About a month ago I received a text from Colin, an old friend of my parents, asking if I would be keen to go on a sport climbing holiday to Kalymnos. I’d heard about how good the climbing was in Kalymnos, how beautiful the beaches were and how nice the weather was there so it seemed like a no brainer. In North Wales the weather’s been dreadful, I haven’t been able to try my projects at all because of the rain (and snow!), and I even got hot aches rock climbing at Ogwen last week! So I was more than happy to be going on a holiday to a sunny Greek island.
Despite having good intentions of getting really fit before going, all I seem to have been doing of late is bouldering, which isn’t great when the vast majority of sport routes in Kalymnos are longer than 30m in length! So I wasn’t overly optimistic of climbing very hard when I got to Kalymnos and was just looking forward to a nice relaxing holiday with some climbing.
The first thing I noticed about Kalymnos when I arrived is that it had a really nice, relaxed, seaside atmosphere unlike any other climbing destination I’ve been to and very different from your typical Spanish or French sport climbing destinations. The first crag we saw was the Grande Grotta, Kalymnos’ premiere crag. It looks pretty amazing from a distance as you can make out all the stalactites hanging from the roof like grapevine. But it isn’t until you walk underneath it that you realise its scale. As a cave itself it’s big and impressive, but with “its million year old stalactites” it’s something else. My first route in Kalymnos was DNA, the most amenable route up the main section of the cave which ascends 20m up to a lower off amongst a sea of stalactites. An amazing route which illuminated the quality of climbing the island has to offer.
The first couple of days were spent checking out some of the different areas around the Grande Grotta and Odyssey areas where we climbed some brilliant routes of all grades which were mainly very featured with tufa’s and stalactites requiring a creative style of climbing. On the third day with weary arms we plodded back up to the Grande Grotta where I decide it was time to have a go at one of the big routes of the cave, a 40m stamina fest called Priapos. It felt just as intimidating setting off on this as it would up a big wall! The angle of rock just seemed so steep and long that it made free climbing seem improbable but fortunately the holds were massive and the rests were ridiculous- straddling stalactites, upside down kneebars and spacey bridges. Although all the climbing was easy it took a certain amount of ‘hanging in there’ and skills at finding rests to reach the top. It’s undoubtedly the best sport route that I’ve ever done. It was so overhanging I had to second it to get all my clips out!
Buoyed up with my success and amazed at the quality of the climbing in the cave I decided to have a rest day and return to try a longer, steeper and harder route. The route I chose is called Fun de Chichunne and ascends 40m up/into the grande grotta. Generally I’ve always been wary of climbing roofs as I know that my arms quite quickly reach a point of irretrievable meltdown. But I thought that I might just about be able to find enough rests amongst the stalactites to keep the pump at bay for just long enough to clip the chains on this one. My optimism however was short lived after getting very pumped after the first 10m of climbing and I was struggling to get my knees into an awkward and painful jam amongst two stalactites (3/4 length trousers are de riguer for this stuff). After resting for as long as my knees could tolerate I climbed quickly upwards to probably the hardest move on the route except the blob of rock I was hoping to use was soaking and unusable. By this point I’d almost given up hope of getting up this route but I managed to pull off some wacky footwork using a totally different sequence and just managed to slap my way across to an uncomfortable sitting position on a stalactite. I think I spent half an hour sitting here trying to recover and the rest of the route was a similar story to what came before, skipping clips, being unable to chalk up and resting for as long as possible in all the cramped and awkward positions the stalactites force you into. I seriously thought that I was about to fall off at least six times but I eventually got to just below the chains where I was faced with yet another ‘more awkward than it looks move’, I wasn’t going to throw away the previous 40m of hard won effort though and I made the final move and clipped the chains a very happy and exhausted man. This is my first 8a on-sight and probably the hardest of the 8a’s that I’ve done, so I’m very pleased to have managed it as it’s been a lifetime ambition of mine.
The final day of the holiday was spent climbing more classic routes and swimming and sunbathing on the beaches. I’d highly recommend Kalymnos as a destination for any climber or non-climber and I’m sure I’ll be returning at some point in the future.