theotherwayaround

The Other Way Around | From the Alps to the Balkans’ states

We are Arline and Bertrand, two Swiss climbers who decided to quit our habits and comfort zone to live a big adventure while joining sport climbing crags all over the world by bike. We left Switzerland in April 2021 to travel more ecologically, having all the gear packed on our bikes.

The itinerary

We choose our route based on climbing destinations while paying attention to the different seasons and the best weather conditions for climbing in each region. With the imperative to travel by bike as much as possible and to limit our emissions, it was not easy to find a feasible route that turns around the world and allows us to spend a lot of time on the crag. But now it’s done! The itinerary is divided into 5 main parts: the Alps, Eastern Europe, North America, Asia, and Northern Europe. Due to the Covid situation, we will have to improvise but we will stay on the road with the same idea and the same spirit. This means that some destinations could change, so be prepared for some surprises! With more than 30’000 km of biking, the plan is to link around 30 climbing destinations over 3 continents.

If you don’t want to miss anything of our adventure, you can follow us on Instagram – The Other Way Around

Part 1 of our journey: from the Alps to Greece

The first part of our trip took us through the Alps and the Balkans states. It is hard to sum up 7 months full of adventure in one article, but we’ll try to give you a nice overview.

We left Switzerland in early April 2021 and as even nature would have said goodbye, we started cycling through a winter wonderland, and yes, we will definitely miss the snow! Our first stage brought us to France by following the Rhône River.

Lavaux-Switzerland
Lavaux-Switzerland

In France we choose three of the most famous climbing spots:

  • Léger-du-Ventoux and its reborn neighbour Mollans-sur-Ouvèze
  • The Verdon Gorge
  • Ceüse

These three climbing areas are quite close to each other, so it’s perfect to link them by bike in a few days, without having a too important climbing break between. During this trilogy, you can fulfill all your wishes: sport climbing or multi-pitch on tufa, crimps, pockets, big holes, or technical face climbing.

We were especially impressed by the diversity and the huge potential of climbing in the Verdon Gorge. The gorge, with a maximal height of 700 m is one of the largest canyons in Europe and offers routes on both sides of the river. Each day, you can decide if you prefer to go sport climbing in sectors like La Ramirole or to embark on a multi-pitch adventure. But one thing is certain: the view, the ambiance, and the accesses will be unforgettable!

Courchon-France
Courchon-France

The best about everything? After a fresh croissant from the bakery in La-Palud-sur-Verdon and a 45-minute warmup on our bike to the crag, we started our climbing journey by rappelling down into the gorge. Sometimes we stopped on a small platform just a few meters above the water, sometimes in a garden, hanging in the middle of the wall; and the only way out was to climb up to the top. This makes it important to be aware of the gear needed and the exposure of the route. Small hint: if the route was bolted before 2000, approach it with respect as the grade and the distance between the bolts might also be historic!

We focused on modern multi-pitch climbing. Here is our recommendation for some routes with a special ambiance:

  • Lame Fatale, 6c max, the two last pitches follow an aesthetic and thin ridge, just 300 m above the river.
  • Via Mathis, 7c max, after a long and various climbing, you arrive in a cave, from where you follow a natural tunnel over 40 m to continue your way up on the other side of the cliff.
  • Les mains dans le sel, 7a max, the rappel leads you to a tiny niche just a few meters above the “passage of Styx”, at the slimmest point of the gorge. You need to remember how to swing to join this niche and start the climb.

After three incredible weeks in La-Palud-sur-Verdon we headed to Ceüse at the end of May. Let’s say, Ceüse is THE crag in France: a 4 km long limestone wall with an amazing rock quality and a big diversity of routes, that every climber accepts to have a 1 hour upwards walk to join the cliff. For us, it meant that we not only trained our fingers but also our legs to get ready for the long traverse from France to Austria over the mountains.

For 3 days we cycled through the paddy fields between Torino and Milano and got nearly steamed in this tropical heat, before having again some more fresh air on the high passes between Italy, Switzerland (only for 10 km), and Austria. When cycling upwards the Stelvio pass, one of the highest passes in the Alps, we were looking forward to a big portion of “Knödel”, a traditional Austrian plate, and especially to climb again on Gneiss. But we weren’t lucky with the weather: from the 45 days we stayed in Austria, we had only 15 days of good weather. We used these days as well as possible and had some amazing climbs at the crags in Pitztal, Ötztal, and Zillertal. These valleys are perfect summer climbing destinations and offer some nice crack lines in the middle of the forest. And the other 30, rainy days? We trained in a gym to lose the weight gained by eating too much Knödel.

One of the highlights in Austria was the Repswand. To get there, the shortest access is by bike (alternative to a 3 hour walk…). This imposing north wall looks like it has been cut with a knife and the multi-pitch routes follow the obvious weaknesses of the rock, either bolted or in trad.

We tried to be patient, but the weather wouldn’t change. We saw on the news that this rainy time was not only in Austria: all over central Europe villages got flooded while at the same time, southern Europe suffered a lack of water and had to fight many wildfires. This made us think a lot about the impact of our habits on the planet. Mid-August, we decided to move more south to find some dryer weather conditions just on the other side of the alps by joining Kotečnik in Slovenia for another climbing stop.

Slovenia signified the transition between central Europe and the Balkan states. We passed some time in Kotečnik and were touched by the hospitality we lived at the farm-camping, just a few minutes of walk from the crag. As the temperatures got colder, we headed to Bosnia – Herzegovina in early September. We knew almost nothing about Bosnia before, so we crossed the border bridge with an open mind and were happy to learn more about the culture of this country.

The climbing community in Bosnia- Herzegovina is still small, but they are developing many crags and are glad to welcome climbers from all over the world! We joined the Drill & Chill festival, which is a climbing and highline festival in Tijesno Canyon, in northern Bosnia. During this time, we had some unexpected opportunities to join the local climbing community: they gave us all the gear, so we could clean an existing multi-pitch, bolt a new multi-pitch route in the right part of the sector of Amfiteater and participate in the shooting for a film to promote climbing in Bosnia- Herzegovina.

The multi-pitch we bolted follows a nice tufa line and we called it Rakija and Wild Onions, in honor of the beautiful hospitality we have lived: the family who invited us for dinner while we put our tent in their garden, the nights we could stay at the gym in Banja-Luka, and all the smiles. It’s also a memory of the Rakija, this schnaps which followed us from Slovenia all the way south to Greece. It’s not only a drink, but a sign of welcome, being together, confirming a deal, or just to say: life is good. This culture is so strong, that even Adam Ondra couldn’t refuse to taste Rakija when he joined the Drill & Chill in 2018.

After the festival, we went south to look for more climbing spots and found some amazing places. While the climb in Tijesno Canyon is almost on crimps, slabs, and some tufa, the country has a huge diversity to offer. In Pecka, we found a true Margalef pocket style on conglomerate, and in Blagaj, a south-feeling with nice tufa or slabby mid-grading route on perfect limestone.

Bolting-Bosnia Herzegovina
Bolting-Bosnia Herzegovina

The more we got south in the Balkans, the less we found developed climbing areas. After more than one month in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we arrived in Montenegro in October for a climbing stop in Smokovac Canyon, close to the capital Podgorica. With around 100 routes, this high-quality limestone cliff full of tufa is the biggest climbing area in the country. Not only the climbing community in Montenegro is growing, but also the infrastructure is in development. At the bottom of the canyon, there is a highway in construction, which makes the crag less picturesque and noisier. We had only 5 days of good weather and decided to focus on discovering this cliff without having a hard project. We could climb a lot of amazing lines between the 6 and the 7 grades.

Early November we crossed the border to Albania and arrived in another world, where things seem to work in different ways. For a long time, we met again cyclists on the road, on bicycles from another millennium, but quite capable to transport everything for the daily need: food, gas bottles, or even living chicken. While cycling through Albania, the locals offered us huge smiles, children ran after us to touch our bags while we passed next to donkeys, horse-drawn buggies, and herders walking their turkeys, who reminded us of the shepherds in the Alps.

To reach our next climbing destination, Brar, we had to drive through the capital Tirana. We arrived during the evening rush hour and found ourselves in the middle of an organized chaos. Usually, Bertrand doesn’t like to cycle through cities, but here he felt very comfortable. No matter if he went the wrong way, nobody cared. There might be traffic regulations, but if so, we couldn’t figure them out, except one: Be aware of everything! Therefore, it is also ok to take a roundabout the other way around to have a shortcut.

The cliff of Brar is so imposing, that when we saw it, we remained speechless. It is complex, overhanging, and just amazing – in short, everything you need to define the perfect wall for hard routes! The most famous route is called “the Dream”, a 9b, bolted by Adam Ondra and with a first ascent by Seb Bouin. Besides this, the wall offers a great potential for high level climbing and there are still many projects in the 8th degree waiting for a first ascent. With a southern orientation, even in November, it could be quite hot during the day, but as the rock is new and sharp, our fingers sticked well on it and we could climb some nice routes on tufa.

We left Albania in mid-November through a surprising and beautiful landscape between sea and mountains: Greece and Tzatziki are calling. Part 2: From Greece to Turkey with fire and snow And if you don’t want to miss anything of our adventure, you can follow us on Instagram – The Other Way Around

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