A few days in the far lands of Bulgaria, by Todd Swain
In early June 2013, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Sofia, Bulgaria. While there, I managed to snag two days of excellent climbing with some local Bulgarian climbers that I had met on the Internet.
On June 2nd, after getting unpacked in my hotel room, I telephoned Marin Zagorchev, a Bulgarian climber that I had traded emails with in anticipation of the trip.
We agreed to meet in downtown Sofia in front of the Sofia University that evening for beer, dinner and conversation. Marin started climbing in the early 1990s while attending Sofia University and has since climbed all over Europe. He trained to be a molecular biologist, but after graduating from college, couldn’t get a job in that field.
Since then, he has paid the bills by translating popular US novels into Bulgarian.
The following morning, Marin, another Bulgarian climber named Dimitri and I drove about an hour northwest of Sofia to a limestone crag called Belidie Inn. The climbing area is comprised of a series of 50 meter high cliffs that sit in a small, verdant canyon. We climbed four routes that were mostly protected by glue-in bolts, which were spaced out enough to keep things interesting. The climbs that we did were all in the 5.10 range and very enjoyable.
A few days later, I met up again with Marin and we drove about 1.5 hours to an impressive limestone climbing locale called Vratsa. The largest of the cliffs at this area were about 1,800 feet high. We did three routes, the first being three pitches up a spire called “The Tooth” (5.10c) and then two, two-pitch routes on the wall just left (both 5.10). These climbs were a bit more on the “traditional” side, with numerous fixed soft iron pitons, many of which were bent over like wilted flowers.
Despite the (at times) exciting protection, the climbing was excellent and Vratsa very much reminded me of El Potrero Chico in Mexico.