Prilep, North Macedonia: Europe’s Lesser Known Bouldering Gem

Arriving in North Macedonia, we were dropped off in Skopje with only our bags, no Macedonian dinar and in search of where on earth our rental car company was. With no guidebook but a name of a city and a Petzl RockTrip video from 2014 we set off on our journey.

Two bouldering pads strapped together looking out towards a boulder field. The city of Prilep is in the background.
Pad hauling, looking out towards Prilep from sector Kamena Baba.

Before you go

If you have never travelled to the Balkans before you may find that it is different to what you would expect from “typical” western Europe. It has a distinctive Ottoman influence in its culture and cuisine which is more like Turkey than Italy! Countries in the Balkans, some of which are former Yugoslavian, have a lot in common, but all have their own national identity and cultural differences.

The language is written primarily in cyrillic, however, most signs will have things written in the Latin alphabet as well. We found that it was helpful to download Macedonian on google translate so we could translate offline. Macedonian language actually has more in common with Bulgarian than it does with Serbian.

There is an outdoor shop in Skopje (linked below) that sells a small selection of climbing gear, however, it’s important to bring plenty of chalk, tape and skin care for your trip.

Climber on a highball boulder chalking one hand. There are some flat planes, then with some snowy mountains in the background
Maybe could have done with a few extra pads? Highball at Markovi Kuli sector.

Prilep is the biggest bouldering destination in the Balkans, with a great guidebook which includes around 400 problems (with way more undocumented problems and potential). The rock type is rough granite and gneiss so its something different to the typical sandstone bouldering of Fontainbleau or Albarracín.

The climbing style here is varied, there are loads of crimps and lots of dynamic problems with big moves between good huecos and pockets. The small sharp crimps give great climbing but can be harsh on the skin, especially if its warm. There are also plenty of slopers to keep you occupied. The top outs can be tricky, a bit mossy and high, having a spotter or two will definitely boost your confidence.

Generally, the problems are high ball, so the more pads the better! We rented pads from Hristo, a local climbing activist, and his details are linked at the end of the article.


Climbing recommendations

Climber in big down coat traversing along the bottom of a boulder problem, early in the morning.
Big coats needed! Warming up first thing in the morning.

Kamena Baba

This is the biggest and most frequented area. We would recommend going here first. The walk in starts from five minutes to as far as you can be bothered! We found, once on the path, we liked to walk around until we spotted a problem that looked interesting. There are endless boulders in this sector, you will run out of skin before you run out of things to climb.

Legoland, 6B+

As a general rule, the further you walk the better the boulders get. The climbing closer to the road is good, but make sure to check out the far reaches of the sector as well as it is well worth the walk. Although Prilep has grown in popularity and Kamena Baba is the biggest sector you will generally be in solitude. We were climbing for several days here, with perfect conditions and always had the place to ourselves.

Cocoon, 7A

Cocoon, pictured above, is a classic at its grade in the area which features these massive huecos. The predator block has lots of great problems, which don’t top out. This makes it a good option if you don’t have as many pads or spotters as you’d like for the higher problems. The landings are generally flat and grassy which definitely helps.

The location of the sector is stunning, giving views down to Prilep and its famous tobacco fields. Hills and boulders go as far as the eye can see and sunset is a real treat. Once our fingers were too tired to climb, we often just chilled on the pads and enjoyed the view. After your first visit to Kamena Baba it will be impossible to resist going back, but make sure you leave enough time to enjoy all of Prilep other fantastic sectors.

Dabnica

Named after the small village by the parking, Dabnica is home to some great boulders, although not as extensive as Kamena Baba it is well worth a visit. We found that although Dabnica had less boulders, the ones there were often of really high quality and some of the best lines in the area. The approach to this sector is much faster than to Kamena Baba, so it is great for half days or when your legs are tired. Just be careful as there were a few very aggressive farm dogs wandering around the parking when we were here.

Climber spread wide on a problem at Dabnica between two small huecos with a heel hook matching one hand.
Pohovan Kaškaval deluxe, 7A

Some of the landings at Dabnica were a bit rockier or uneven, and the paths to the boulders were a little overgrown. The rock quality here more than makes up for that and the problems have great moves. One of the greatest joys of climbing in Prilep is the movement. The rock here has so many unique features that the moves sometimes feel improbable until you do them. When you finally stick a move like this it feels incredibly satisfying and along with the great rock quality, makes the problems here genuine classics.

Going nowhere, but enjoying the rock, on Waves 7C

Treskavec

Treskavec is higher up and cooler than the other sectors, you really feel like you are in the hills up. The rock quality is not as good as at Dabnica or Kamena Baba, however, there are still lots of quality problems to be found here. The high and exposed location gives fantastic views of the surrounding landscape and is a great choice on warmer days. This sector is less frequented and some of the boulders can be a bit trickier to find than at some of the other sectors, its worth persevering as Treskavec is a beautiful place to climb.

Boulder field at Monastery sector with Treskavec Monastery in the background.
Monastery sector, Treskavec

The climbing is spread out, with boulders either side of the monastery and some further downhill. We made friends with a cat from monastery and by the time we had finished stroking it we had cooled down again! Treskavec is one of the furthest sectors from the centre of Prilep, so come prepared for a full day as you won’t want to nip back for lunch. For a bouldering day it is best to drive, but for a rest day it is possible to do a nice walk from Prilep to Treskavec on a footpath away from the road.

Markovi Kuli

This sector is the closest to the Prilep, our airbnb apartment backed right onto the track which leads up to Marko’s Towers, which was vey convenient. The quality of the rock is not as good as the other main sectors, however there are some great lines and tall boulders to enjoy. It is still worth a visit, maybe towards the end of your trip after you’ve visited the other sectors.

Boulder field with hundreds of blocks in sight.
Infinite amount of problems.

As well as the bouldering, Marko’s Towers is also a very interesting place to spend an afternoon. There are ruins of a fortress here that were first mentioned in the 11th century, although artefacts have been found here from many centuries earlier. The old walls and tombs cut into the rock are fascinating to see. It is completely free to walk around and explore at your leisure, perfect for when your skin is tired but the rest of you isn’t.

Steep, juggy fun at Markovi Kuli

Rest days

Monasteries

There are a lot of monasteries in North Macedonia, this blog names a few of their favourite (https://www.macedoniancuisine.com/2016/04/macedonian-churches-and-monasteries.html).

St Archangel Michael monastery high on the hills.
St Archangel Michael monastery

The monasteries often offer tours around their site which can be very interesting as well as selling their produce. They sell home made goods such as alcohol infused with fruits from their gardens or honey produced by bees on the monastery.

Macedonia’s national treasure: Lake Ohrid

If you ever speak to a Macedonian or anyone in the Balkan’s that has visited North Macedonia they are guaranteed to tell you about Ohrid. It is an attractive UNESCO world hertiage town which sits upon Europe’s deepest lake which looks across to Albania.

Man in fishing boat on Lake Ohrid. The water is crystal clear and across the lake are snowy mountains of Albania.

It has the standard touristic sights, boat tours on the lake, and many churches (apparently one for every day of the year!) Although we don’t particularly like super touristic things it was easy to spend a day wandering around the town, seeing a few churches, the amphitheatre and grabbing something to eat.

Thermal springs

We visited the thermal spring in a cave, at Katlanovo, twice on our rest days. The water is a lovely temperature, warm enough to stay in for hours! It was great to soak our muscles after a few days of hard climbing, although it probably didn’t benefit our skin! The cave gives it an almost sauna like quality. If you crawl right to the very back of the cave, under a little passage, the water source is producing lovely hot water and steam. Just like a spa with some added Sulfur!

Try the local cusines

We enjoyed eating at “National Restaurant Makedonska Kukja LAKI” recommended by locals to try traditional Macedonian food. The Cuisine here has a similar style to other Balkan countries as well as an ottoman influence. One of the most famous dishes in Macedonia is Tavče Gravče, a type of baked bean stew that is really delicious. Macedonia is known for flavoursome food, often using meat, Mediterranean vegetables, cheese and pastry. We still dream about this food. You can also, of course, sample the local wine, beer and rakija (a famous Balkan spirit, circa 40% – 50% which is brandy, made from different fruits.)

Paragliding

Near the aptly named “Paragliding” sector we saw some paragliders and as you drive around the Prilep area you will to see signs for various different paragliding spots. Due to its geological features it is not only great for boulderers but for paragliders too. According to, https://prilepadventure.mk, North Macedonia holds more than half of the official European and world competitions.


Summary

We found it difficult to find information about climbing destinations in the Balkans whilst we were travelling. Prilep is the most publicised of all the places we climbed on our trip. Our goal is to write about all the places we have visited, this is the first of many articles we will write about the Balkans. There is so much great climbing in this part of the world, Prilep is only part of the picture.

The follow up to this article will be about the sport climbing on offer in North Macedonia. After enjoying the Bouldering in Prilep, we travelled around the country visiting most of the major sport climbing areas in the country. We hope you enjoyed this article, please keep an eye out for our next one.


Relavent links

Hristo, guidebook and pad rental

http://www.facebook.com/people/Hristo-Belakaposki/100008309811870/?hc_location=ufi

Information about Prilep

http://prilep-bouldering.com

YouTube video of the climbing

Outdoor shop in Skopje

Information about Ohrid

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/macedonia/southern-macedonia/ohrid

https://ohrid.com.mk

Information about the Thermal Springs

https://www.fromrusttoroadtrip.com/blog/hotsprings

2 thoughts on “Prilep, North Macedonia: Europe’s Lesser Known Bouldering Gem

  1. Liz 27th Aug 2021 / 6:27 AM

    Great pics, love the sound of the local brandy drink!

    Like

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