ARTICLE: First Free-climb of 138 Meters Deep Wall inside the Large Abyss Macocha
Czechia (my home country) is a country with a lot of climbing, at least considering the sheer number of routes, despite all our mountains being very low and even on the top of it, the majority of mountain ranges have very little rock. On the other hand, very few parts of the country are totally flat and you can find some piece of rock almost everywhere. But we are definitely lacking in bigger walls. There are some sandstone towers that might exceed 80 meters, but that's it. There are some limestone cliffs that have similar height. But the biggest, highest and surely the steepest cliff is in a hole - 138 meters deep. And the part of the massive arch from the bottom of the hole had never been free climbed. Something that I couldn't leave like that. You can watch the video from Macocha right here.
"Příklepový strop" line might look probably the worst of all
It is truly epic. To get there, you walk through an amazing cave with stalactite decoration. All paved and with artificial lights as a part of the tourist circuit (guide required). And it leads to the bottom of this massive hole and straight under this massive roof. It feels like you are in a different world. And it is hard to imagine a roof that would feel more intimidating and more impossible-looking for free climbing. The line of "Příklepový strop" that I wanted to attempt might look probably the worst of all - it is possibly the steepest part of the wall and while approaching from the right, you don't really see that there is a system of less steep short walls that you can traverse across.
Why aren't they free climb it?
It is not necessary to climb the steep arch/roof to climb from the bottom of the hole to the rim. Already back in 1946, the wall just to the right was climbed. Still quite steep and bold for those years. The main overhang was climbed in 70's for the first time, by aid climbing. It took a long time before it was even considered to free climb it. At the moment, there are around 10 aid-routes. I remember I first read about aid climbing in Macocha in the Czech climbing magazine Montana when I was around 7 or 8 years old and I was wondering - why aren't they climbing it free? Is it impossible? Some years later, I got to know most of the cliffs in Moravsky Kras, a zone close to my hometown Brno with many different crags and I figured it was probably as chossy as the other crags nearby. But back in 2015, Dušan Janák started working trying different lines in the roof and figured that "Příklepový strop" could be the "easiest" for free climbing and in 2017, together with Jan Straka, they could do all the moves, so the first step towards free climbing this monster was done.
Climbing in Macocha is not easy. It is extremely protected for a number of reasons, especially for quite a few kinds of endemic plants growing on the bottom and the opposite wall. On top of that, it is a very attractive tourist destination and you climb directly above the paved path of the tourist circuit. There is a deal that we can choose 5 days a year, in December, when a limited number of climbers get permission to climb here. Another problem is condensation. In summer, it would not be possible to climb because cold air from inside the cave meets the warm air from outside, and it condensates on the rock. You need freezing nights for the cave to dry up. Basically, the colder the drier, yet at the same time climbing with -10 °C is not what you want, and especially hanging in belays. If it is above 0 °C, there is a good chance that the wall will be wet.
My goal was to try to onsight Příklepový strop in Macocha
I had been thinking about climbing in Macocha for the last few years, but never really had the time to commit to it and I was ill in 2021, so I knew that it must work out in 2022. My goal was try to onsight it, and that is why I came up with following plan. The first pitch of the climb has to be climbed after 3 PM because of tourists below and potential rockfall. So I decided to climb the first pitch 35meter pitch on day 1, leave the fix rope and climb the rest of the route on day, taking advantage of the daylight, especially for the second pitch. Protection is at least questionable at times. There are plenty of bolts from 1986, but they are only 2cm deep and with the extreme humidity, they are heavily rusted. There are some pegs, a few new bolts placed by Dušan. Some sections are quite runout and there is possibility of placing cams or nuts.
I set off for my onsight try with 20 quickdraws, around 10 cams and a set of nuts on my harness. Not exactly the same weight I am used to while sport climbing. It was 4 PM, totally dark but I had really good lights on the ground. I made it through a considerable piece of the first pitch, despite the scary start where potential fall would mean possible breaking of a peg and potential landing on the starting ledge. Towards the end of the pitch, the rock got more humid and dirty. I was stuck. I normally never hesitate on my onsight try, I rather just try something and hope for the best, but in this case I was stuck for long minutes because I had literally no idea. In the end, I was close, but just did not do it. I was lowered down and did the first pitch second go. Despite not onsighting the first pitch, I stuck to the plan and came back the next day with daylight.
And this is a great comparison with the adventure and suffering that all the aid climbers experienced - hanging up to 3 days in the freezing temperatures in desperate roof. Instead, I would sleep in my bed. I would warm up on my wall at home, drive 30 mins, I would warm up again in the neighboring crag, always moving so I don't get cold in the temperature around -1 °C. I would start climbing around 10:30, and despite having to give the second pitch 3 tries, at 2 PM we were on the top. The route is great, in places with really solid rock with amazing features, but it is funny how even with the same protection, the route turned into much more of a "sport climb".
Watch the new movie from Macocha on my AO YouTube
The total summary: 1st pitch 8b+ 35m (almost total roof), 2nd pitch 8b+ 35m (still almost roof), 3rd pitch 8a+ 20m (bulge with vertical exit), 4th pitch 7a 35m, 5th pitch 6c 35m.
The belay between 1st and 2nd pitch, as any other potential belay on the first 70m of climbing, is a total hanging belay. My plan was to come back after 2 days of rest and reclimb the whole thing using only ledges as the belays - that means linking pitch 1 and 2 together. Unfortunately, it got too warm, it was 6 °C, the rock was too humid and I could not do it. I estimate this mega-70-meter-pitch to be 8c+.
Look at the brand new YouTube video featuring me climbing a route called Příklepový strop, an adventurous 5-pitch route up to 8b+, full of rusty pegs and bolts and surprisingly excellent climbing!
Pics by Petr Chodura and Pavel Klement