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Bulgaria summer climbing


Original Post
M J · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 0

Hi all,

My partner and I are thinking of taking a 2 week trip in Europe. We like pretty much all types of climbing, and would enjoy a variety of cragging, multipitch, and easy alpine. Bonus points for interesting culture, food, and not hard on the wallet. 

Bulgaria has piqued our interest, but the relative paucity of information in English makes me a little nervous, plus the fact that neither of us are hardman (woman) climbers.
Partner leads 5.10+/11- sport, 5.9+ trad.

Our only prior int'l climbing experience is the Dolomites trad + El Portrero Chico sport, but in the US we've climbed at a variety of places (Gunks, NH, Red Rocks, JTree, Tetons etc)

Some questions:
-Is climbing in the summer (July or August) reasonable? Sounds like Vrasta and Lakatnik might not be great, but Rila and Prohodna are good options
-Are there enough moderate/easy options to keep us busy, without spending a ton of time on travel or needing to approach more than one area within a day? Our ideal day would probably be getting a good 5-10 pitches in at a given site... but seems like most areas tend to range in the 5.11 (6+) range and up.
-How is route finding? Are sport crags pretty obvious to figure out? Is climbing in Rila a pretty isolated experience, or are we likely to cross paths with other people on either the approach or climbs, which would be helpful if we get lost?
-How is overall safety? Do we have to worry about car break-ins? (We've not had issues before, but we were careful in Italy to show that the car was empty, etc)
-How is driving? Are major signs in both English and Cyrillic?
-Any good guidebooks to get in advance vs. once in country? The SE Europe climbing book seems hard to find, plus there are comments that it's not detailed with respect to routes. The Vrasta book sounds better, but if we're not going to spend a ton of time there due to hot weather, seems like it wouldn't be worth it.

Thanks in advance!

Derek Field · · Flagstaff, AZ · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 2,649

Hey there, I once spent a July in Bulgaria working at Trinity Rocks Farm, its run by an outrageously cool British dude named Cliff Surtees and he's developed a super fun and easy to find/navigate crag a 30 min walk from the farm. The climbing is 1-2 pitch limestone sport routes of all difficulty grades with bomber glue-in bolts. Look him up online (trinityrocksfarm.com/), he is very receptive and helpful to Bulgarian and foreign climbers alike. There is also great sport climbing at a crag called Usteto, right in the town of Veliko Turnovo. The town itself is a UNESCO Heritage site, and set in a spectacular limestone canyon. Some of the routes at Usteto access very interesting monasteries perched halfway up the cliffs - a very unique experience. One weekend we ventured out to climb in Prohodna Cave, it's got a 40m mouth on either end and smack in the middle you look up to the Eyes of God... holy crap that place is rad. Not much for lines below 5.10 but it's worth a trip for sure. There are a couple moderate routes directly below the Eyes. Also we went out for a couple weekends in Rila to climb granite. We enjoyed fantastic sport routes as well as fun trad climbing on Malyovitsa Peak. It is a moderate hike (few miles) up to the climber's hut where you have easy access to great routes of all length/style as well as phototopos and any beta/information you might desire. I could spend WEEKS at that hut. Trekking around the Rila mountains (e.g. Seven Lakes of Rila) is really neat too. Oh and we went deep water soloing up near the Romanian border, near Vama Veche.

Really due to its karst topography, the country is known for limestone sport climbing. The rock is very high quality. I generally (almost always) favour trad climbing but I would take a return trip to Bulgaria with just a sport rack in a heartbeat.

The absolute coolest part about Bulgaria is that fruit trees grow EVERYWHERE. Plums, apples, blueberries, etc... My buddies and I would go climbing for the day and literally not bring a single snack because the trees were so fruitful and we could eat whenever we wanted fresh from the tree.

To the questions:
- Climbing in July/August is reasonable, obviously you have to stick to the shade, but that's not too difficult seeing as most of the sport crags are set in caves/overhangs/canyons and the alpine climbing (Rila) is delightful in summer. Vratsa might be scorching hot, from what I've heard. Be warned that it's hot AND humid, like jungle. And mosquitos can be horrendous. And afternoon thunderstorms are the real deal.
- I would start with a visit to Trinity Rocks, you will be able to get used to the rock/style on a smorgasboard of moderate routes, and there you will meet local climbers who can direct you to the next place to go.
- Climbing is surprisingly popular in Bulgaria. Veliko Turnovo has a thriving local community, and the climber's hut at Rila is typically swarming with climbers and trekkers alike. You'll usually encounter at least one or two other groups at the limestone sport crags. Route-finding isn't too hard because the locals are extremely helpful. At Trinity Rocks, for instance, the route names and grades are actually painted at the bottom of the bolt line in lieu of a guidebook or topo.
- There are lots of gypsy villages in Bulgaria. Note that although you will find incredible black-market deals etc., these areas can be tricky to navigate as a foreigner, and I would be extra careful to mind your belongings in such zones.
- I did not personally do any driving, mostly just wine-drinking in the backseat. Most of the signs are in Cryllic but I recall some having English too. But I don't know because I was travelling with Bulgarians and just happy to follow along. The twisty mountain roads (e.g. up into Rila Mountains) are gorgeous.

If you are nervous about the lack of English, then I insist that you contact Cliff (trinityrocksfarm.com/) - one interaction with him will reassure you that your trip to Bulgaria will be most excellent.

Enjoy!!
Derek

Adam Laurenzo · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 0

Following this thread. Thinking of checking out Bulgaria this summer and looking for info/partners.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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