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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ostrov as of late...

Ostrov, Czech Republic – Our Highline Haven

Once you pass through Tisa, a small village consisting of humble homes as well as huge, deteriorating German style mansions, small shops and a few restaurants, you begin on a curvy road leading uphill. This road begins to have holes and winds through a lush forest. Suddenly you come to a turnoff that looks unsuspecting and simple. All around protruding gently out of the treetops are sandstone towers, beautiful gray lumpy spires standing for ages, a mix of yellow and orange smudged against the gray. These colors enable one to tell the solidity of the rock; the yellow places are sandy to the touch and appear to be crumbling away. The blackest places feel hardly like sand at all; they are solid and worn, and often have one bolt signifying a climbing route.

Once down the hill there are a few more cottages, a beautiful abandoned hotel with flaking walls and broken windows, and at last the turn down a steep hill to the Camping Podrazem, our morning and night hangout. This small pub seems to be the heart of Ostrov. There is a nearby fancy hotel that attracts some Germans, but the true nature lovers and Czech food and Czech beer lovers know where to go; and this is it. In the back is a huge field with small weather-battered cabins for rent, some picnic tables, a fire pit or two, and a goat tied up that is grazing loudly. Inside is decorated with memorabilia from the previous Lord of the land, Kaiser Wilhelm, a distinguished gentleman sporting a large white mustache. The pub is staffed seasonally by different young people, all who enjoy the solitude of a place with no cell phone reception aptly named “Island” in Czech, and beautiful climbing, hiking and camaraderie with each other and the guests. They seem to not mind the fluctuating weather, which includes mostly wet and/or windy days as well as unexpected, beautiful sunny days.

This area is our highline haven. It sits nearby Germany, Prague, Poland and Austria; where many of our highline friends are located. The atmosphere is perfect; few tourists are atop the towers so most of our projects are undisturbed, and every morning is a relaxed move from coffee and breakfast at the pub, to a short hike and highlining, then an amazing Czech home-cooked meal and beer. It’s just about as good as it gets. I have lost count of how many times I have hitchhiked to Ostrov (which is the best way to get there since there is no train station in the village,) and yet every time I go one of us is spotting a new place to rig a new line. Highline heaven! I find the weather to be bothersome occasionally; as it gets cold or pours rain walking and rigging conditions are more difficult.

Our most recent trips to Ostrov were all successful. After our Urban Highline Festival in Poland where Jerry Miszewski from USA was a special guest, we decided to take him to Ostrov and show him our highline haven.
We met Kwjet Oslaf there, our Czech friend living in Prague who is the best highliner in his country. Jerry had brought Vectran with him, his ultra-light webbing from US, and we all wanted to rig something big to walk to get the full potential of such webbing. While there we slept on the porches of the bungalows, and every night it pissed rain. I was on the edge of the porch and had the lovely experience of being sprayed in the face with cold water regularly. Our first project was a 56 meter line that Kwjet had had his eye on for some time. It was in the same spot that a previous 40 meter was rigged, but skipped an anchor and reached much farther.

The day we began rigging was cloudy, with rain showers frequenting every half hour at which time we all scampered down under some overhangs, only to re-emerge soon after and continue rigging. The process was slow but relaxed, with only 5 people and all of them knowledgeable in rigging, you could not ask for more (except a helicopter to take the line across.)
Our attempts with a slingshot to take a guideline across took some time, having to recoil the string over and over.
Finally one good shot was made and Jerry was able to maneuver the string through the reaching trees and connect our backup. From there it went pretty smoothly despite being cold and wet. We made the line with Vectran and some two ton webbing backup. So, it was not the lightest set up but it was decent.
Kwjet had a great first ascent, and named the line “King Line.”
By the second day everyone had sent the line, and we took it down in order to rig our next project; a 95 meter beast! We transferred the line over to a farther anchor, and it worked like a charm.
Soon enough we had a long highline staring us in the face. Meanwhile the staff at the pub was using old Russian war binoculars to keep an eye on us too. Once up, the next two days were spent fighting the line. But it felt great! Everyone had some great tries, and by day two we were wondering if anyone would be able to do it. To focus on the anchor at the opposite end was really the trick, in addition to predicting the movement of such a line as each step reverberated down its spine then came back at you with a kick. Finally, Jerry stood up from the rock and sighed, said he was going to send it, and walked slowly and steadily to the end.
He was exhausted by that time, but his send was such a joy to us all and we all somehow felt his and satisfaction enough to throw in the towel and try again another day. He named the line "Master of the Universe." So, a new world record was set for the time being, and we were there on our blissful, mossy, wet and quiet island, to share it.

The next occasion for the return to Ostrov was The Ladies-Only Slackfest in September. It was a girl’s highline event organized by myself, an opportunity to provide a chance to highline without a testosterone-filled atmosphere.
There are differences in women in men in most cases, and many girls I spoke to felt that guys were more aggressive with slacklining and highlining, therefore stepping up and getting on the line constantly while the ladies sat watching. Whether or not this is true, I am supportive of females in the sport and want there to be more out there! So, I gathered up 6 girls from Poland, Germany and Czech Republic, rigged them a highline, and let them have at it. I put up “Dogga” which is 18 meters in length and beautifully exposed. 

I had a great belt-loop swami onsight of the line, and great swami walks too!

There were only two boys at the event, who kept themselves occupied nearby. The weather was so beautiful that weekend, sunny with a light breeze blowing constantly, it was peaceful and relaxed, each lady giving a go when she felt like it.
My friend Sue from Ireland had come along and though she did not highline she learned how to tie a figure eight knot and enjoyed the czech beer!
Each day was spent taking turns on the line, and while none of the other girls were able to send it, everyone learned something new and felt more confident and more excited about highlining.
And I have to admit, there were some great whipper pictures...
I have a feeling I will see them on highlines again soon. I hope to continue the tradition of Ladies Only Slackfest next year, with more girls and more lines!

In October we returned again for a Highline meeting put on primarily by Landcruising, a German Slackline company. They sell lightweight webbing called Aeon, made entirely of Dyneema. Since it is quite expensive to purchase we were excited for a chance to walk on a long piece of it, as well as excited to meet with our highline friends all in the same place. We arrived a few days after the start, but were found that the 103 meter highline was still stretching across the whole valley on the German side of the area, a short hike from Ostrov. The line had already been sent by Mich Kemeter, our friend from Austria, but none others. Seeing the line was stirring, it was a flickering white band crossing from one row of rock towers straight across to the others. The tree tops were not even close to brushing it with their pointy tops, and the view from the anchors was even more phenomenal. Everything was rigged on natural protection; no bolts, only slings around the rocks. There was a dynamometer to measure tension, which was lower on the last day then the previous days. Mich walked the line again after a few tries so that Landcruising could take some videos with their fancy mini-helicopter, which was pretty neat, but unfortunately, left very little time for my attempt as they needed to take the line down and catch their bus. So, in a rush and with no expectations, I threw on my iPod and scooted out on the slippery double Aeon line. The other end seemed to disappear into a blur of forest, gray rock and small blush faces. The line swung around in the middle, far less than other heavier slacklines might have, but still enough to cause difficulty. I took seven tries, and they felt amazing. I had so much energy for this line, and felt weightless atop it. I walked 40 meters in my best try, almost half the distance. Midway I had the Landcruising guys urging me to finish up so they could leave and Mich on the rock behind me urging me to keep trying. What a dilemma! Finally I untied from the leash and decided had I more time, I could have crossed this line. Alas, I’ll never know, but the experience was worthwhile. During this time Jordan and Janek had met with a German Ranger who insisted they take the line they were rigging down, stating that the needle was too unstable. We all knew it was untrue but authorities love nothing more than to control Highliners. So, that night we said goodbye to our friends from Landcruising, and spent the evening at the pub with the rest of the highline crew drinking Czech beer and enjoying life.

Some people left for other adventures, meanwhile more German and Czech people showed up. We went to a different spot close to the pub to rig a highline Janek had spotted a year before. The walk there was magical. It was autumn and the usually green leaves had changed into yellows, oranges, crimsons and reds. The path was layered with multitudes of such leaves, and the sun beamed through the trees in angles of light. The grove of sandstone towers we arrived at surrounded the path to Tisa, and had many possibilities for new highlines. Everyone set out to rig something, Janek, Jordan and I (along with a few others) began on a 55 meter line. The process was slow, and it seemed later that we had too many heads working together, which provided for much confusion. I was on the far side with two friends trying to sling the tower. In Ostrov the rules are a bit different then most climbing regions; you are not allowed to use chalk, metal gear or bolt anything new. So, every highline must be done with slings!

Eventually the sun began to set and the cold crept in. We had dealt with many obstacles, tangled ropes in the trees for example, and finally decided to call it a day and finish the next morning. Our friends had rigged several small highlines between other rocks in the same cluster, so people had already began to highline. That night we eagerly ate up Goulash or Smazeny Syr and beers then passed out under the overhanging boulders in the forest. Sleeping in the woods in Ostrov is a place I experience the best rest. The night it quiet, with only the rustling of tall trees and occasional light rain. The mornings are shaded, and even when climbers or hikers pass by on the trail they do not disturb the sleeping dirtbags.

The next morning Janek and I finished the rig of the highline. He went for first ascent, only to find that the line was far too loose! After everything, it was unwalkable. So, we put the extra effort in to tighten it (too much) and Janek sent the line both directions. He named the line appropriately “Fight Club.” Many people walked the line, including myself and Jordan. I fought for an onsight, having difficulty on such a tight line but managed to pull it off. It had been a pain in the butt to rig but worth the time. We also walked all the shorter lines nearby, and Janek and I both added three new free solos to our accomplishments. This included a 20 meter line, my current best solo length.There was even a tiny 5 meter line for the beginners! It was the perfect highline spot - many lengths, many lines, many highliners, and beautiful weather. When the gathering finally came to a close, we all left satisfied and tired in the best way possible; from balance.

So, we left Ostrov for the last time in the year 2010. But one of the most reliable things about such a magical location is that when we return it will probably seem untouched, still unpredictable weather-wise, no phone connection, and still surrounded by beautiful and ancient sandstone towers standing solemnly among the swaying green tree tops.


After Ostrov the last time, we did attend Mich Kemeters highline event in Peilstein, Austria. We walked three awesome highlines, a 40m, a 30m and a 31m line. It was a fun party time with many of our German friends. After this event I stuck around and traveled with Mich to Salzburg for some great climbing! It was my first time leading, for some good limestone sport routes. We also rigged and walked a beautiful highline over a waterfall, which I did OS in a belt loop swami. Good times in the land of Cows and green hills and mountains! Then I hitchhiked back to Berlin, in an easy 9 hours. Pictures coming later...