After a couple of fabulous days on the Greek island of Nisyros, we caught a small, bouncy ferry for the short hop over to Kalymnos. We were renewed, recharged and ready to go climbing again. By the time we found our apartment in Masouri, got supplies and settled in, the sun was setting over the hills just off the coast, and the crags behind us were glowing orange in the late afternoon light.
The next day dawned grey and very wet. It continued to rain hard all morning, but by the afternoon it had started to brighten up. We ventured out for a walk along the nearby crag, scouting out the options. There is just so much choice it is hard to know where to start! Fortunately a lot of it is well out of my league so that reduced our options to a couple of really nice looking sectors on beautiful grey pocketed slabs. Exactly the style of climbing I enjoy the most.
Thursday dawned dry but overcast and cold. We headed up to the crag (Poets Right) and found some good looking warm up routes. We started with a straight-forward looking 5c+ (Mao), although I have to confess it didn’t feel very straight-forward when I got on it. We followed this with two 6a+’s (Mpyra and Metaxas) one of which again seemed quite stiff for the grade. Kalymnos has a reputation for easy grades but it certainly wasn’t feeling like it to me! The cold wind was swirling around us and we were not really getting any warmer, so with fairly low spirits we went round the corner to the adjacent sector of Poets. Here the wind was calmed and there was a beautiful expanse of orange and grey rock extending up for more than 30m.
We chose a 6b+ (Ibria) and Jon led it comfortably using a long reach over a bulge to get through the crux. I watched that and my heart sank knowing I would not have that reach. By the time I got on the route, the sun was starting to penetrate the clouds and the air was warming up a bit. I relaxed as I started up the route using the numerous small dimples and pockets through the grey slab. The climbing was just superb, occasional big holes that give you a good foot hold for a moment, and then an abundance of tiny but high friction mini pockets and scoops, each one only just big enough for the tip of my big toe. I arrived at the section of orange rock with the bulge and the big reach, and repeated my new mantra “work your feet up, just work your feet up”. I had my left hand on an undercut in a huge pocket, I worked my feet up bit by bit, and then in one smooth continuous move I pushed up with my legs and released my right arm in an arc up and into the large slot above the bulge. Almost at full stretch my feet found some small knobbles and powered me up and over the bulge. I was through the crux! What followed was really enjoyable climbing and I was so focused on what I was doing that I arrived at the anchors without realising how close they were! I had done my second 6b+ of the trip (and only my third one ever), I was so pleased.
After returning to the ground I was ready to stop there for the day, to quit while I was ahead. But Jon decided to do the 6c beside it (Alcman). He slowly ascended the grey slab making what looked like a desperate move with a high foothold and pushing off a tiny crimp low down. I could see his arms quivering with the strain. Then the top section changed character completely, slightly overhanging and with orange rock devoid of the little pockets and dimples that give so much grip. After a fair bit of dithering he made it through to clip the anchors and lower off, another on-site ascent in the bag.
Meanwhile I was having an argument with myself. I didn’t want to do the route, I was tired, I didn’t want a battle, it was the end of the day, I didn’t want to wreck the skin on my fingers. But it was my kind of climbing. And good things only happen if you put some effort in. In the end I decided that if I didn’t give it a go I would be really annoyed with myself in a couple of hours time. So, grumbling at myself, I tied into the rope. I knew it was going to be tough, I have only ever done one 6c and that was over 2 years ago and on this trip I have already tried (and fallen off) six of them.
So I set off up the grey slab, again really enjoying the moves, using tiny holds and adjusting my position to make them work. I reached the point where Jon had made the really tenuous move, I put my right foot high on the good hold, my left hand low on a tiny ripple, and the tips of two fingers of my right hand in a dimple. There was no way I could rock high up onto my right foot like that. So I retreated and reassessed. I spotted a tiny little dimple out right and a higher foothold for my left foot. So I moved my foot right and transferred all my weight onto the little dimple that was less than one centimetre in size, it held, and with my fingers on their ripples I slowly moved my left foot into the good pocket. Shifting my weight back left I managed to creep up the wall, get another ripple for my right hand and placed my right foot with ease onto the good hold. I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed as I contemplated the next section.
Before long I found myself at the top of the grey slab facing the overhanging orange section. Jon had mentioned this was tough, the holds disappeared, and the friction was not as good. I looked at the broken irregular shapes and investigated what the rock felt like. It was smoother, but there was still some friction in places. I found a good side pull and spotted some small ledges for my feet. One move at a time I started up. I passed the last bolt and could see the good pocket I needed to get, I just had to reach it. But there were no obvious hand holds, the blocky rock all sloped down. There was nothing for my feet. Breathing slowly and keeping calm I felt around, everything was smooth, sloping. And then my fingers wrapped around a side pull, it was solid and in a good position. I adjusted my feet smearing against a vertical edge and did a layback move up and into the pocket which was so much better than I anticipated! One more easy move and I had the chains! I had done it! My second 6c had taken over 2 years to achieve. I was lowered down with a huge grin all over my face.
Inevitably, once I was down I began to question whether it was a “proper” 6c or a bit of a soft touch. When I was on the route I never felt like I couldn’t do the next move, I never felt close to falling off. It can’t be a proper 6c if I felt that comfortable on it. Jon felt it was definitely 6c (although he did make it harder by missing the good side pull at the top). Filling out my UKC logbook online I looked at the voting that others had put for the route, the vast majority of people had voted it as high 6c. My grin got bigger, it was not a soft touch! It was a proper 6c!
Maybe now I will start to believe that I can climb 6c. Not every 6c, but perhaps a few more?