Kalymnos, Greece – A sport climbing paradise in Europe. Friendly bolting encourages hard sends on yet to be polished limestone.
Kalymnos What? Kalymnos Who?
Kalymnos, at first glance, is an unremarkable Greek island located just west of the Bodrum peninsula of Turkey. It is the third most populated island in the Dodecanese, falling somewhat short of Rhodes and Kos. While the island has always been one of the most prosperous Greek islands, to this day it has managed to stay shrouded in relative obscurity; quietly and profitably supplying the world with tastebud bursting Thyme honey and natural sea sponges to cleanse the backs of the connoisseurs of cleanliness with change in their pockets. In the 1980′s, reports of amazing limestone caves reached the ears of Europeans but a Greek island with cliffs is somewhat unremarkable as this is a typical characteristic of the islands. Nearly a decade later some avid climbers showed up and realized what was before them and climbing took off at Kalymnos. The island is riddled with beautiful overhanging limestone cliffs. The winter rains which feed the islands cause water and minerals to pass through the cliffs forming stalactites and flowstone. The arid summer months that follow then dry the features, opening them for climbing season. In 2006, Kalymnos’ climbing prestige was secured by Petzl when they invited the world’s best climbers to partake in their 8th annual RocTrip at Kalymnos. While Kalymnos may no longer be a secret to us mere mortals, it is one of very few places where you can sport climb on solid and mostly unpolished limestone.
Being avid climbers and traveling throughout Europe, it was obligatory to check out Kalymnos. Our trip planned, my climbing partner’s (CP) vacation on the books at work, the unthinkable happened, well maybe not the unthinkable, but definitely the unplanned for unfortunate events of an active life – I broke my ankle (read more about that here). After some debate and coming to the realization that CP’s vacation time could not be rescheduled to an amenable time this year we decided to continue with our original plans and chocked it up as a scouting adventure.
Being somewhat limited in the approaches we could manage with “das boot” protecting the ankle and strict doctor’s orders for non weight bearing activities, we predominantly stuck to areas with very short approaches and gimp friendly belay areas. The three areas we explored were The Odyssey, Arhi and Grand Grotta. We had a week to explore so we ended up spending a few days at Arhi and Odyssey with only one day at the Grand Grotta, due to the difficulties involved with getting a gimp up the approach and stashing said gimp at a safe belay area. All said and done, my CP had a dedicated belay slave for a week and I learned that belay glasses are now a necessity rather than a desire. I’ll try to review a pair in the near future and let you know how they work out. Never heard of belay glasses? Get with it. They are all the rage in Europe. Check them out here.
The cranking goods:
Sector Marci Marc
- Lucky Luka (7a, 5.11d) – pumpier than it appears and the crux is earlier than you might think
- Dafni (7a+, 5.12a) – excellent and sustained, take rests where you can get them
- Amphora (7b, 5.12b) – good but a bit polished and if climbed later in the day you might be fighting wasps for holds
- Sirene (7b+, 5.12c) – so good but so long and it just keeps getting harder
- Atena (6b, 5.10d) – great intro to Kalymnos climbing
- Dionysos (6c+, 5.11c) – fun climbing to a great rest then fire to the anchors, the holds run out just in time to make the reach to the anchors one heck of a crux
- Omeros (7a+, 5.12a) – technical pockets into a ‘how much do you want it’ overhang
Sector Alfredo Alfredo
- Why Not (6b+, 5.11a) – great tufa into a fun layback
- Fouska (7a+, 5.12a) – bridging a crazy overhang, don’t let the bolts mislead you as to where you are supposed to go
- Alfredo, Alfredo (7b+, 5.12c) – it’s a boulder problem sandwiched between big pockets and then technical face
- Polifermo (7c, 5.12d) – as amazing as it looks, its debatable whether the transfer onto the tufa or the face on top is the crux and it probably depends on temperature
- Morfeas (6b, 5.10d) – fun stemming out an overhang on two tufas
- Feta (6c, 5.11b) – absolutely amazing sequence of holds
- Elies (7a+, 5.12a) – great climbing similar to Feta with a sucker punch right before the anchors
- Island in the Sun (7a+, 5.12a) – beautiful stemming up paralleling tufas to a power run for the slabs and the anchor
- Lucky Strike (7a+, 5.12a) - choose your rests wisely as you swing between the tufas that run the whole route because the crux is right at the anchors
- Touristica (7b, 5.12b) – if an 8c climber tells you its a proud onsite it tells you something, the crux goes but don’t expect it to let up
- Thetis (6b, 5.10d) – a tufa so big it makes a dihedral!
- Il Pittore (6b+, 5.11a) – two hard moves off a crimp and gaston sets you up for tufa straddling excitement with some interludes to stem said tufa’s friends on either side
- Kastor (6c+, 5.11c) – some of the most amazing stalactite pulling us mere mortal climbers can handle
- Mofeta (7a, 5.11d) – the black flowstone makes for some amazing face climbing, this was one of my favorite routes
- Eros (7b+, 5.12c) – take the knee bar rest before the bouldery crux even if you think you are barely off the deck and then smile your way up the amazing stalactite tufas above
- Aphrodite (7a, 5.11d) – ridiculously hard one move wonder.
- DNA (7a+, 5.12a) – it’s as famous as it is for a reason, I still smile thinking about this amazingly overhung love fest of tufas
- Ivi (7b, 5.12b) – sparsely bolted compared to its neighbor but just as good, bring an extra draw to clip the anchors because they are a reach
Quick Reference Guide
Location: Kalymnos, Greece
You have quite a few options. I will highlight the top two.
- MOST ECONOMIC - Fly into Kos. Many airlines fly directly to Kos from major European cities from April to October. From Kos Airport, you will take a taxi (15 EUR) or bus (3 EUR) to Mastichari Port where you will then board a ferry to Pothia port in Kalymnos(4 EUR – 6 EUR depending on whether you take the slow or fast ferry). From Kalymnos’ port, you can either rent a scooter (10 EUR/day) or hire a taxi to reach your accommodations. Our host at our accommodations actually coordinated the ferry timetables with us and picked us up at the port. I’m not sure if this is standard with other accommodations, but it was really convenient.
- Fly into Athens. From Athens, you can (a) fly directly into Kalymnos ($$$), (b) fly to Kos and then take a ferry from Kos to Kalymnos (follow option one from there) or (c) take a 12 hour ferry from Athens to Kalymnos (~85 EUR). The ferries depart every two days. From Athens airport, take a one hour ride on the metro (8 EUR) to the Monastiraki stop and then transfer to the Green line where it ends at the Pireaus station at the port.
Best Time to Climb:
While it is “possible” to climb year round in Kalymnos, it becomes somewhat of a logistical nightmare outside of the May-October window (read “Getting There” section above). May and September are the most popular times to climb in Kalymnos because of the more bearable temps (not too hot) and conditions (no/very minimal rainfall). We visited in late June due to a crazy, cheap flight deal and were able to climb if we started just after sunrise and wrapped it up around lunch time. If you are coming to Kalymnos to push your limits, the heat might prove difficult in the hotter summer months. If you are on a recreational climbing trip, the heat provides a nice break from your morning spent cranking. May I recommend a lunch break at Paradise Cove, Pirate’s Beach for some fresh fish or local greek cuisine and an afternoon spent sprawled out on the beach soaking up some rays and cooling off in the Mediterranean?
The world is your oyster here, thanks to google. Most climbers stay in Massouri or Kantouri. Though staying in Emporios will keep you isolated from the crowds of climbers if you prefer the anti social type of stay. You can expect to pay about 20-30 EUR/night depending on how many people and so forth. We stayed at Vasilis Studios in Myrties just outside of Massouri and I highly recommend it. The rooms were cleaned daily and outfitted with a mini kitchen. Poppy, our host, picked us up and dropped us off at the Kalymnos port as well as forwarded us the ferry timetables prior to our arrival (these change monthly) making it a truly enjoyable climbing getaway.
EVERYONE rides scooters here. You can rent one at a variety of shops in the Massouri area or even at the port. You can expect to pay ~9 EUR/day. Don’t do as the Greeks in the instance of helmets – wear one! There are a lot of accidents on the island, so just wear the brain bucket.