We are back in Mavrovo National Park famous for its lake and mountains: Šar, Korab, and Bistra and also home to the most popular ski resort in Macedonia. The place is an adventure paradise with tremendous potential not only for climbing but also for ski touring, mountaineering, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and much more.
For the festival we are hosted by Elem, an old school hotel left untouched since Tito’s time. We felt privileged to dive into the past interior and leap back in history, a history that is remembered with quite a bit of nostalgia by the people of Macedonia. I was imagining all kinds of gatherings in the glorious 70s and 80s…and somehow I felt part of that golden era.
Of course camping on the shore of the lake for those vagabondz who like to sleep outside (like us) was also an option. Don’t get excited about the area near the lake it’s not the cleanest you’ll see but somehow we managed to find a litterless spot and get along with the surroundings. Although the beach and camp are filthy the water in the lake is perfectly clean and amazing for a sunny or mooney swims.
It’s finally time to climb! We set off in the late morning, no rush as we are heading to a cave which means all day climbing is guaranteed by the shade in addition to cover from the rain. We drive 25 km from Mavrovi Anovi and stop at a car park just below the cave. The approach is not longer than 10 min and consists of steep via ferrata section. We enter the cave, pleased to meet the climbers who came for the Balkan gathering. We start to sample the routes. The crag is relatively new, it was developed 3 years ago so nothing is polished and somehow not too sharp. It has all types of routes for all kinds of needs – slabby, vertical, overhanging + tuffa-like features where you can lock knees and even jam hands. The diversity is astonishing.
The routes were bolted by Dimitar Popov, Vladimir Trpovski, Jozi Pavlic, Aleksandar Brborovic, Bojan Leskoshek, Matjaz Zorko, and Klemen Becan and the grading from what we managed to climb was spot on. All in all the cave has 28 routes, enough easy stuff for beginners, 8 projects, 4 routes in the 8s, some multi-pitch routes and potential for more.
What I really enjoyed was the low profile of the festival, meaning that there was exact amount of people for the size of the crag, we never had to wait for routes or climb on top of each other. That’s the balkan vagabondz style, to have it just right, enough people so we can have fun, meet each other and bond properly. Quality not quantity is the name of the game.
After the first climbing day we got down to the river and had an improvised shower in the clear waters of Radika. It was time to head off towards Elem and have our Balkan style dinner! Shopska, vino, lutenica, white cheese and plenty “Nazdravje!”
During our first dinner together I felt like a part of somewhat relaxed Italian familia, vibrant but not overwhelming. Sharing thoughts, food and drink, discussing all kinds of Balkan and non-Balkan topics where, some tried to break the multiple conversations with songs, others were determined to have all glasses filled to the top with delicious white wine or rakia. I felt at home more than anywhere else in the world. Among the Macedonian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Slovenian characters that do and don’t climb but are passionate about nature, magical chemistry was born, we all spoke our native languages and understood them and if we didn’t, we laughed about the different meanings of the same words that have been spoken by our ancestors for centuries and аre heard again on this epic Mavrovska evening.
People on the Balkans have so much to tell each other, it seems we’ve been somehow segregated by silly state politics for far too long. Here in the climbing tribe we are all one, interested in the common well being and listening intently to the similarities and differences we share while living and laughing charged by the energy of our home lands.
Enough of drunken romantics about ancient tribes and mystical lands. It was time to dance on the beautiful terrace overlooking the great Lake Mavrovo. Balkan beats featured by the moon, that’s how we roll. 🙂