Geoquest-Expedition Albania 2013

Geoquest-Expedition Albania 2013

Text: Gerald Krug, Translation: Simon Litchfield
Photos: Simon Litchfield, Ronald Reichelt (Kletterschule Pirna), Gerhard Duro, Chris Hupe and G. Krug (Geoquest)
The Geoquest-Team has resumed its involvement in the Balcans this year. Once again an international team was at the starting line.
The project was an ascent of the 2486m Papingut Mountain in the south of Albania, as well as a quest to find new sport climbing possibilities.

Geoquest-activities in Albania and Montenegro 2008-13

The journey there was even an adventure in itself.  Even where motorways have been built, surprises lurk behind every corner.  Sometimes a hay cart comes at you head on and other times a child is learning how to bicycle in the overtaking lane: obviously both travelling in the wrong direction too.  But despite all of this, road behaviour is actually quite civilised.  Even if there are no real traffic laws, you look at each other in the flowing traffic (unlike us in the grumbly west) and give space to whoever is in the biggest rush.
The last kilometre of the “piste” tested the boundaries of the technical capacity of our "off-road" Dacia. But ultimately we managed to get to the last village on the mountain side!

The luggage for the expedition was brought up as far up as the mules could manage, before the terrain got too steep for laden animals.  Thereafter we had to carry loads ourselves and after three loads each, everything was at base camp.

The last mule ran on solar power.
That afternoon we kicked off transporting equipment to the foot of the wall.  This was not quite achieved but all the heaviest equipment was now high up.
The next day Simon und Gerald headed to the foot of the wall, where even in summer there were even patches of snow to be found. When they finally got onto the wall and what was found exceeded even our worst fears. The rock was, without exception, friable in the extreme and there was not a single crack in which one could have placed a nut or friend, without the rock on either side crumbling away.  We could never have imagined that such a good looking wall, could be so bad.  The attempt of an ascent was aborted and the equipment lugged all the way back to basecamp.

That such a beautiful wall can be so friable...

On the third day our group summited Papingut by a series of gullies and ridges.  A first ascent free of ropes, bolts or nuts.  This tour is worthwhile with easy climbing, which we will describe in detail in the attached pdf document (scroll down).

The ridge climbing is easy (UIAA 2-3), but nonetheless one shouldn’t contemplate falling.

Expecting to be up there a long time we had brought provisions for 10 days.  Thus we had to use up as much as possible, so that the poor mules did not have to carry such a heavy load down. This included the two crates of beer and only then was it back to “civilisation“.
En-route we had seen a beautiful canyon: the stuff of dreams, so we decided to establish a sport climbing area there.  For the rest of the expedition we devoted ourselves to this task and the results can really be seen.

Lengarica-Canyon: historic (Ottoman) bridge, with thermal pools in the background.

The Lengarica-Canyon is a wonderfully situated limestone ravine in southern Albania, close to the small city of Permet.  The area is very popular with tourists, owing to the numerous thermal springs and health-giving mud. There are two restaurants at the entrance to the ravine and one can camp for free. When the river is at its normal level, one can wander through the canyon in ankle deep water.  This is an ideal summer pastime as compared to the thermal springs the river water is nice and cool.

At the entrance to the canyon is a restaurant with flexible opening times, cold beer and homemade food.

The climbing is characterized by numerous limestone tufas and many overhanging walls. Aside from that there are also crimp and slab climbs to be found.
Anyone who has every equipped a route ground up will know how strenuous it is and that you can’t always get the bolts in the most optimal positions. Ronald Reichelt (Kletterschule Pirna) equipping the legendary route: Gummi drum 8.

Chris climbing and listening to: Sounds of Albania 8.

We have equipped a sector with 13 new routes and left our mark on a further area by bolting a dream project. There is potential for the faces to easily yield over 1000 further routes and we are sure that this beautiful area will easily soon attract more climbers and first ascentionists.
Time and again brave wayfarers pass through the canyon and watch the climbers.

Gerhard Duro on Wet Nightmares 7.
Ronald Reichelt on the project Double Tufa, probably 10-.

At the foot of the wall with the double tufa is a good bouldering sector (Simon Litchfield in action).  In addition, on the ravine walls there are very good bloc-problems to be found with holds rounded by the water.

Climbing and bathing – a good combination (not just for Ronald)!

It is encouraging that development in Albania is finally touching climbing, including a sport climbing area with many hard routes near Tirana (Brar) and a paradisiac area with routes of all grades on the coast (Gjipe).  So it is that the country is beginning to appear on the radar of climbing Europeans.  Our map provides an overview:
Expedition Team Members:

Gerhard Duro, Climbing Club Partizani, Tirana, Albania

Simon Litchfield (England)

Ronald Reichelt (Pirna, Germany) Kletterschule Pirna

Christiane Hupe (Halle, Germany) Geoquest

Gerald Krug (Halle, Germany) Geoquest

Approach to the Canyon:
They canyon is close to the small city of Permet in southern Albania.  From here travel ca. 7km in a south easterly direction (towards the Greek border).  Take a left turn towards the thermal springs.  This road can be easily recognised as the asphalt on the side road is much better than on the main road. Travel a further 6km until you reach a newly built bridge.  Just before the bridge, turn left and follow a very bumpy track to the car park.  Walk past the restaurants and the historic bridge, through the canyon and the climbing sector is reached after approx 600m.

1. Description of the ridge climbing up to Mount Papingut from the north side
2. Topo of Lengarica Canyon sport climbimng routes

Maja e Papingut.pdf399.52 KB
Lengarica_Canon_Topo_.pdf124.37 KB