Searching Slovenia

Searching Slovenia
Photos by Suzana Uršič

It's a hot august day, the air is still and the river slowly roars over rapids. The emerald color of Soča river is mixing with angry white water. Mr Truffe, my trusty French bulldog companion, is hiding under the rock half buried in the wet sand and enjoying his midday nap. Me, I’m restless. I just envisioned this potential new boulder. I’m excited and surprised at the same time. I’m wondering how can so obvious a line can be overlooked for such a long time. This one is obvious too, but it lacks one major thing—a landing. But today I can see, with water level just low enough, that if I build little platform out of river wood it will extend the landing enough to the right so I could do the first few moves without facing the chance of falling into river. Or so I hope.

The midday heat is blazing as I start carrying logs to build a nice little wooden nest so my crashpads can stay above the water and catch my fall. A few hours later and they are all set in place, all the potential holds are chalked and I’m resting in the shade next to my dog, waiting for sun to drop a little lower behind the mountains and my friends to come with some extra foam.

I’ve been climbing in Soča valley for almost twenty years now. When we started bouldering in Slovenia in the late nineties Trenta was one of the first spots in the country. But all the climbing back then was concentrated around ten or so blocks scattered around a green lush meadow just next to the road. The cubes of limestone looked perfect from the distance, however unfortunately the rock there is not the best quality. So I slowly started looking beyond the grass fields and nice flat landings, I started looking on the river and there a whole new world opened up. I found beautiful rounded, river polished blocks, of white and grey limestone, with lines and curves washed and sculpted by the river over thousands of years. Climbing there is different, one can say almost modern sometimes. You'll find frictionless slopers, pockets, rounded edges and bad footholds. Most of the time you'll have just smears for your feet or you have to track your hands with feet. The nature of river polished rock seems to lend to two extremes, easy or impossible. Most of the established boulders fall in easy to moderate category although there are futuristic looking lines for future crushers raised on comp style climbing, volumes and holds.

Right now there are around five hundred or so established climbs in the valley but I believe we have just scratched the surface of potential. Trnovo is currently the biggest area with blocks from V0 up to V13 and still many boulders left to climb. And then there are several smaller spots up by the Soča river like Boka Waterfall, Area 420, Trenta, Eldorado Zone and up in the mountains Mangart Saddle and Beast Zone. There are not only river banks, but also dry river beds, large lonely erratics and lately we have just started exploring the alpine potential. Which has taken us on a full circle journey back to meadows and taluses, just this time way up in the mountains. For a climber who likes to look beyond established routes and put some work into the search there are many opportunities; not just to open new boulder problems but to discover whole new sectors and zones.

But right now I'm back at the river. My friend Marko shows up with another dog and an extra crashpad. I make few attempts trying to figure out start and what to do after. I don’t know if the top is easy or hard and how it will end if I fall. After few half-assed tries I take short rest. Then I put my shoes back on and decide it’s time to commit. Jump start on jug, right heel hook, two slope-y edges and I’m in uncharted territory. Two more moves and then I grab the undercling and pull up into slab. I'm moving slowly, with my feet now over the river. Thankfully last few moves are not hard and a few seconds later I'm standing on top of the boulder. It feels good and I'm bursting with excitement that I just added another good problem in an ever growing circuit of blocs. Marko is not sure if he wants to go for it. Finally I convince him that he should try at least. A few moments later he’s already on top, after intense but successful flash attempt. Now he’s raving too, happy that he climbed such a good line but mostly that he didn't fall into the water.

The sun is slowly setting behind the rim of the mountains when we carry our heavy load of crashpads out of the river and back to the campground. That first beer tastes so good and we tell stories over the campfire long into night, happy that we have such untouched playground as our home.

I guess limestone isn't so bad for bouldering after all.

Climber and developer based in Ajdovscina, Slovenia