"You really should visit Paklenica National Park," Mike, our car rental agent, says as he scribbles some numbers and a signature across rental agreement in triplicate, "they hold the international free climbing championships there every year. Every year," he pauses for effect, "someone falls." His hand glides off the page in a grand gesture, handing the clipboard to my husband for final authorization. "They love it."
Intrigued by a canyon that draws people to challenge themselves to conquer it's massive sheer faces simply for the thrill of the conquest, we set out late Sunday morning to explore. About an hour's drive northeast of Zadar, Paklenica is located in the southeastern part of the Velebit Mountain Range.
We drove up a road barely wide enough for one vehicle... in spite of the fact that it was a two-way road... thankful we had already parked on a narrow ledge off to the side when a commercial tour bus sped past us.
Water bottles. Check. Sunblock. Check. Spirit of adventure. Check.
The path was filled with an eclectic bunch of climbing enthusiasts. Hippies who belayed for shirtless, long-haired buddies with shaking calves, their metal anchors clink-clinking from belts around their waists. Whole families, with mamas pushing strollers that did double-duty carrying baby and climbing gear. Men, who looked to be in their 60's, serene and focused, as they stretched muscles on yoga mats.
A perfect, 22-degree Celsius day, the sunshine splashing warmth into the deep gorge, climbers whose feet search for a hold and those planted firmly on the ground, grateful for shade along the route.
While we mostly stayed to the path... the children constantly explored off the beaten path... upped the ante, created new paths...
...spilled some blood only to be bandaged by a soft-spoken samaritan named Melda from Dubrovnik.
Unlike any hike we've ever taken, we stopped every so often to look up at the gray stone walls towering above us, spotting climbers clutched precariously as they ascended.
Climbers that rested on thin ledges.
My own free-runners jumping boulders...
"Insurmountable" challenges. After hiking Paklenica, well, we have some new paradigms, some new ways to evaluate "impossibles." We arrived back at our cozy nook on the Sea worn out and totally inspired.