Text and pictures © 2008-2020 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2018/10/17
"Mediocrity is climbing molehills without sweating." — Icelandic Proverb.
Left: If it doesn't look like Greece, then maybe it isn't: it snowed 40cm during the night before we had to leave early for the airport and we had to put the chains on right from the house.
We drove from Briançon to Milan in order to pick a cheaper flight, although that meant going through quite a bit of snow early in the morning at the Montgenevre pass. Then we had a flight delay in Athens and decided to try and go see the Acropolis. We arrived half an hour after its closure and spent the time walking around whatever ruins were visible in the dark and the more modern urban center. We took the subway back to the airport in Syntagma, where they were putting up a large Giftmas tree in the center of the plaza.
Right: The Acropolis of Athens at night.
Then a couple days later, as we are eating in the only restaurant open on our side of the island, we see the news (in greek) and recognize the tree... but what is this guy throwing at the tree ? It looks like a... Molotov cocktail. And 'Puf!' goes the tree. Apparently while we were having fun on the (too) quiet island of Kalymnos, there were much more serious events going on in Athens, still ongoing 2 weeks later as I write this.
Left: On the first day we already attempt a 7b in the Grande Grotta.
Right: Nearing the end of DNA (7b) among the stalactites.
Left: Still on DNA, showing the amazing structure of the cave, covered in stalactites hanging in clearly impossible directions.
I will not comment a situation I know nothing about, so I'll go right onto the climbing part. This is the first time I take a sport climbing vacation. Normally all our trips are done in order to climb long rock routes in remote areas, but this time I had plenty of spare vacation days (yeah, even after the month spent in Madagascar barely a month ago) and Vincent was in the hollow autumn period when climbing guides don't have customers. Jenny was still hurting from her broken arm and anyway had to study for incoming exams. But what saved me was that she'd gone and climbed in Kalymnos 3 years ago while I was freezing my ass off in Dome C. So she let me go...
Left: Coming down the big roof of the Grande Grotta.
Our plane was late on arrival in Kos but the fast traverse boat was waiting for its passengers. But we end up arriving in Kalymnos at midnight without a place to stay. There seems to be many dilapidated houses so we find one and it would have been an uneventful night was it not for the San Nicolas celebration in the morning, with bells ringing all over the place. We make it early to our final destination, Massouri, but the place seems deserted.
Right: An example of columnar formation against the wall. This needs rarely used climbing techniques.
Left: And right out of the Kalymnos male swimsuit calendar issue, Vincent taking a quick bath in a pretty damn cold Aegean sea.
Right: Pretty steep 6c start on a column concretion at Archi.
Left: Vincent on the roof of Eros (7c) at Archi.
After we get a small apartment for two we head up to the closest and also most classic cliff: the Grande Grotta. Many italian names here, since italian climbers were the first ones to exploit the site barely a decade ago. How such a quantity of great rock could remain hidden for so long is a mystery.
Right: Zoom in on the great roof of Archi. We had stiff necks from looking so far back continuously.
Left: Coming down the great roof of Archi in threatening clouds. It rained the first two nights we were there... and the last full day.
Right: On Kastor, 6c+. After that move a knee-lock inside a hole provides some forearm relief.
Left: Vincent inside the top hole of Room13 (7b). After that he has to go down...
The first thing that strikes you in Kalymnos is the prevalence of stalactites in every overhang, and there are many of those. The top of the island is flat and featureless, we went for a look and can only report spiny bushes and some goats, so the water drains quickly through the rock. Many of those stalactites do look and sound fragile when you touch them, and indeed there are plenty of horror stories of climbers coming down with big ones and their belayers escaping a crushing death by pure luck. Honestly during our 8-day stay we didn't break a single one so it's not as bad as it sounds. Still you often feel like climbing on eggs.
Right: ...and drop his feet so he can change side.
The first day I almost sent a 7b onsight, but the 2nd day I can't even climb a 6b. Shame on me and on Jenny who told me: "you'll see, all the ratings are easy". Yeah, right.
Left: Another angle at Room13, still stuck inside the hole on the 2nd try, in order to remove the draws.
Right: The triple arch of Palace in the afternoon.
Left: That's me driving a scooter for the first time of my life ! Everything was closed on our side of the island: there was only a minimart, a restaurant and a scooter rental. Fortunately since some cliffs are fairly remote.
Right: A view of Kalymnos from the tiny island of Telendos across the bay. Vincent on only a 6a+.
Left: Fisheye image of Vincent on a 6a under the great roof of a Telendos cave.
After 4 days of climbing, we already smell like goat. The official reason is that the base of many of the routes is situated in sheltered spots where goats apparently love to spend the night or the bad weather days. So the base is covered in more or less dry goat droppings and you end up with them smeared on your ropes, your shoes and your butt if you are not careful sitting down. Another reason is that the solar heater no being at its most powerful at this time of year, we start to ad our own smell to the goats'.
Four days is also enough that we take a break and hike up to the center of the island trying to find a cave (which appears to be of little interest) and a castle (which appears to be the name given to a rock of no interest whatsoever). The center is totally bare, and to think that a long time ago the entire island was wooded. We pick up some olives on the way down which I'll cure when we get back home.
Left: 6a and view on Kalymnos.
Right: Fisheye image from some way inside a cave.
In Telendos the climbing is a mixed bag: the overhangs in the caves are good, but the easier routes on the outside slabs have names like 'Cheese grater'. I try one called 'Demented' which I though would mean it's great. Well, after removing all my finger skin in barely 10 meters, I bail and Vincent is not keen on trying it.
Right: Finally resting the arms at the end of a steep 7a+ results in this curious image.
Left: 7a+ with an evil move at Telendos.
Right: Even though there was basically no one on the islands, there were still regular boat crossings. On the way to Telendos we were with a teacher whose only two pupils were waiting for here on the harbor.
Left: The boat doing the regular crossings between the islands. The one between Kos and Kalymnos is much faster. And if you are lucky you may be able to catch a flight on the brand new Kalymnos airport: it has international certification but unfortunately a runway to short for big airplanes.
Right: The island of Telendos seen from the high plateau of Kalymnos.
Right: The improbable hole of Sikati among the rocks and bushes, a short way from the beach.
Left: And Sikati seen from the inside after Vincent completes the 7b of 'death to the goats'.
On thursday, while the manifestations are raging in the heart of Greece, we head down an extraordinary place: a large hole in the ground called Sikati, about 70m at the deepest. A few warm up routes on the side and we then tackle the awe inspiring overhangs full of stalactites.
Right: Looking at the very steep start of Lolita (7a). Plenty of stalactites, but it's oh so steep.
It's an understatement to say that the routes on half of Sikati are impressive. A continuous 45° angle with huge stalactites, some of them hanging by just a few cm of rock. On "Death to the goats" (whose bones of a few can be found fallen at the base), we have to traverse above those and the temptation to put your feet on them is too hard to resist the call of the dying forearms. Vincent manages to onsight the beast but I deflate 2/3rd of the way up. And with the fairly far protection I'm afraid of swinging inside one of them; who knows what could happen then.
Left: The start of Lolita (7a). I'm not sure kids are allowed.
Right: Coming down Lolita, in what appears to be the mouth of a shark with poor dental hygiene.
Left: Vincent breathing hard Karveros (7a, Spartakos). It rained the entire day but we were fairly well sheltered by the overhead roof. We only got soaked on the way in and the way out (and this time thoroughly).
Right: Start of Nike (7a+) at Jurassic Park.
Basically every day we had the same routine: get up late, do the approach to a different sector, do a warm up 6b and 6c, then head on a 7b. If things went well, Vincent would try a 7c, otherwise we'd just do a 7a or two. Back to the village of Massouri before 4. Get in bed and read as there is nothing to do on the island at this time of year (the bar was only open once). Have dinner either on the tiny electrical stove of the apartment or at the only restaurant that fed us portions that were trying to keep us firmly on the ground thanks to an excess of gravity. Finally hit the bed early and try to digest it all.
Right: Vincent trying to figure out the evil move of Kalincta Mer (7b+). Runout on overhanging tiny nothings and then some heinous slopers before you can finally clip... between your legs.
Left: Goats under the Grande Grotta. Time to head back to the boat to Kos.
There was hot water, but as it was solar powered it hardly worked on cloudy days. The tap water was undrinkable but there are a couple good fountains along the only road. Also at this time of year the number of cats walking around was impressive, most of them probably abandoned, including a few dogs. A small pomeranian with big beady eyes tried really hard to get us to adopt it: getting on the scooter with us, even trying to get on the boat with us. But the most determined was a young cat who followed several times for a km or so, swiping between our legs the entire time with big purrs, and even managing to get in Vincent's arms for a sleep in the bar. Him not being known for being a cat lover at all I thought that was an impressive performance from the cat.