Let’s face it, it was the 2014 Petzl RocTrip that put Romania on the rock climbing map. I knew it would live up to the challenge, but did you?
Băile Herculane was the trip’s first stop. From here, the team continued to Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey, bringing some often overlooked climbing spots into the well-deserved spotlight. But we’ll stick to Romania for now and head deeper into Băile Herculane and the Cerna Valley, where we find the biggest concentration of crags and hot springs in the country.
Sounds all fine and dandy, but how do I get there?
Come on, people! Eastern Europe is not exactly the final frontier. There are airplanes and trains to get you there. There’s a train station in Băile Herculane and the nearest airport is Timişoara. You can also fly to Bucharest and take a train from there. That being said, it is much easier if you come by car. Most climbing sectors are scattered on the valley outside of town.
Once here, finding accommodation should be easy enough. There are plenty of hotels and guesthouses to choose from, many of which have hot spring pools and spas.
If you wish to bring your tent, there are some campsites here as well. There’s one near the town center, and a few others some five kilometers from Băile Herculane on the Cerna Valley, near the 7 Izvoare complex (“7 Springs” in Romanian). But if you’re a nature lover like myself, you’ll find that none of these are a match to Dumbrava (“The Grove” in Romanian), a favorite among local climbers, 12 kilometers from town on the Cerna Valley. It is not a campsite per se, but rather a family-owned property where climbers, mountaineers and nature lovers are always welcome.
Alrighty then, where do I climb?
Herculane Climbing Open (HCO) is Romania’s oldest and most popular rock climbing contest. It all started in 2002, and the number of participants, crags, lines and level of performance continues to grow. There’s still a huge potential for development in the area. Traditionally, the competition traditionally was held on the first days of May, kick-starting the climbing season here in Romania. In 2015, HCO was moved in September.
There are a few sectors within walking distance from the historical town of Băile Herculane. Cariera sector (“The Quarry”) on the left side of the valley can be seen from the main road. Surplomba sector (“The Overhang”) is a short walk up on a path from Hotel Roman. Just as the name implies, most of the routes are overhanging, with some nice tufas here and there. Make sure you bring a towel and swimsuit along. I’ll explain why a little later.
Also from Hotel Roman, another path leads to Faleza sector (“The Crag”), offering some interesting tufas and challenging face climbing. Magnolia sector is right outside of town, and was the venue of the 2015 HCO edition. You need a car to get to the climbing sectors on the Cerna Valley.
What is particularly alluring about this place is the diversity of the climbs. No sector is like the other. The gray limestone at KM9 sector, named so after the milestone where you park your car, is very different from KM10 sector. And they’re so close to one another. You can check out all the sectors in the Băile Herculane climbing topo.
Okay, but what’s the best one?
I was getting there! Vânturătoarea Waterfall, the absolute highlight of the area, is what lured the Petzl team to these realms.
Approximately 11 kilometers from Băile Herculane and another 45 minutes on a rather steep path, lies a perfectly concealed gem. It may not be the tallest drop of water, but it sure is one of the most spectacular in Romania. Vânturătoarea Waterfall splits the striped crag in two, and there are climbing routes on both sides. To get to the sectors on the left, the path takes us behind the waterfall, between the limestone wall and the roaring curtain of cold drops, an enchanting start to a productive day of climbing.
Thanks to the overhanging nature of the crag, you can climb here even when it’s raining. However, water may infiltrate on some routes.
Even more so than the climbing routes, Vânturătoarea Waterfall is about the view. The routes are great, but the photos are even greater. Imagine fighting for the next move on the dramatic background of the splashing waterfall. Beyond words…
You mentioned something about hot springs?
I sure did. There’s nothing quite like an all-natural spa session after a hard day of climbing to relieve the pain from those sore muscles and relax the mind. You can do it anytime you like, in the morning, afternoon, middle of the night, you can even do it when it’s raining.
7 Izvoare (“7 Springs”) is the first choice among tourists, thanks to the water’s excellent healing properties and mainly because it’s free of charge. Therefore, it can get pretty crowded. The water’s pretty smelly, but that’s sulfur for you. It’s definitely worth giving it a try.
Remember I mentioned earlier you should bring a towel and swimsuit if you’re heading to Surplomba or Faleza sectors? Two outdoor hot-water pools await climbers in front of Hotel Roman , right on the banks of the Cerna River.These are not as smelly or crowded, but freaking hot! Luckily, there’s a solution. People improvised a small dam on the river where thermal water mixes with the river’s. And if you feel like swimming, Hotel Roman has an indoor hot-spring swimming pool.
Băile Venera (“Venera Baths”) in the Old Historical Center is one of the very few surviving Roman baths in the resort. Not long ago, almost every hotel had its own baths, and there were several public ones to choose from. Now, they’ve all been left to rot, sad reminders of a golden age long gone. Băile Venera bears testimony to Roman-bath architecture, with high vaulted ceilings echoing and amplifying each sound.
Is there anything else to do here?
On rest days you can head to the Danube to see the Boilers, a series of two narrow gorges squeezing the large volume of water. The lesser-known Ponicova Cave is worth a visit as well, its entrance hidden on a valley, its exit right in the middle of the Boilers.
There are numerous hiking routes starting from Băile Herculane heading to the nearby peaks and caves, while the Cerna Valley has its fare share of secrets: watermills, waterfalls, concealed gorges and secluded hamlets.
The 2014 Petzl RocTrip didn’t just put together a once-in-a-lifetime international gathering at Băile Herculane, it also opened new exciting lines at Vânturătoarea Waterfall, which continue to attract climbers from all corners of the world. Many projects still await their first ascent. What are you waiting for?