Kalymnos: First Impressions

by: Jonathan

It was beginning to seem like we were the only climbers in Britain who had never been to Kalymnos, so on this trip we are rectifying that omission. Despite knowing so many people who had been to Kalymnos we didn’t know much about the place or what to expect. To most tourists, Kalymnos is known as the island of the sponge divers and it has become a very popular destination for sport divers but outside of the hot months it is climbing that takes over.

Despite its reputation as a climbing destination, Kalymnos was one of the destinations that we were least excited by and initially we had planned to only spend 9 days here. Our stay got extended almost be accident when we worked out the cost and complications of incorporating several of the other Greek islands that were in our original itinerary. February / March is not a good time for a Greek island hopping trip. Many ferries don’t run outside the main tourist season, a situation that has got worse, we were told, because of the removal of subsidies in the aftermath of the Greek financial crisis.

The positive aspect of this is that we had a lovely couple of days on the island of Nisyros, an island we had not known anything about before this trip. Kalymnos is only a 90 minute ferry ride from Nisyros and after a short but very bumpy crossing we arrived in Pothia (Kalymnos Port) last Tuesday lunchtime. So we have now been on Kalymnos for a week.

Perceptions are shaped by change and compared to Mandraki where we boarded the ferry on Nisyros, Pothia is a bustling metropolis. We were therefore a little surprised by how dead Masouri, where we were staying, was. Apart from a couple of mini-markets and a climbing shop all the businesses along the main road through town were closed giving the place quite a run down feel. We seemed to have arrived a week or two early both for the cafes and restaurants to be open, and for the weather.

Apparently, Kalymnos has suffered from a really wet start to the year and we were catching the tail end of it. Consequently, we awoke on Wednesday morning to the sound of a torrential downpour. The roads looked more like rivers and the rain didn’t ease until well into the afternoon. Unsurprisingly, when we eventually got out and walked up to the Grande Grotta, Panorama and Poets sectors they were dripping with water. Whilst the wetness wasn’t enough to disguise the fact that we were walking past some fantastic looking routes it was enough to mute expectations of being able to climb many of them in the next few days. Most of the tufas were clearly going to take some time to stop seeping and dry out.

A very wet tufa with a stream of water falling from its nose

As forecast, Thursday dawned bright and sunny. We could see the Poets sector from our apartment and as a lot of the routes looked like they had dried out over night we headed there. Once on rock we began to appreciate why people make such a fuss about the climbing at Kalymnos. The routes we did all involved technically interesting climbing on excellent rough grey limestone and a good day was capped by Gaynor doing only her second ever 6c without resting on the rope. We climbed at Poets again a couple of days later, which just reinforced our positive impressions of the place.

Unfortunately, on Friday, the weather had reverted to wet and windy so we spent the morning mooching round Pothia and the afternoon reconnoitring more depressingly wet crags. To say the weather was changeable is a bit of an understatement as by Saturday the skies had cleared and there was a very fresh breeze that tempered the heat in the quite intense sunshine. This time we chose to go to the Palace climbing area, where we climbed on two contrasting sectors, Thalassa and Palace Main. We did three routes at Thalassa, two 6a’s (Anatoli & Dysi), which gave nice, slightly run out climbing on concretions up a steep slab, and a 7a (Aroma)up a slightly impending pillar. All three routes were on clean, rough rock and looked like they got done relatively rarely. In contrast, the one route we did at Palace Main, was an established and highly polished classic (Mia’s Place, 6b). It had obviously been a great route once but now felt a little worn out. This contrast between well worn and rarely trodden seemed to be a theme of our first week. Fortunately, with the well worn being very much in the minority.

There is a small but enthusiastic ex-pat climbing community on Kalymnos something we hadn’t come across in other places we had visited on this trip. Fortunately, we knew one such person, Mike Reed, who used to work with Gaynor’s sister in Aberdeen, and he introduced us to several others. As a result, on Monday we joined Mike, Patrick, Dave and Paul for a more sociable climbing day. We started at Arhi but soon decided it was far too hot to climb in the sun so, en-mass, we headed across to the Arginento Valley crags. My original plan had been to have a rest day but the enthusiasm of being in a group soon put paid to that and I ended up doing three 6c+’s. A very pleasing performance considering that two of them were very damp and greasy due to the recent rain and humid nights. Despite only having four climbing days, this brought our first week in Kalymnos to a satisfying end after a damp, grey start.

Mike on Kastor (7a) in the beautiful cave at Arhi

So what are our first impressions? The climbing, as everyone who has been here will tell you, is generally very good indeed. The fact that the quality extends right through the grade range has been a pleasant surprise and despite climbing on some of the most accessible crags, so far, we have only encountered one route that has been particularly polished. The big problem is deciding where to go, there are just so many options. This hasn’t been helped by the fact that, to save weight, we only brought the App version of the guidebook. Looking at an App on your phone just doesn’t get you inspired by crags or routes in the same way that browsing through a well illustrated print guidebook does.

Being here in March is good from the point of view of the crags being quiet, most of the time we have had the sectors we have climbed on to ourselves. The fact that we have been welcomed by some of the permanent residents has also been really nice. In addition, the days are reasonably long and the temperature range we have experienced has been almost perfect; we have had days when it has been cool enough to climb in the sun and days when it has been warm enough to climb in the shade. It does cool down quite quickly when the sun sets, although this creates stunning views which further enhance the scenery across the island.

Sunset seen from our terrace

One disappointment has been that many of the tufa routes are still wet after the winter rains. Whether they will dry up before we leave the island at the end of the month remains to be seen, Another downside is that the villages of Masouri and Myrties are pretty dormant at this time of year although more signs have life have been seen in the last couple of days.

We are yet to fall in love with Kalymnos to the extent that we would want to come back here regularly, but it will be interesting to see if that changes over the next couple of weeks. More pressingly, we need to decide which of the 4000+ routes are we going to get on tomorrow.

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