Climbing the Limestone of Greece

Greece is an incredible country, and climbing brings me to the areas that not many tourists go.  For example, the tiny island of Kalymnos is located just 30 miles off the coast of Turkey but holds all the beauty and wonders Greece has to offer.  From climbing in the Grande Grotto to diving in to the caves of the Underworld, Kalymnos offers superior limestone and streets full of scooters, goats, expansive views. Below, check out the scooter rides to get to the crags! For about $6 per day, this mode of transportation is preferred!

Exploring Greece is a childhood dream, probably one that many of us have had.  Sitting in school, I would transform from a bored teenager to a transfixed student as my teachers would describe Greek and Roman history.  The interest piqued even further learning about Greek mythology, eventually causing me to take an AP British Literature class instead of senior English my last year of high school. The fascinating and mystical world of Greece has held me transfixed for many years.  Finally, I got to head over the Atlantic and feel the Mediterranean splash my feet as I looked over many of the Greek Islands in the Dodecanese.

The trip only consisted of two stops, Athens and Kalymnos. With only 10 days, I didn’t want to rush through anything.  Many people try to jam pack 10 days with entire country tours.  For me, the experience comes with the added time in each place, truly getting to know it.  There’s the photo tour rush trip, and there’s the experience trip. I choose experience every single time. This trip was completely centered around climbing. As a climber, I know the values of spending multiple days or weeks at a climbing crag rather than a single day or two.  The island of Kalymnos, approximately 30 miles off the coast of Turkey has over 3,000 routes with more on the way with some of the world’s best limestone climbing.  I rented a studio on the beach for 6 nights of the 10 days I would be in Greece for a mere $200!

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The view of the island of Telendos from my studio on the coast in Massouri, Kalymnos.

During my stay, I climbed around the entire island and rode a scooter down the oceanside roads each day.  Each morning consisted of the best espresso I have ever had, a quick stop at the market for salami and cheese, and a scooter ride to the nearest crag.  On some of them, such as The Beach, I had a 20 minute hike through rugged terrain following wild goat trails to the spots I wanted to climb.  Climbing is more than a sport for me, it’s an art.  This island brought out the best of all of it with me.  As I climbed a flake that was one of the classic climbs of the island, the movements of the climb, the look of the route, and every other aspect made the climb a work of art.  It was so unique that I doubt I will ever climb anything like it again.  Sometimes, taking in the act of the climb itself is one of the most beautiful parts of an adventure.

The crag and climb below are at The Beach.  Karpouzi (5.10a) is the climb pictured.  Not only is it a brilliant warm-up,  but one of the classic climbs in the area.  Finding a flake like this is not common, and I held all of the features of limestone that make it so spectacular to see! The stalactites that formed, the erosion, and the coloring all made for a vibrant climb and even better view from the top.

Other great climbs at this crag that should NOT be missed include Material Man (5.12a) and Ciuccia Bau (5.10c).  The other routes are enjoyable but due to lack of traffic in the area by climbers, the rock is very sharp and rough on some key holds.  Prepare for some torn hands!

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Karpouzi, 5.10a

Another incredible climb in the area was the Grande Grotto.  This enormous cave made Kalymnos famous for having some of the world’s best sport climbing.  While I train to go back as a stronger climber, we got to climb in to the low 11’s which made for spectacular views and climbs! The warm-up and easiest climb in the Grotto is Happy Girlfriend, a 5.10a that establishes the style of climbing in the grotto and gets some introduction to the tufa style of climbing that it holds. In addition, it’s position in the middle of the cave provides the perfect view of the entire cave with the ocean and the island of Telendos in the distance.

Along the edges of the grotto are some great moderate climbs for climbers that are not yet ready for the fantastic 5.13’s that encapsulate the inside of the cave.  Massalia (5.10c) stands at the far left, while Monahiki Elia (5.10b) and Taz (5.11a) stand at the far right.  The provide fantastic climbs that prepare you for the more difficult areas and routes.

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Rem evaluates the routes in Grande Grotto

Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of my trip was my journey in to the “Underworld”.  The Underworld is an enormous underground stalactite cave.  I read about it in the climbing forums, as it is not advertised for any tourism locales or on any tourism websites.  It took a few minutes for me to find, as I new the general location near the climbing crag, but it was well worth the search.  Held shut by an old rope so that the wild goats don’t fall in, there is a rusty old ladder descending about 20 feet down in to a small hole.  From there, I had to hold on to another rope as I scrambled further down a small, tight tunnel.  Then I went down another rusty old ladder in to a large cavern.  At this point, I was about 50 feet underground and the cavern was over 100 feet high.  The stalactite pillars spiked from the ceiling like dirty icicles and up from the floor like sharpened knives.  Some of the pillars were so high that they formed actual pillars from the floor all the way to the ceiling.  The temperature was extremely warm and balmy, leaving me soaking wet by the time I came up from the depths of the cave.  Pitch black, I could only see as far as my headlamp would shine…

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The rusty ladder leading out of the lowest depths of the cave…
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Stalactite pillars in the Underworld
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The entrance of the Underworld, a small hole with a gate in front to prevent the goats from falling down in to it.

Close to the Underworld lies a crag called Ghost Kitchen.  It has beautiful, tall routes with tufa, a small cave, and even an interesting orange color to make it stand out in my memory.  The tufa formations are in climbs at all levels, so the wall gives a diverse number of climbs to accommodate everyone.  The favorite of this section goes to Remember Wadi Rum (5.11a). It is full of tufa jugs that separate sections of technical climbing, creating a sustained and beautiful climb.  At the end, when being lowered, I kicked out from the wall, for a huge swing out in front of the sunset (see below).  The climbs are beautiful, the sunsets are spectacular, and the experience was perhaps one of the best in my life.

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Swinging in to the sunset… pure bliss
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The Grande Grotto, the most famous climbing crag of Kalymnos.  It contains the most photographed sport route in the world, with enormous overhanging tufa in the entire cave.

After the week of climbs, I headed back to Athens for the last 2 days of the weekend and Carnival.  It was perfect timing, for the entire city was dressed up for masquerade themed parties that seemed to be occurring everywhere, all at once.  I explored the old streets of Athens and the historical sights during the day, and the nightlife of Carnival in to the night.  The food was abundant, the wine was cheap, and the people were some of the most friendly I have ever met in a large city. The atmosphere was buzzing with excitement!  As I wandered through the streets my last night in Athens, there were children running around dressed as zombies, young adults in costumes of all sorts, and parents chasing their kids while also dressed as older zombies.  Street vendors were on every corner with various people playing street music for spare change.

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The Temple of Athena, Athens, Greece
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A view of the city of Athens from the Parthenon

Overall, the entire trip including airfare cost under $1000.  How?  I saved, I planned, I knew the ins and outs of the airfare trends, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  Rather than build a trip around a sight or location, I planned around an adventure.  Other than this trip, I had alternate ticket prices I was watching to 4 other rock climbing locations.  Greece hit a great price point, so I jumped on it.  We all have place we want to go, so why not research a few of them, then choose the best option according to prices?!   Or better yet, I can do it for you.  The adventure is out there, and it is doable. Seize the chance and get the experience of a lifetime.

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Sunset in Kalymnos, Greece
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