We continue our way to the bottom in the complete dark. We are scared, but we are close to the ground. Meanwhile, down in Jezersko they are starting to worry for us knowing that we have no lights and apparently we are not answering to the phone.
At 11pm we are at the cave where the real climb begins, which means that we are missing only a few pitches, 2 or 3. Now, at 11pm, on a cloudy Sunday night, what we can see is just the metre of rock in front of us, and the helmet of our climbing mate. Nothing else. We sort of figured out exactly where we are, but we do not remember perfectly how’s the way to the bottom. But something beautiful happens. We receive a phonecall from Matej, he left Jezersko, he’s coming to rescue us with frontal lamps and his knowledge of the place. Knowing that an experienced alpinist like him that grew up in this valley is coming towards us with artificial light makes us feel better. However, at the same time, something bad happens. The rope gets stuck and G is too tired and scared to be enough rational to retrieve it. And more time goes away like this.
It’s only Matej arrival that speeds up the operations and allows us to react. We leave the rope where it is, we follow him climbing down the last 3 easy pitches. Everything around is unreal, the front lamps light are flashy and move irrationally. We start sweating to keep up with Matej pace. Somehow, we climb down some steep walls, enter the bushes of mountain pines, adventure between the branches, holding them tight. We climb down another small wall and we finally reach the scree, which means no more climbing for today. Midnight has passed, we finally walk some safe trails back to the parking lot, to the van, to Jezersko and our beds. We switch off the light in our bedroom at 2am.
We had our climbing shoes on for 13 hours, going up and down Velika Baba’s wall, we spent 16 hours trying to reach the summit first, and the bottom then. We climbed more than two hours in the complete dark. We will never do the same mistake again: first thing we will never forget our front lamps; we will never loose time taking a decision, one of us will be in charge of taking one; we will never underestimate a climb, even when everyone tells us that it’s easy and presents no risks; we will ask for help, if there is someone that can help us, before it’s too late; we will wake up earlier.
The rescue mission – Getting our rope back
G wakes up at 9:30, he has been developing some anxiety about retrieving the rope all night. He wakes up M that could have willingly slept until noon. After breakfast we force ourselves to go and get the rope. We estimated to be needing about 4 hours and 30 minutes to climb until the cave, unstuck the rope and walk back. First thing: we put our front lamps in our backpacks.
We leave the parking lot at 11:15am and we get back exactly at 2:15pm. Everything goes smoothly. We find the path through the mountain pines, take the left towards the last part of the scree, climb the first easy pitches, M retrieve the rope in just a few minutes, we rappel down the pitches we just climbed -just to take no more risks- and walk back to the parking lot. It’s surprising how easy this can be in the daylight.
Picking black currant
In the afternoon we spend a couple of hours picking black currants with Anja and the kids. Not all the fruits are ripe, therefore, in order to pick only the good ones, we shake the plants violently, and collect what falls on the fabric underneath the plants.
When we get back to the house, we paint a section of the fence.
A quick dinner and an early sleep is what we need after these two days.