Part 1 – KalymnosThey say Spain's pretty, but I've never been.
That was my refrain for months every time Spain got mentioned. After the 30th or 40th time, Paula finally worked out it was the line from a song. And a good excuse to plan a road trip.
First stop, though, was a relaxed climbing/tourist holiday in the Greek islands with my daughters in tow, for a few days wind-down from the stresses of work, in the interesting but overpriced domain of Santorini, then across to Kalymnos for a climbing warm-up.
Kalymnos is pretty close to a ‘put the house on the market, we’re moving’ kind of place. Over 2000 closely-bolted sport routes a 20-minute walk up the hill, lovely weather, great food and a beach about 150m down the street. There are more climbing shops in the local small village (Masouri) than the whole of Melbourne.
Approaching Kalymnos (Pothia) on the Kos ferry
View of Telendos from our balcony
The main beach at Massouri, with cliffs behind.
We spent 5 nights in Kalymnos. Paula and I managed to climb on 5 days in a row, but generally just for the morning. Most cliffs face west, and with daytime temps around 30C during late August, climbing in the sun was not an option. So the routine goes like this: take breakfast at one of the local café’s – a huge omelette, enough for two, costs €7/$10.50. Pick your crag over coffee, walk up the hill, climb until the shadows disappear, then rack up and walk back down for a late lunch. Spend the afternoon on the beach or seeking updates for your climbing wardrobe. Rinse and repeat.
The whole place seems to have a climbing flavour – from restaurant names like “Coffee Onsight” to large climbing posters on the walls to climbing ropes and biners used as hand rails.
Breakfast at Coffee Onsight
Climbing themes everywhere! Local restaurant with biners and rope for a handrail
Yer just can't get away from home. Micki is a Sydney expat, now living the comfy life on Kalymnos.
Cocktails at Micki's
Day one the girls wanted to spend time on the beach, so Paula and I took breakfast at the café next door (Glaros) and went up to ‘Poets’, the sector closest to Masouri. Paula led off on “Il Gino”, a well bolted grade 5c (16). We settled into a plan of each person leading each route, then alternating so each leader did two routes back to back.
Poet's wall. Shot taken early afternoon on the descent, after the wall has come into sun.
Paula leading off on the first route of the trip
Routes are mostly clearly labelled and the bolting is friendly
Next up was MAO, a slightly harder 5c+ (17), steeper at the top. Then “Poets Corner”, again 5c+/17 but nicer climbing.
Further left the wall is capped by a large roof which is the end-point for most routes. I led “Mustass” 6a/18 clean despite an intimidating finish, but at the top tufa section Paula came unstuck and found it hard to get to the anchors. Missed a hold maybe? She did want to rename it “18 my ass”.
Paula leading "Mustass", Sector Poets
However things were set right with the final route “Styx” 6a+/19. On pulling the rope from Mustass it got wrapped around a small spike about 10m up and wouldn’t come loose. I was going to repeat Mustass on the tail of the rope, but led up Styx next to it as they were close enough together to reach the stuck rope. After a long sustained set of thin moves I was happy to clip the anchor. Despite the previous setback, Paula decided to give it a shot on toprope and waltzed up it clean.
Day two, Mia decided she would join us so we headed up to the “Grande Grotta”, a huge cave that is a significant feature. Most of the routes on the steeper stuff start at 7b (26) but there were some more moderate routes at the back of the cave. First up was “Michis Hohlenfieber” (4c/12) on the wall right of the cave, which was originally FA’d by a 7 year old! Paula led this and Mia seconded on toprope. Back at the cave I led “Happy Girlfriend” (5c+/17) but came unstuck when I went right at the top, hanging off a steep tufa and getting pumped out before realising I had the moves all wrong. Mia toproped until the steep finish then Paula flashed it to even the score.
Mia enjoying "Michis Holenfieber" (4c/12), Sector Panorama
Mia enjoying "Michis Holenfieber" (4c/12), Sector Panorama
Next was “Elefanten Himmel” (5a/13) which felt easy, then Paula and I decided we’d have a go at the steep “Monahiki Elia” (6a+/19), which climbs a wall, pulls around an overhang then bridges steeply up between two tufas. Neither of us could make it all the way onsight, but both thought it was worth coming back to.
Mia on "Happy Girlfriend" (5c+/17), Granda Grotta. Some dude working a 7c in the background.
Paula leading off on "Monahiki Elia" (6a+), Granda Grotte.
Day three we decided we wanted a change of scene. The Arginonta Valley offered shady afternoons on a NE-facing wall, so we rented a scooter and rode the 5km out there. Two people, a rope and backpack seemed too much for one little scooter but it turned out just fine. We rode up a gravel track for a couple of hundred metres and parked, then walked the remaining 10 minutes up the hill to the crag, past huge gnarled olive trees that must have been hundreds of years old.
Crag transport, Kalymnos style
Walking in to Arginonta Valley
The first section was deserted but still just in the sun, so we continued 100m around the corner to another wall that was also deserted – well at least for 10 minutes. Everyone, it seemed, knew this cliff came into shade mid-morning and had timed their arrivals well. We both flashed “Banroche” (5c+/17) easily, then on to “Rock Tragos” (6a/18) then “Zephyros” also 6a. Then it was time for lunch.
Paula wanted to leave the gear at the base but I wasn’t keen, so we schlepped everything down and jumped on the scooter for the short ride into town. At the waterfront a small, casual café seemed to be serving meals but after being ignored by the waiter I went down to the beachfront to check options. We relocated to Taverna Katerina to have delicious meatballs and salad, washed down with local beer for about €20 all up ($30).
Topropers, Arginonta Valley
Back at the crag there was going to be no second warm-up for the day so it was on to “Ravasaki” (6a+/19), both flashed, then “Ad-hoc” (6b/20) which I onsighted but Paula got wrong-handed at the crux and needed to take a sit. Lastly “Le Bleu du Ciel” (6b+/21) provided less sustained but still steep climbing which we both flashed.
It felt like after 3 days getting the feel of the place we were getting more comfortable with the rock and friction, and starting to push the grades a bit.
We rode back for another swim and dinner. Day four was a shorter day, as we wanted to synch up with the girls for lunch. Back up near Poets was a wall called “Zeus”, longer and steeper, and we were the only climbers there. Paula led off on the steep start of “Ganymede” (6b/20) which had a few hard moves off the deck before able to clip the first bolt, then a bit run-out (groundfall potential) between bolts 1 and 2. All went well though until she got to the final steep tricky corner which took two shots. We pulled the rope – although left the first draw clipped - and I led, also needing two shots to get the tricky crux.
Paula prepping for Ganymede (6b/20), Zeus Wall
Approaching Zeus Wall
Be sure to shut the gate - provided it doesn't fall apart on you.
“Kalyfornication” is a sensational 6b+ (21) that goes up the centre of the orange wall, and gets a full-page photo in the guide. I led off up the easy start, made a tricky move to gain a bulge, then up to a rest ledge at the mid-point. Above there, the fun begins. I made sure Paula knew there was a ledge below me, then made the first few hard moves off the ledge, up to a stemming rest on slopey feet. From there, a two-finger pocket served as a layaway to make the next holds, but my fingers weren’t strong enough so I found a foothold out left and moved up. Near the top, some desperate grabs for tufas and layaways all seemed to work, and next I knew I’d clipped the last bolt and was looking up at the chains for the onsight.
Paula leading Kalyfornication (6b+/21), Zeus Wall
If there’s any lasting memory of the equipping of the routes there, it’s that some of them have set the lower-offs just a little too high! Especially if you’re short. Kalyfornication falls into that category. I could reach the rings from the tufas at a stretch, but the last move to get up level with the rings was absolutely nails and I gave it several shots before conceding that I just had to clip them at full stretch with a draw. This route gets 3 stars but would be improved by lowering the finishing rings by 30-40cm.
Paula led it, also clean to the last move, then we packed off down the hill to have lunch, a swim, then took the ferry across to Telendos for dinner.
Thursday was our travel day, but we didn’t need to take off until about 2:30pm so again Paula and I – Mia opted to stay behind – were determined to do some more routes. We considered heading up to the Granda Grotta again to tick ‘Monahiki’ then thrash about on “DNA (7a/24), but instead headed up the hill back to Poets to take on some of the harder routes there.
4 days of straightforward sports climbing on general good rock can make you overconfident. Paula led off on “Metaxas” (6a+/19), a sustained and thin 25m route on the right side of Poets. She got all of the way through the crux, then up to the top bulge, clipped a bolt, stepped right and up, then got a high foot left to rock over back onto the arête. She grabbed a jug to complete the rock-over.
Except it wasn’t a jug.
It wasn’t even attached.
As usually happens, the events unfold in slow motion and then at super-speed. I saw the rock coming, but with the distorted perspective of the belay glasses had no idea where it was going to land. And in any case, had other priorities – Paula was off, and for once this time her feet were 1-1.5m above her last runner – as much of a run-out as we’d experienced for the last few days. Falling!
The impact pulled me into a small boulder, grazing and bruising my leg. The rock, apparently about the size of a John Grisham novel, fortunately landed behind me. Especially lucky as I’d got into the habit of not wearing my helmet while belaying. Tsk tsk.
Paula was OK despite the 7m fall – she was hanging between 3 and 4 bolts down – apart from some pain in her ankle. She hung for a minute, then I enquired “do you want me to lower you off”?
“No I want to finish it”.
She climbed back up past the high point, did the rock-over on the sore ankle, and climbed through to the anchors. She was in a little pain, but it didn’t seem serious. It all could have ended a lot worse.
I ticked the route – fairly sustained in the lower half. We then both flashed “Mpyra” (6b/20) and, conscious of the time but still keen, ran up “E’Tardi” (6a+/19) fairly easily.
We walked back down the track – Paula was able to walk OK without limping – got the girls organised, had a lovely lunch at “Miltos”, and took a taxi for the ferry.
Kalymnos is great – nice rock, well bolted, and fairly cheap. Imagine someone took Arapiles and plonked it on the hill about Rosebud, bolted every route and dropped all the prices to about a quarter, and you’d get the idea. About the same number of Greeks, too. Our apartments cost €30 per night ($45) each, most meals can be had for €8-€12, and you can get a gyros in pita for as little as €3. A half-litre carafe of wine is usually €5 ($7.50). I bought a 6-pack of 1.5L bottles of water at the store for only €2 ($3) – you couldn’t get a small bottle of Mount Franklin in Rosebud for that. On the other hand, coffee still costs around $4, and it’s hard to find a good one.
We’d definitely come here again.
After heading off we spent a couple of nights in Athens, flew to Munich for some family logistics, then Paula and I flew to Barcelona where the next part of the adventure begins.
There's rock everywhere. View from Telendos in the direction of Arginonta.
View of Massouri (centre), Myrties (right) and crags behind, from Telendos.