What Could Go Wrong? 7 Nasty Surprises At a Crag

If you're travelling and climbing, new crags don't always meet your expectations. It happens every once in a while, if you tend to go for smaller and less climbed places, but it's not that uncommon to confront problems at bigger cliffs either.

Let me share you some of the worst let-downs me and T have experienced before and during our road trip in Europe. My intention is to give you a good chuckle as well as a heads up of what to look out for at an unfamiliar crag.

There Is No Crag

Yes, it can happen. We've stepped into this mine at least once in Bolonia, Spain. It was in January last year, when me and T escaped a few chilly nights from El Chorro and decided to go bouldering in Bolonia.

After circling around the coastline near Tarifa without any sign of the promised boulders, we gave up. Luckily a few day's of climbing in San Bartolo offered enough exercise until the weather got warmer again in El Chorro. To this day, it's still a mystery to us whether there is or isn't any boulders in Bolonia.

Most of the time it's easy to find your way to the crag by following cairns. This one is from Ceüse, France.

Rusty Bolts

Rusty bolts can be just as nasty as not finding the crag at all. Or even worse, since it may stop you from climbing that rich yellow limestone wall right in front of you.

Climbing at La Fuente de Los Belones near Cartagena, Spain offers exactly this – seasalt rustend bolts on many of the routes, that seem worthwhile. Thanks to the efforts of local climbers, some routes have been recently rebolted and we didn't visit the crag for nothing.

Rusty bolt
Rusty bolts are especially common at cliffs near the sea.

Dirty Routes

It's typical to face a dirty face (pun intended) at less climbed crags deep in the woods. After all, it only takes a few leafy trees, a bit of water, some sunlight and a surprisingly short while to turn a clean route into a dirty one.

If you're planning on climbing in Finland, you can expect to confront mosh, sticks and needles even at popular crags like Olhava. However, a bombproof jackpot is any untrendy bouldering area outside Helsinki.

This reminds me of one time shortly after I got my driver's licence and decided to go bouldering in Vantaa. Many wrong turns and a sweaty hike into a thick forest for what? Boulders with a five-finger layer of mosh on top of them. Nowadays I'm of course fully prepared and scholared for cleaning boulders, but at the time I just called it a day and headed back home.

Dirty route
Merenneito (6-) at Kaasavuori in Finland is always dirty, but the green stuff is part of the route's character. Hence the name – "mermaid".


Sometimes you arrive at a crag and find out, that climbing is restricted there. In order to avoid visiting a crag for nothing, look for information on bird nesting times, land ownership changes and preserved flora before getting too excited about a new cliff.

Many Spanish crags have restrictions like this. It seems to be very common in Spain, that climbing at a crag is totally forbidden from 1. of January to the and of June due to nesting birds – Desplomilandia and Rédovan to name a few.

Climbing restriction
Climbing is restricted in Rédovan, Spain from 1. of January until the end of June.

Poor Stone Quality

Have you ever climbed on sharp or crumblesome rock? I bet you have, because it's everywhere.

In my experience any less climbed sector with a frustrating access is likely to offer you an unwelcomely adventurous climbing experience in the form of loose or holds or rough rock. For a true story, read about me and T's attempt on climbing a certain multi-pitch in ElChorro.

On the other hand, a crag with many classic lines can also be disappointing. I hate to say this, but there's a whole bunch of A-M-A-Z-I-N-G routes out there, that are just too polished to be enjoyable. Age-old crags, like El Chorro and Chulilla tend to have plenty of routes, that are right on the limit.

Dirk Lüder climbing Hernandes (7b) at Mula, where a surprisingly sharp pocket made a huge bleeding cut on T's finger.

Crecillent boulders
Crevillent boulders in Spain are tough and slippery!

Bugs, Reptiles And Other Grim Beings

Mosquitoes, flies and other bugs can drive you or your belayer crazy in no time. Mosquitoes are especially common in Finland, where you simply don't go cragging without a bottle of mosquito repellent in your backpack.

Many Finnish climbers also prepare for climbing season by taking a TBE vaccine. Ticks are common in the Finnish coastline and can give you a tick-borne encephalitis, which is an illness without a known cure.

Snakes and spiders are no better than ticks. I recall T telling me of climbing at some crag in Australia, where many of the holds were covered in spider nets. Makes climbing a true extreme sport, huh? It's not that uncommon to confront poisonous or non-poisonous reptiles, either.

Praying mantis
Despite it's odd looks, the praying mantis is a harmless fellow.

Remember, that reptiles and insects can also harm your dog. Pine processionary caterpillars are one example of a common and serious danger in southern Europe ‒ the furry caterpillars can even kill your beloved pet! N made acquaintance with the little devils in Portugal and had some really worrying symptoms, but received expert care at VetPeniche and is now fully recovered of the incident.

Come to think of it, there's a whole lot of stuff to find out about a new crag. It's unrealistic to be able to eliminate every unpleasant surprise, but hopefully these tips help you to avoid at least some of them.

Keep on polling Cranky Climbing for more detailed information on the crags, that are the inspiration behind this post!


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