Climbing through the Balkans - Montenegro

Tips

7 min. 09. 10. 23

Interview with Ilija Gračanin - enthusiastic climber, boulderer and creator of 2 climbing apps for climbing in Montenegro.

Get inspired by Ilija Gračanin from Montenegro, who has created 2 climbing apps - Montenegro Climbing and Montenegro Bouldering which serve as a climbing guides in his home country. Get tips and advice on where to go for sport climbing on really sharp limestone or choose from bouldering destinations where you can combine your hard tries and effort on blocks and after refresh your body in the nearby sea or take a walk through the beautiful and diverse mountain scenery.

Enjoying long and power-endurance tufa lines in the „Smoki“ crag

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Ilija Gračanin. I was born in Kotor, but now I live in Podgorica. I am currently doing my master in mathematics and working as an IT programmer. I enjoy outdoor sports, nature and I absolutely love bouldering and sport climbing.

When I started climbing back in 2019, I was the only climber from Podgorica who was climbing regularly.

Climbing in Montenegro seems like a pretty new sport. How is the climbing scene evolving?

I would say that modern sport climbing started in Smokovac near Podgorica almost 20 years ago.
A few enthusiasts from the capital founded the Mak club that still exists today and it’s the abbreviation for Mali alpinistički klub which translates to Small Alpine Club. Mainly the first routes in Smokovac were bolted by them as a tool to train on the rocks and be prepared for the alpine and trad ascents. Unfortunately, the club soon became very inactive and there were almost no regular climbers in Montenegro, leaving the sport and the community aside.

When I started climbing back in 2019, I was the only climber from Podgorica who was climbing regularly, so it was very difficult to be continuous in the sport and keep progressing. But at the end of 2020, things started to change finally and Mak opened a small climbing gym where they started doing sport climbing courses. The climbing scene is slowly growing since then, but still, it doesn't count more than 20 or 30 people.

The bouldering wall is still in progress and hopefully, it will be ready by next year and it will motivate more people to get started and be involved in the amazing world of climbing, because whilst sport climbing is more developed, bouldering is still a new thing for Montenegro.

„Smoki“ in Smokovec is the place where the first climbing routes were drilled

Are there any climbing gyms around where climbers can train during the rainy days?

We have available the small gym of Mak, the wall is 8 meters high with about 25 climbing routes. There is also a MoonBoard that keeps us in good shape and a Campus Board for training, but hopefully, soon it will be better and bigger.

You know, sometimes you realize that something is simply missing and it's needed especially when the info available on the websites is incomplete and sometimes even wrong!

You created the first two climbing apps of Montenegro for the Google Play store. What inspired you to do that?

You know, sometimes you realize that something is simply missing and it's needed, especially when the info available on 27crags, Mountain Project, and other websites is incomplete and sometimes even wrong.

Imagine that some crags in our country can’t be found anywhere online, so I decided to do something about it. I started doing a pdf guidebook, but the process was too boring for me. At the same time, I was learning some new technologies in programming so I decided to make it more interesting and I created 2 Android apps for both climbing and bouldering.

I thought it would be easier to find the crags if you can use the GPS coordinates on your phone and also that many foreign climbers don't have access to the internet when they are travelling so I made the app working offline. The app is totally free but there is also the possibility to donate as help to bolting more routes and maintain current ones.

Klemen Bečan, a climber from Slovenia and Rafiki ambassador in one of the beautiful lines that Smoki offers

Do you see many foreign climbers in Montenegro? Are there actually more climbers from abroad rather than locals?

Yeah, of course. Actually, you see mainly foreign car registration plates parked in Smokovac every day. It’s definitely one of the most known and impressive areas and it attracts many climbers from all over Europe.

What is your favorite crag and the most favorite route?

Midnight Macabre 7c+ in Škaljari, Kotor. It’s a 25m long power-endurance route on a 30-degree overhang with tufas. You have a really nice view of the lower sector and on the sea when you are climbing. It is my favorite crag because of the beautiful setting where it is located and also because it’s my home crag, my first time touching the real rock.

Kotor crags is a climber's destination with beautiful views close to the beach & seaside

Come prepared with all the necessary climbing equipment, because it is almost impossible to find climbing gear there!

What are your tips and recommendations for someone going to a climbing trip in Montenegro?

There are so many good crags and you will be surprised by the quality (and the sharpness) of the rock. The crags I would suggest are, for example Škaljari, Smokovac, Cijevna, Bar and Zupci. And as a very important suggestion - come prepared with all the necessary climbing equipment, because it is almost impossible to find climbing gear there. Load your stuff and come.

Wanna try some sharp limestone in the Cijevna crag?!
Zupci – another Ilija's very recommended tufa's climbing area

During my stay in Montenegro, I saw many incredible walls yet to be bolted, and sure there are hidden gems everywhere. It's clear that Montenegro has tons of potential for world class climbing routes. How do you see the future of the sports in your country?

It’s sad to say that things are moving really slow. Locals are still not used to this „new and extremely dangerous sport“ and we, the climbers from Montenegro, are not developing much. Most of the routes have been bolted by foreigners that discover our amazing rocks, crags and they create the routes. Often we have the luck of having a group of Austrian climbers that come to Montenegro twice a year and bolt 20 to 30 new routes each time they come. I hope that with the bouldering gym done and more climbers from here and abroad, things will get better.

The biggest bouldering area is Pastrovačka Gora with almost 100 established boulders and potential for at least 500 in total.

How would you describe the bouldering in Montenegro? Is there a potential for it to be a climbing destination? What type of rocks and what are the best bouldering places you would recommend?

Even though the sport climbing potential is way bigger than bouldering, there are some very interesting areas that are worth to visit if you like to pull hard on blocks. Perazica Do is a beautiful beach with around 60 established lines. It’s a great place to go swimming and bouldering. Or, for example, the Sedlo, in the famous Durmitor park, where you can combine MTB, hiking and climbing.

The biggest bouldering area is Pastrovačka Gora (just 10km from Perazića Do) with almost 100 established boulders, but with potential for at least 500 in total. The rock is mainly limestone and even though some of the lines are very sharp (and need some extra cleaning), it’s a really cool playground. 

Pastrovacka Gora – the biggest bouldering area with almost 100 established boulders
Red beach – combination of hard bouldering and fresh swimming in the sea

So yeah, come visit us and discover new lines, climb on amazing and scenic crags and find out what Montenegro has to offer.

Thanks for all the inspiration you gave us and for having an interview with you, Ilija.

You’re welcome. Climb safe!

Cijevna. Do not worry about being there with dozens of other climbers. Sports climbing is still a relatively new outdoor activity in Montenegro...

TRANSLATED AND EDITED BY: KUBA JURNÍK

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