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Slackline trip to Belogradchik

Belogradchik, Bulgaria. Never heard of?
Then you had better read the report, plan your next holiday and travel to a true highline paradise!

Belogradchik, Bulgaria – Another Meteora

By Johannes Olszewski

 

It had been a long time that I had traveled to a distant country to experience something new. There had been frequent trips to Ostrov (Czech Republic), Arco (Italy) or to Verdon (France), but the real thing, some special atmosphere, which makes highlining so unique had been missing for a long time.
I felt like doing something dangerous, something exotic, something strenuous. So it was rather a great coincidence that exactly during that “grey phase“, in which you are toying with your thoughts a lot getting lazy and tired, Helmar Fasold called me and asked: “Hannes, are you up to travelling to Belogradchik with me?“

Helmar is someone together with whom I performed almost all my big activities, but who I slowly lost contact with. So I didn't hesitate a minute whether to come along or not. Fabian Rupprecht, Florian Hansen and Clemens Augustin were also excited of the destination and agreed to come along at once. I was especially looking forward to seeing Fabian, as he is someone who you hardly ever see, someone you never know where he is and what he is doing, however, someone who does exactly what makes him happy....

 

Belogradchik is situated relatively closely to the Serbian border and to the south east of Sofia. From the very beginning we were aware of the fact that we were facing a rather long road trip: my VW Passat had to cope with 1,710 kilometers just to get there!

The area around Belogradchik is said to be one of the poorest regions of Europe. Everyone I told about this imminent trip had the same prejudices: too corrupt, you will be mugged, your car...

 

After 32 hours riding my crowded car and about five cans of Redbull each, we had made it. There were no major incidents during the trip besides having to hand over three cans of Redbull to the Romanian border control to be allowed to pass, a Bulgarian drunkard lying by the street in the wilderness and numerous of potholes that seemed to swallow us.

In Belogradchik we found a campground for four Leva per person, which is about two euros. We were surrounded by highline spots here!
Already many kilometers before we reached our destination, our car often went to the other side of the road, as we were staring open-mouthed at the bizarre scenery, which changed continuously and offered new opportunities.

I remembered Meteora at once, the famous rocks in Greece. Some of the rock towers here aren't as high as those in Greece, but a lot more fascinating and unique. However, what both have in common is the incredible visual shift in relation to the length of the potential spots. So someone of the group called out enthusiastically: “There, I can see an absolute dream line!” However, the virtual line became a 100-meter long highline after taking 50 steps and a 300-meter highline after another 50 steps. From now on I call this freak of nature, which kids highliners, the eastern parallel shift phenomenon.

 

Before the highlines I'd like to talk about the city, the people there, of German prejudices and of the fact that “yes” means “no” and “no” means “yes”.

Looking for a quad, a kind of motor-operated motorcycle similar to an off-road vehicle, with which I could get a rough survey of the huge area, I got to know Yulian Emilov Minlanov: a Bulgarian, who had lived in Los Angeles for ten years and therefore speaks English fluently, which is not very common in Bulgaria.
I must admit moving around on a quad is morally questionable, but it was worth it, as I used it only for two days exploring the whole area to find the most beautiful highline spot ever. Besides it was great fun sitting on a 650 Kawasaki “Brutal Force” racing through Bulgarian mud puddles. What was noticeable in the city was the relatively high number of old people. There were comparably few children and people between 25 and 50 were more or less missing. Yulian told us that there had been a great rural depopulation. When after the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the countries depending from it, western structures changed the capitals of the east slowly, the once largest factory for telephones in Bulgaria, which had been located in the middle of the city, had to be dismantled. The remains of this huge ruin can still be admired today.
My impression is that everybody in Belogradchik was willing to work. Even the oldest villagers were sweeping the streets or collected trash with their bent spines. At the post office you always had to plan for sufficient time, as three employees were required to take our order of 20 stamps. That was a pleasant change for me: from the German super till girl, who scans in record time at Aldi's, a big jump to a country where people have time because they don't know what a hectic pace is.
There were often communication problems with shop assistants. When I asked for some salt at a supermarket, the shop assistant showed me the packet of salt. I nodded when she held it in front of me, but didn't understand a thing any more, when she put it away again. Another time a young officer from the Bulgarian army explained to us that he had been trained in parachuting. In order to keep the communication going, we asked of course, if he often jumped from aircrafts: a sudden shake of the head was the answer.
And here is the explanation: you nod your head if you don't want something and you shake your head to express that you want something. Nodding = No and shaking your head = Yes!

None of the inhabitants of this country wanted to rip us off except for the border control. After having paid for something the change was counted carefully and given back with a receipt. The villagers made a proud and dignified expression. Except for the impersonated death, who we came across; this was definitely a totally different caliber. But that is another story....

 

We had rigged six highlines in Bulgaria with almost inhuman strain, five of them could be sent. In order to get to the tops of the rocks we had to do rock climbing at almost most spots. This wasn't just rock climbing, but so-called saxonian climbing, well-known for its bad protection and many body cracks.

It is since 1969 that people from eastern Germany have been climbing at Belogradchik. Similar to Meteora the Saxonians are often drawn to areas where you can find deserted first ascents and long chimneys without any backup. The quality of the rocks (Conglomerate) is a story of its own.

You often stood several meters above a not very safe intermediate belay and wondered whether you'd be alive the next day. Two pebbles, one in the right hand and one in the left hand, often felt like having Easter eggs in your hands but not rocks. At that point I eventually just ignored the question whether the stone was safe or not. Because of that constant strain I finally lost my fear.

Conclusion: Slacklife in Bulgaria!

 

The highlines:

1. line: “Kaletoris” 42m long and 60m high
            FA Helmar Fasold
2. line: "Mexiko" 28m long and 25m high
            FA Clemens Augustin
3. line: "godmode on aka merino Mops" 48m long and 40m high
            FA Helmar Fasold
4. line: "Xylopromick" (Projekt) 65-70m long and 70m high
5. line: "challenge accepted 46m long and 55m high
            FA Fabian Rupprecht
6. line: "Auf dem zügel des kamels" 21m long and 35m high
            FA FM onsight in swami by Florian Hansen

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