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The Balkan Dream with Seb Bouin

Friday, July 31, 2020
BD Athlete Seb Bouin was looking for a new experience. “We usually go to places where the climbing is already developed,” he explained. So, Bouin, along with his mom and two dogs, got in the van and drove up the coast of France to reach Albania. There they found a plethora of undeveloped limestone ripe for the bolting, as well as an undone 9b king line bolted by none other than BD Athlete Adam Ondra. Check out this video of Seb Bouin living the Balkan Dream.
Video and Photos: Etienne Tafary


Idea: Why this destination?

The idea to choose this destination for a climbing trip came from the motivation to discover a new "virgin” place for climbing.

We usually go to places where the climbing is already developed. I am always going to places where climbing is conventional. But this time I wanted a new experience, I wanted to discover a place where climbing was almost unknown. Only a few people know what climbing is in Albania. There is no climbing tourism. We had to find the lines and bolt them. Luckily, some climbers had already developed a few routes in this area. It allowed us to start climbing when we arrived. Adam Ondra bolted a 9b king line project in 2018 called "The Dream.” This route was also what motivated me to go there. The footage I saw from Adam was just incredible. This unique tufa followed by slopey tufas for 50 meters ... OK, so that route was on my mind. Few other people had bolted additional lines before our trip. And It was a chance to be able to mix bolting and climbing from the beginning.

 

looking at pauls cams
 

Travel: 

We travelled to Albania with a van in order to take our time on the road and in the country. It was important to be flexible with the dates because we didn't know how much potential there was. Our goals were to bolt, develop the place, and free climb the hardest routes possible. It was important to be able to adapt our dates accordingly. We started our trip in the south of France and we followed the coast until Albania. We crossed five countries before reaching Albania (Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro) and we did some climbing in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia.

 

looking at pauls cams
 

Team: 

The team consisted of mummy (Claire) and the two dogs (Spit and Djungo), Lowie (the giant), and Francky.

I did all the travelling with my mom and the dogs. It was quite fun to cross all these countries with them, and bring the family to Albania. There were epic moments at some borderlines. Lowie and Francky joined us by plane.

 

Country: Albania

Albania is not so far, but at the same time many things are quite different there. The country can be hectic, the people can be incredibly friendly, the contrasts are huge. It's like an era before my time. No asphalt road for most of the road, animals in the city, villages without car access, people travelling by horse, no tourism, helpful people.

We experienced an earthquake one night. It was quite intense. We were sleeping in the van near a crag and suddenly everything was moving. I thought we were falling over the edge. We heard a big noise near the van. A part of the nearest crag (5 meters from us) was falling down. We were lucky I guess. The heart of this earthquake was near our place. It was a weird situation for everyone. Many people lost their homes. Yet, every Albanian person was still smiling and helpful. They have kind hearts.

climbing el cap

Final Destination: Tirana 

Our final destination was Tirana, the capital of Albania. This place is quite exceptional. Tirana is surrounded by mountains and valleys. The proximity between the city and the crags is unique. It's really close (less than 10 km). But at the same time you don't feel that you are close to a big city. As Albania is a country without many asphalt roads, it can take a while to drive 8 km on dirt roads. There are some little villages with old farm houses near the capital. You can see some shepherds and sheep on the capital borders. The contrasts can be crazy between the proper city and the surroundings. This place is favorable for the development of climbing tourism. In fact, there is an Airport 40 minutes away from the crags. The city is 10km from the sectors. It's quite easy to stay there. It just needs to be developed.


Crags around Tirana: 

As Tirana is surrounded by mountains and valleys, there are different crags all around the city. Most of them are not bolted. There are two sectors a bit developed in two different valleys: Bovilla and Brar sectors. The rock quality is amazing. There are some overhanging walls with beautiful tufas. The perfect lines are just running all over the wall. When we saw the walls for the first time, we were like kids discovering a new world. We wanted to climb and bolt all the lines at the same time!


Main wall: Brar sector 

This wall was the perfect one for us during this trip. It's located on one of the main valleys up from Tirana. The sector is close to the road, so it was not such a big expedition to reach it. Yet, I was in for a surprise when I decided to go up in order to secure the static rope for bolting. In fact, the crag is really large. I needed to walk up to the top of the mountain and then follow ledges to reach the ridgeline on the top. It was hard to find the top of the route. The problem was that every piece of rock was moving because of the recent earthquake. It took a lot of time to secure the way. When the first rope was put up, we just had to add the lines one by one. And try all the routes that we could. My original plan was to bolt and climb a lot. There was, however, a distraction that came in the form of "The Dream.”


The Dream: First Albanian 9b

When we arrived the first day, I immediately saw this line. It was wet, we were tired from the journey, but it was so inspiring that I decided to go and check out the route.

The route was so good that I spent almost all of the trip on it. At the beginning I didn't know if I wanted to try it seriously because of the wet conditions. It was hard to reach the top because of the wet tufas. Yet, I saw that each tufa was independent. And it could be possible to dry them with the toilet paper technique. So, from the first day until the send it was a battle against the route and against the wet tufas. Some of them were getting wet after few days, some of them not. And it changed after a few days. It was quite difficult to have OK conditions to try the route. But the line was so good that it doesn't matter. I was lucky enough to send it before having to come back. A perfect end to a perfect route.

climbing el cap
climbing el cap
 

Bolting and development: 

With the team, we bolted 10 routes from 7c to 9b+ projects on this wall. All these routes are 5-star quality. We were missing the time to try all of them. But we will come back for sure.

 

looking at pauls cams
 

End of the trip:  

We met a German organization (GIZ) that promotes outdoor activities to develop tourism. The owners of the (only Albanian) gym of Tirana has created a project to develop climbing in this area. They have a grant to organize this project. They will set up different clinics in order to teach, bolt, and develop climbing with local people. We are invited to go back there in autumn in order to teach, bolt and climb. So let's go! 

 

looking at pauls cams
 

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