Cesky Raj: A rock climbing guide

Cesky Raj, known as the Bohemian Paradise, is the oldest nature reserve in the Czech Republic and an incredible rock climbing area.

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THE PLACE


The sandstone towers in the Czech Paradise, Cesky Raj


A climber nearing the top of a Czech Sandstone tower


Climber crack climbing in the Czech Paradise


A rock climber on one of the sandstone towers in Cesky Raj, with the sunset in the background


A rock climbing guide kitting up to climb one of the sandstone towers in the Czech Republic


climber on a finger crack in Cesky Raj



Person standing on top of one of the towers in the Cech Republic


Cesky Raj at night


A climber topping out one of the sandstone towers in Cesky Raj



Cesky Raj, known as the Bohemian Paradise, is the oldest nature reserve in the Czech Republic. Despite only being an hour’s drive from Prague, climbing here has a remote, wild vibe. Steep rock cliffs plunge straight down into deep valleys and tall sandstone towers are covered by lonely pine trees.

There are very few bolts (or sometimes none) and using friends, nuts and other metal gear is prohibited to protect the rock from damage. Climbers use knotted prusiks and slings of different sizes for protection. This adventurous style of climbing is closely linked to the local climbing mentality, very traditional and purist. It sounds odd but it works!

Climbing in the Bohemian Paradise started at the beginning of the 20th century. Back in those days the goal was not to perform any hard moves or try to establish a difficult route. The first climbers simply wanted to know if it was possible to reach the top of the towers. So without any knowledge of climbing techniques or gear, they managed to conquer most of those towers before the Second World War. The first real climbing routes were developed in this era. And since the easiest way to get to the top of the tower was by squeezing through a chimney or a wide crack, these routes are usually unprotected. 

As time went by, climbers started try climbing the face of the towers. But it felt more insecure, so they were forced to develop some kind of protection. The first logical step was to use a piece of rope and try to tie it around some spikes, put the knots into constrictions and trust it. But there were places where you couldn’t find any of these placements, so ring bolts were invented. As there were no drills, it took a lot of effort to place these rings, which resulted in some pretty scary routes. 

The legacy of the first generation is still alive and there are pretty strict rules for sandstone climbing. There are plenty of things that you need to know about sandstone before you start climbing in order to protect the rock towers for future generations. The reason why few foreigners visit the Bohemian Paradise for climbing is mainly the lack of public information on how to do it properly and that is what the Mapo Tapo Czech Trad Climbing clinic is about. We will show you the beauty of sandstone climbing, tell you about its history and explain to you how the nonmetal gear work.


THE CRAGS


Climber Rappelling down one of the sandstone towers in Cesky Raj


Crack climbing in Cesky Raj



Climber reading one of the summit books at the top of a Czech Sandstone towers


the sandstone towers of Cesky Raj



There are literally endless possibilities for climbing in the Czech paradise. Within a range of 40km there are more than 30 sectors with 3000 rock formations that all together offer 18000 routes. Since route setting became a whole life journey for some of the locals, there are tons of unrepeated routes.

The place is magical: lush valleys, old castles, green pines, dotted by these crazy weirdly-shaped sandstone towers. The climbing is extremely varied, with cracks, chimneys, friction climbing, edges and walls. There are summit books on the top, where the first ascents to the tower are recorded: the climber who first gets to the top writes “Hore zdar!”.

But let’s get down to the point: what is the Czech trad climbing technique? Here climbers use knotted prusiks and slings of different sizes for protection, instead of cams and nuts. The climbing etiquette  is pretty strict and it is meant to protect the rocks. A typical Czech rack consists of 5 or so differently sized monkey's fists or other knots, as well as a handful of slings for threading pockets. As you climb up, you snap the knots of the right dimension into the cracks, until you find the metal rings and you can breathe a sigh of relief:)


THE LOCAL COMMUNITY


Jan and the local climbers


There is a fervid community of local climbers, who are very attached to the protection of the rock and the climbing etiquette. There are local heroes that climbed 3000+ routes, moved by thirst of exploration and first ascents.‍

Mapo Tapo selected guides that grew up climbing and respecting these magnificent rock formations, right from within this community.


Jan


Jan is a mountaineer/photographer based in the north of Czech Republic.He is currently in the last year of an IFMGA mountain guide study. Sandstone towers of Czech Paradise are the area where he started climbing more than 15 years ago. He’s been through a lot of funny, scary and valuable climbing lessons here. It gave him the confidence to start climbing in the mountains. He has climbed some big alpine north faces including Eiger, Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses, Petit Dru, Les Droites, Cima Grande and a lot more. He is always trying to share the experience of the climb through the lens of his camera. 

“BTW excuse me for not having a lot of good climbing pictures of myself. I am usually behind the camera :) “