Geoquest Albania climbing expedition 2010

Fotos: Christiane Hupe (open-air-image.de) and Gerald Krug

Climbing Guidebook Albania

for free download at the end of the report!

Albania is not only on course for the European Union, but also as a future climber’s paradise.

    Arapi Expedition 2010: The Team at Base Camp. From left, top -  Ferdinand ‘Ferdl’ Triller, Daniel Wilhelm, Hannes, Film Team Sound man; middle – Axel Hake, Sepp, Film Team Camera, Steffen Heimann, Gerald Krug, Gerhard Duro, Hugo Scholz, Film director, John Ely; reclining – Chris Hupe.

Beginning in Halle
After months of preparation and searching for sponsors (who are listed below), all the materials were finally packed and loaded in Steffen’s ‘No Limit Auto’ until boxes brushed the roof.  And they were off!
 

Arapi Expedition 2010: The Team at Base Camp. From left, top -  Ferdinand ‘Ferdl’ Triller, Daniel Wilhelm, Hannes, Film Team Sound man; middle – Axel Hake, Sepp, Film Team Camera, Steffen Heimann, Gerald Krug, Gerhard Duro, Hugo Scholz, Film director, John Ely; reclining – Chris Hupe.

Albania lies at the same latitude as Naples, and the southern character of the country forms the way of life of its people.
 

A week of climbing in Croatia’s summer heat, got us some twenty routes on  the stone towers of Stogaj on the Island of Pag – a secret tip for climbers, since the beach is right there, so don’t forget snorkels.  After that, it was off to Montenegro.
 

Christiane Hupe flashes a 6c+ at Stogaj, Pag, Croatia.

Axel on the South-West Wall of Stogai.

We had the wind at our backs, strong and hot.

Cultural must sees – the gorgous medieval city of Dubrovnik at night.

We didn’t exactly obey every sign we saw.

Here the temperature sank about 10 degrees to a comfortable 25 for the fantastic sport area of Smokovac on the northern edge of Montenegro’s capital city Podgorica, where there are countless excellent tufa columns, all graded UIAA style just like in Germany, and with a steadily rising level of climbing difficulty.  So we quickly were readied for the challenges of the Albanian Alps just south.

Axel getting ship shape for the big wall to come.

Steffen climbing a fine limestone column, 7 in Smokovac.

Chris Hupe red points an 8+ in the sector above the gas station.

After two days climbing and swimming in the clear rivers under the crags, we moved on, slowly at first as the road between Podgorica and the northern Albanian city of Shkodra was under construction, but we were surprised by the brand new paved four lane road from there on to the Albania’s capital city Tirana.  Here we were heartily received by Tine Schrammel, German Coordinator for the Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), and able to crash at her place.  (Thanks Tine!!!)

Tirana
In Tirana, we were able to learn about what Albanian mountain climbers had done in the past years, and heard many (sometimes contradictory) reports about the technical climbing that had been done on the wall we planned. 

It is sometimes astounding to see the old techniques of Albanian climber’s before the end of the old Hoxha Regime.  Kujtim Onuxi and Hassan Duro at work, ‘classical style.’  Photo:  Duro Archive.

Skenderbeg Square, Downtown Tirana.

Germans, you can be proud of your country: Praktiker is already there, McDonalds not yet!

And from there, in convoy with help from the GTZ, we were off into the rough world of the Albanian Alps.

Tine Schrammel (GTZ) and Gerald Krug (Geoquest).

Albanian roads make you happy there is usually no oncoming traffic.

The one who drives fast may not see every hole in the Albanian roads.

After the adventurous gravel road to Thethi, deeply thankful for the extra-driver and 4x4 from the GTZ, we unpacked our vast amount of stuff out of Steffen’s Van on a shining green mountain pasture at the last spring on the trail up to the base of the wall – along the main trail up to the Peje Pass on the way to Montenegro, and established our base camp.

By the last 400 meters, our redoubtable ‘No limit’ bus had finally shot its last bolt.

    Arapi Base Camp –‘No Limit’ Van, Classical East German Tent, German Post Boxes, Bags of Gear, Bottles of Raki.

Six people can carry a lot, and so the assorted stuff – pitons, fixed lines, and climbing gear – was rapidly schlepped to the wall foot about an hour’s steep walk away.  To our great surprise, we were somewhat horrified to find a huge group camped in a series of artfully arranged terraces right at the base of ‘our wall.’  Bulgarians! That produced immediate concern.  Had they gotten there first? But then relief: it was a camp of cave explorers, who were in their fourth year of work, and had in the meantime gotten deep inside the Arapit cave, which rises inside the huge wall complex to 320 meters, indeed one of the highest vertical rises of any cave on the planet.  Thirty meters inside the cave, we found, to our great advantage, a good water source with which to fill our containers.

The 500 meters of static line from sponsor Alpinbox Leipzig came in a roll, and had to be unfurled and prepared.

The Start Goes Better Than We Could Hope

Our first day on the wall went excellently: Axel and I pushed up, with our new ultra-light Bosch GBH 18 V-Li  battery drills hooked on our harnesses, some seven pitches.  Right behind followed Chris and Gerhard, and fixed the first three pitches.  The planned tactic of ‘lead team plus support team’ however proves to be too dangerous, as the lead team could not help but disturb too much loose rock, and the vertical drop on our direct route left the followers dangerously in a direct line of fire. 

 

The lower part of the wall is broken into many parallel bands, making for enjoyable climbing.

Expedition member Gerhard Duro from Tirana following one of the early pitches.

So it was up to Steffen and John the next day to push up the fixed lines.  Naturally, we could have climbed the wall without fixed lines.  But since we planned to fix all the belays with solid double bolt anchors, as well as securing the difficult moves in a similar fashion, so that the entire route would be repeatable without hammer and pins, but only nuts and cams, we chose to use fixed lines on the lower portions of the route. 

John Ely on the way up.  He helped a great deal getting the fixed ropes in order.

Exit From Easy Part

The third day found Chris and I at the most difficult passage up to that point, a UIIA VIII portion protected by bolts was followed by a long, steep, somewhat loose and very strenuous layback corner protected by cams; and since were the first ones on the section, there’s a huge amount of work cleaning off the loose blocks and piles of rock laying about everywhere, so that one can really trust the holds.  (Though underneath all this, we happily surprised to find the basic rock quality, always a question with limestone, to be remarkably good, indeed, on average probably better than in the Dolomites or the Kaisergebirge.)  This work cleaning and climbing takes us a further three pitches to pitch ten.

 

Where does it go from here?

The elegant but seemingly blank dark band which we had viewed with anxiety from below turns out to go quickly via a fabulous slab corner of moderate, easy to protect, and wonderfully solid rock, though of course when I got to the belay, I noticed that I’d managed to use every last bolt, and was thus forced to descend on a tied off drill bit, adding to the excitement.

Images that provide scale: in this one can see Chris Hupe traversing left; Daniel Wilhelm belays from the big crevasse ledge just left.  In the photo below, the lightening shattered pine serves as orientation.

    Zoomed out a bit, the climbers are still recognizable.  The wall’s biggest band, covered by a series of big roofs, crosses the middle of the route, and provides a good, protected bivouac.

The roofed band is just below the grey streak in the wall in the middle of the picture.

The whole wall from base camp.  Without a telescope, climbers are not visible.

Telescope and radios keeps Ferdl in contact with folks on the wall.

While the lead team pushes the route up, someone always gets to remain behind for the particularly strenuous task of base camp watch.  Actually, there was almost always something going on, as Thethi has become at this point a secret Balkan tip of Europe’s adventure tourists, and the folks passing by enjoy stopping to look at our international collection of flags and banners, and peer into the telescope at the team on the wall. 

Tine Schrammel, time off from GTZ Tirana, leads the second pitch.

Steffen Heimann utilizing the many parallels for a cam placement.

The village folk also like to show up, and the word is out that we’ve become one of the main conversation topics of the valley’s sheperds and farmers. 

After the first 100 meters climbing the fix ropes, the route above still seems endlessly long.

Cameraman Sepp Wörmann jumaring into position for filming.

Also, it turns out that John is a supporter of the ‘Balkan Peace Park’ idea developed by a small British non-governmental organization founded by two ‘peace studies’ scholars, Nigel and Antonia Young, who helped found the well-known program at the United Kingdom’s University in Bradford as well as editing a massive three-volume Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace for Oxford University Press, along with Dritan Shala, a visionary local activist.  So John puts together a petition, and gets Gerhard to translate an Albanian version, giving the ones relegated to base camp watch something else to do, as there are already many visitors on the trails up into the high mountains which went right by our base camp.  The petition read: ‘We are alpinists, cavers, hikers and friends, or inhabitants in the Shala River Valley, and we support the idea of establishing a multinational peace park combining the beautiful mountains of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo.’  By the end of our trip, we collect five pages of signatures, comprising some 150 signatures from all over, especially East European countries.  More than 95 percent of all the people who passed by or visited base camp signed the petition, while taking the occasion to gaze into the telescope at the climbers busy at work on the Arapit project. 

Our expedition supports the idea of a multinational Peace Park project in the high mountains of Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo.

The school is the center of the village. With no school in winter many families are forced to leave for this time and stay in Shkodra. To establish a continous school supply is one of the main tasks for the future. The Balkan Peace Park Project started a summer school program this summer. We visited the school and gave some toys and writing materials to support the children.

In the meantime, the peace park idea, which following the first examples combining parks in Norway and Sweden (Morokulian), and the US and Canada (Glacier/Waterton), has now some two dozen examples around the world.  The Balkan Peace Park project runs summer camps now every summer in Theth, teaching English, and is starting similar camps this year in Kosovo and next in Montenegro. And the GTZ has also begun supporting the idea, developing its multinational cross-border tourism projects in the same region which includes the peace park, essentially the entirety of the ‘Accursed Mountains’ or Southern Dinaric range including northern Montenegro, south-western Kosovo and the main valleys of Northern Albania down to the Koman reservoir system, a beautiful but ambitious project recognizing the mountain and adventure tourism will become a crucial part of the economy in this region.

Axel opening a route ground up on a 250 metres wall (Kojlave) behind Arapit mountain. Numerous walls can be climbed there.

In the meantime as well Axel, John, Steffen and Gehard use the free time to put in several shorter alpine routes (2-5 pitches) on the West Face of Mt. Shala (‘Saddle Peak’) above the Peja Pass some two and half hours hike up the trail in the fantastically beautiful upper basin of the Theth Valley.


Gerhard Duro, our albanian teammate, climbing on the Kojlave-wall behind Arapit.

Soon too, the final additions to our team arrive: the two Bavarians Ferdl and Daniel, along with the film team from Bergauf – Bergab (‘Up Mountain, Down Mountain’).  The two warm up climbing the first seven pitches, and come back with happy reports about the clean climbing and firm rock of the pitches leading to the first great band.

The Wall’s Middle Passage – A Tough Nut
The next day I jumar the fixed lines together with Ferdl, with the film team of Hannes and Sepp following right behind.  Since they're not only film professionals, but also certified Bavarian Mountain Guides, they fell right at home in this sort of environment. They’ve already worked with top climbers like Kurt Albert, Stefen Glowacz and others, and its calming and encouraging to see that they know just precisely what they are doing, though making the day simultaneously a climbing day and a film day means we have to dial back our ambitions a bit so we get some optimal footage for the cameras. Nonetheless, after the cameras are put away, we manage to lead up three more very difficult pitches. That we managed to drop our only monkey wrench right at the start adds to the excitement; despite the overhanging rock we can drill and hammer the expansion bolts, but not set them firmly, and are encouraged therefore not to lean out to extensively on our belay anchors to test their lateral strength! The last passage raises a well known question: left or right? Right looks logical but extremely difficult, so we try left.  Ferdl find himself quickly a dead end belay stance.  He thus tries a Yosemite style pendulum action over to the right hand option before the daylight gives out.  It is my turn to try climbing the intimidating passage - an extremely strenuous VIII+ undercling followed by some even more strenuous and unlikely laybacking and face climbing after resting in a no hands shoulder jam to catch my breath.  On descent, we’re able to find a variation, and I take the occasion to put in some helpful protection bolts in the most trying passage, the round and overhanging undercling layback.

Less often than in the Alps, but it is still possible here to be flushed from the wall by rain.

Midnight: our people ar not back yet. We are full of sorrows.

Usually the day’s climbing ends in the dark.  Ferdl’s already anticipating a cold beer, though that’s still an hour’s descent away.

Chance for the Summit  

The following day Daniel and Chris are hoping for the summit, but are disappointed to be flushed by rain back to the bottom, so after that it turns out to be my turn with Axel.  Since we have a realistic chance to summit, we bug out at 3:30 AM, and at first light are already jugging the fixed lines.  A strict division of labor follows: Axel belays leaving me with the Bosch climbing as fast as I can.  Lots of drilling from delicate free climbing stances, and even more work cleaning loose rock and gardening scrubs. A couple of the pitches don’t go free, as I’m forced to rest on gear and garden out a set of climbable holds, aiding a few sections with Axel taking line and wacking away afterwards on additional vines, heather and assorted vegetation which fills in the low angle slabs at the top of this south facing low elevation wall.  Pushing out of relatively ugly, steep and loose gully, we struggle with route finding on the lower angle but obscure and still difficult slabs, riddling our way through, made even more anxious by the darkening clouds and the thought that this portion of the route, on the occasion of a real rain fall, would turn into a waterfall of rubble and mortar shells.  Finally, out of a chimney, one can see the top.  We’ve done it.  The dream of a life: first ascent of a major big wall, and add to that, in the middle of Europe!

 

John Ely from Washington lives out his dream with us – first ascent of a new big wall.

In the midst of this, a bitter moment of warning from the mountain gods to damp our hubris: five meters from the top, Axel pulls out a ‘microwave’ by accident and drops it on his right toe, as if in a cartoon. As he shrieks in pain, I watch as the piece drops the first 350 meters without touching a thing, until at velocity it smashes into the middle of the wall and showers all and sundry below with a cavalcade of sharded limestone with a rumble heard through the whole valley.  The swollen foot leads us to choose walk down over rappel; and an x-ray later in Shkodra shows us a broken middle toe.  ‘Such shit’ cries Axel with a noteworthy understatement, as a I remind him that five meters before the top is better than five meters after the beginning.

Daniel Wilhelm cruising the first red point of ‘Raki on Arapi.’

The facts:

"Raki am Arapi"
800 mH
970 climbing metres
18 Pitches
to 8th grade (7 obl.) UIAA = 5.11b (5.10b with aid)

Download topo see end of report.

The route is in the middle of the highest part of the main Arapit south wall, and can be easily repeated since all the belays, which also serve as rappel anchors, are double bolted with rings, and the hardest passages likewise protected with bolts.  Additionally one needs a set of camalots, with doubles in the one and two sizes, and a three.

It was a great team.  Never has an expedition has so little friction.

We are looking forward to see the report in the german TV (Bayerischer Rundfunk).

A long way back to Tirana
Part of the team leaves Theth Valley by the east, which lessens the weight in our single remaining vehicle, Steffen’s redoubtable Opel two-wheel drive van, and allows part of the team to gaze at the unbelievable climbing potential in the neighboring and spectacular Valbona Valley.  This is no understatement.  

Sacks and packs over  river bed and pass into the beautiful Valbona Valley

Valbona - Lake Koman

Formations comparable to the ‘Tre Cime de Lavaredo’ or the 'Sassolungo Group’ lay about relatively unnoticed (and unclimbed!).  The problem in some cases is a relatively long approach, as the Valbona Valley is a wide glacial formation, and many of the formations start high above the valley floor, though there is also lots of climbing surface closer as well.  

The Valbona Valley contains walls and peaks - no freeclimbing known yet.

At the village of Dragobi, several miles down the valley, civilization appears to begin again; their even paving the road, the first signs of a European modernity.

 

Here we grab a taxi that brings us to a hotel at the ferry station on the banks of the Koman reservoir system, by far the largest in the system of Drin River reservoirs that provides the power grid for Albania.  We take the fastest way back to the coast: a four hour ferry trip. 

The smaller and stranger of the two ferry boats stops at every and any point on the river with a whistle or an inhabitant – an unusual pilgrimage.

After that, another minibus takes us to Shkodra, to warm showers, reunion with the rest of our team, and a wonderful celebration feast in a fine new restaurant on the river banks in Shkodra.

The entirety of Albania as a building site: houses, factories, highways.

Back in Tirana

The next days are spent on the second part of our Albanian rock warrior mission: the development of a good sport climbing area in the vicinity of Tirana, the country’s metropolis.  Our Albanian partners advocate Mt. Daiti, the beautiful mountain rising due east of Tirana, and capped with a brand new tourist gondola.  But Tirana, in contrast with Thethi and Valbona, is again super-hot, and there is no shade on Daiti - way too hot to even drill, much less climb.  

To this point, the only sport climbing in Albania: a nine meter artificial wall at the Partisan Sportclub.

Thanks to all our sponsors and supporters we were able to give the Partisan Sportclub and the Albanian Alpine Association a healthy package of good climbing material – ropes, shoes, harnesses, biners, quickdraws, figure eights and the like.

On the third day we discover our dream locale: Bovilla.

Bovilla-Lake with rocks from the east.

Overhangs, vertical cliffs, slabs, sun and shade.  A climber’s local paradise.

Here the reservoir which supplies the city’s drinking water is also a fantastically beautiful limestone gorge.  Though one therefore ought not to swim in the lake, the cataracts flowing through the carst below make for a unique and beautiful swimming how, with a dammed up forty meter gorge made of winding overhangs and vertical sides, deep pools for diving and natural jaccuzzis formed by the swirling waterfalls and currents. 

Gerhard dives into the pools lying in the cataracts just under the climbing areas.

In the following days, we drill, clean, drill, hammer, clean.  Mornings on the Westside, lunch in the swimming hole, afternoons on the east side. 


The fine Bosch rotated when told to do so, and never let us down!

 

Steffen Heimann on the first ascent of ‘Schrammelweg’, UIAA VII (5.10c)

The routes in the Tufa Area are wild operations, demanding, indeed, so demanding that a few ‘corpses’ are left behind.  Chris, after a tremendous effort putting the protection into two wildly overhanging tufas, has thrown out her shoulder; and with the air running out of the expedition's tires, we don’t manage to ‘point’ everything.  But after three days, we have put in fourteen new sport routes from UIAA 4-9 (5.5-5.12b).  And we’ve left behind one of our Bosch drills for the Albanian climbers….

Chris prepped and Gerald climbed ‘Elephant’, UIAA IX (5.12a).  Folks, it still needs a red point!

Naturally, there are also some fine boulders at Bovilla.

Summary sentence: For those who come with a combination of travel-fever, adventure, big wall and sport climbing urges, Albania is no longer a blank page on the travel map.
Detailed Guides and Topos of the above described activities can be downloaded cost-free at the end of this report.

 

 

 


Participants of the international expedition

Gerhard Duro (Tirana, Albanien)

Steffen Heimann (No Limit, Leipzig)

Axel Hake, Kletterer und Chefredakteur „Klemmkeil“ (Braunschweig)

Daniel Wilhelm (extremer Sport- und Gebirgskletterer, Augsburg, Bayern)

Ferdinand Triller (Wettkampf- und Expeditionserfahrener Kletterer, Trainer, Augsburg, Bayern)

John Ely (Bigwall-Pionier im Yosemite, USA)

 Christiane Hupe (Geoquest, Halle) und Gerald Krug (Geoquest, Halle)  


Albanien - Expedition 2010
Arapit-Wand und erste Sportkletterwand
 
Internetseiten:
www.geoquest-verlag.de
www.bigwalls.net/climb/AlbaniaRockclimbing.pdf
http://balkanspeacepark.org
 

Supporters

No Limit Leipzig

DAV Leipzig

Deutscher Alpenverein Sektion Augsburg

Sektion Augsburg
Peutingerstr. 24
86152 Augsburg

 

 

Alpinbox Leipzig

Skylotec

IG Klettern Halle-Löbejün

Bosch (Sebnitz)

Deuter (Augsburg)

IG Klettern Mittelsachsen

Geoquest

 

First Download the free climbing guidebook Albania down here (Bigwall and sport climbing)!
Second is the new route which was made in 2011 by a german girls expedition.
Third shows the bigwall with both routes.

AttachmentSize
Albania_Climbing_Guide.pdf3.51 MB
topo_tschackalacka_arapi_albanien.pdf750.24 KB
Aarapi_Suedwand_.jpg676.54 KB