UKC

Ocun: climbing gear from the Bohemian Paradise Press Release

UKClimbing recently visited the Ocun factory, offices and local climbing areas in the Czech Republic. Along with James Turnbull from Outside and Dave Lyons from Joe Browns we sampled Ocun gear, production, climbing and the local area to get an impression of what this Czech climbing brand is all about.

Radim, Ocun's rope designer, showing the way up the Dragon's Tooth tower, 175 kb
Radim, Ocun's rope designer, showing the way up the Dragon's Tooth tower
© Theo Moore

The Climbing

Many people in the UK will know Ocun (pronounced otsoon) from their crack gloves. These sticky rubber gloves have become a firm favourite in the UK as not only do they give you extra purchase when jamming, they also prevent gnarly cracks from eating your hands. However, there's another motive for Ocun making these crack gloves: as you're not allowed to use chalk on the Czech sandstone you need something to help you stick to the rock! The Czech climbing ethic and the local climbing area have evidently had an effect on the gear which Ocun produces: whilst they produce a full range of harnesses, ropes, climbing shoes, clothing etc. they do not produce any metal protection which is banned on the soft Czech sandstone.

Ocun crack gloves holding the Ocun logbook on top of the Ocun tower!, 251 kb
Ocun crack gloves holding the Ocun logbook on top of the Ocun tower!
© Theo Moore

On the first day of our trip we climbed at Skalák on some of the famous sandstone towers. We first climbed on the eponymous Ocun tower; Ocun is the name of an Alpine flower which the tower and the brand are named after. Each of the towers has its own name and, on its summit, a little book which each contains beautiful hand-drawn illustrations and notes on the routes. Each ascentionist can sign their name in the book. It's also traditional to shake hands and say 'Ahoy' (the Czech word for 'hello', 'goodbye' and 'I'm about to board your ship') when you top out. All of this adds up to give an impression of how important history is to Czech climbing. Many of the extremely strict local ethics come in part from a desire to respect the traditions of past Czech climbers, as well as to protect the often soft rock. This sense of history is observed in the respect that the current generation of local climbers has for the area and the people involved, including by Lucie, Radim and Tom - Ocun employees and friends who kindly guided us around the local climbing. They conveyed a sense of how important it is to respect the rock and traditions, not least because if you don't then noone will speak to you in the pub!

Dragon Tower logbook, 241 kb
Dragon Tower logbook
© Theo Moore

James Turnbull stepped up to the mark for the UK and lead us up a brilliant sandstone arete using nothing but slings and a massive reach. His stand-out piece of equipment had to be the 'monkey fist' which is a piece of rope wound in to a ball about the size of a size 4 cam (or the size of a monkey's fist if you prefer to measure your gear using animal anatomy). James thankfully cruised up the route as there isn't really much you can do in a sticky situation in Czech - all you have to protect you are some knotted slings and there's no way to walk round the back of the tower to drop a rope! The local ethics do make for some slightly dubious protection and I can safely say that Skalák is the only climbing area I have visited which features a memorial to people who have died whilst climbing.

photo
James Turnbull being a hero and climbing on knotted slings
© Theo Moore

Climber's Memorial, where James fortunately did not end up, 241 kb
Climber's Memorial, where James fortunately did not end up
© Theo Moore

Fortunately, there are some climbing areas where the rules are more relaxed, you are allowed to use chalk and the ring bolts are more numerous (more numerous, not numerous!). Due to the showers we spent some time at the Pantheon area which is the Czech sandstone version of sport climbing. Of course, being Czech, this is not sport climbing as you would think of it. The bolts must be a minimum of 3 metres apart (and they are usually further) and the first bolt would usually be at least 6 metres up. Often you felt like you were climbing Poetry Pink in the Slate quarries. The climbing itself was absolutely brilliant here; the rock was harder than on the towers and the climbing often followed brilliant pockets up gently overhanging walls. It's good to know that there is some variety in Czech climbing and if you were visiting and got rained off the towers, there are other options. We each wore a pair of the Ocun Oxi QC which were great on the sandstone - downturned but soft enough for smears as well as edges. There was another seemingly wacky piece of Czech protocol at the sport crag however. Instead of re-threading and lowering down to take the quickdraws out, you had to abseil from the single ring bolt at the top of each climb. I assume this is to protect the ring bolts and the rock but given that most of the lower-off ring bolts had maillons attached, and the routes were overhanging so the rope did not rub, it seemed a bit unnecessarily dangerous and inconvenient! Whilst visiting Ocun I did get the impression that the Czech ethics, whilst not always apparently rational, were a way of respecting tradition and that is something that I think can appreciate, having our own occasionally bizarre ethics here in the UK.

Beautiful sandstone towers and lines, 173 kb
Beautiful sandstone towers and lines
© Theo Moore

The climbing areas and the climbing itself in Czech was beautiful and I would highly recommend it. Ocun is a company which comes from an area with a long and well established climbing tradition and the gear they make reflects that: it is well made and functional. The Ocun climbing shoes in particular are well made and suit a range of styles and rocktypes - not just death-defying sandstone climbing. Like the modern Czech climbers who respect the rules but question them, the Ocun gear is state-of-the-art and fashionable, more than keeping up with climbing gear produced in other countries.

photo
Desperate to reach the first bolt on a 'sport' route
© Theo Moore

The Factory

James and Dave taking a tour of the Ocun factory, 169 kb
James and Dave taking a tour of the Ocun factory
© Theo Moore

Ocun is a growing company which employes 160 people. 120 of those work in their factories where they make the climbing gear. We visited one of Ocun's smaller factories in the town of Bělá pod Bezdězem close to their headquarters. Here they produce a portion of their climbing shoe range using both traditional and modern methods.

Fitting the shoe to the last, 196 kb
Fitting the shoe to the last
© Ocun

Milan, Product Manager and Head of R&D at Ocun, showed us around the factory where they sew and construct the climbing shoes. The Czech Republic has a long tradition of shoe-making and it was really interesting to see expert craftsmen and women working in an innocuous-looking building in a Czech town. Usually when I think of a factory I imagine a shiny steel building in China pumping out products along a production line but this was more a case of artisan workers crafting the individual parts of a climbing shoe which gradually comes together to produce a finished product.

The importance of each stage of production was evidently important to Ocun and, rather than simply churning out climbing shoes as quickly as possible, care and attention was taken with each stage of the process.

Creating the soles, 121 kb
Creating the soles
© Theo Moore

Attaching the sole to the shoe, 151 kb
Attaching the sole to the shoe
© Theo Moore

Shaving the rand and sole to perfection, 113 kb
Shaving the rand and sole to perfection
© Theo Moore

photo
Milan explaining how the shoe is shaped to the last
© Theo Moore

Ocun

Ocun is a climbing company which has grown from the traditional and aesthetic roots of climbing in the Czech Republic. This is evident from the care and attention in their design and manufacturing, as well as the no-nonsense practicality of their climbing gear. From the team members we met there is a wealth of experience in the Ocun family, with many of the team having previously worked with other big European and American brands. Although Ocun may be best known for their crack gloves and their climbing trousers, all of the kit which we tried out (and we has been included on UKC) was extremely well made and performed very well. I expect that we'll continue to see the brand and its products grow in the UK, and hopefully we'll see some more innovations in line with their crack gloves begin to appear.

We will feature more of Ocun's in our trade show reports after OutDoor in June, but for now here's a taster of what's to come in 2019:

Ocun products for 2019, 264 kb
Ocun products for 2019
© Theo Moore



For more information visit Ocun
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