In April, 6 members of MKMK Jetted off to the Greek Island of Kalymnos. Kalymnos is one of the premier sport climbing destinations in the world and has more top-quality routes across the grates than you could climb in a lifetime.
Getting there is a little bit of a hassle as it involves flying into Kos and then getting a ferry across to the island. Myself, Tom, and Alex Ward arrived in Kalymnos on Wednesday 5th of April, but despite getting an 8AM flight, it was about 20:00 by the time we got to our Air B&B.
We stayed in the town of Massouri which is where most climbers stay, sitting just below some of the most impressive cliffs on the island, including the world-famous cave of the Grande Grotto. We could walk to the far end of the main strip from our apartment in about 10 minutes, and the town itself is perfectly set up for climbers with numerous restaurants, bars, cafes, supermarkets, car & scooter hire places, and at least 6 climbing gear shops. Pretty much everyone you see there is either a climber or a local and it makes for a very friendly atmosphere as you can chat to pretty much anyone about where they are from, what crags they’ve been to and what climbs they’ve done. By the end of the week whenever we walked through town we’d spot at least one person we’d recognise from one crag or another and give them a friendly wave.
On our first day of climbing (6th April) we visited a sector called Kasteli, which is a tower-like promontory of rock situated on a small peninsula. We got used to the rock working our way through the grades starting with a 3c incrementing our way up to 4c before the heavens opened and we made a hasty retreat to the car, leaving our draws in the route. We popped into town (only 5 mins from the crag) and grabbed some lunch in a local cafe while waiting for the weather to brighten up. Fortunately, the rock in Kalymnos dries very quickly and by the time we had finished lunch, it was looking dry. We went back to Kastelli to retrieve our quickdraws and then decided to move onto another crag a bit further round the coast called Summertime which was north facing and sheltered from the Southwesterly winds that were bringing the rain. We continued to work our way up the grades here doing a further 3 routes finishing on Soupia the Great** a steer but very juggy 5b.
On Friday the 7th we visited Sea Breeze, one of the more popular crags on the island situated on the north side of Arginonta Bay. We climbed 8 routes here ranging from 3c to 6a. The highlights here were, a super juggy 5a called Drosia, a very thin and sharp 5c called Selene and an excellent 6a with technical moves between good pockets called Climbing is the Second Best Feeling*** .
On Saturday the 8th we went to ArgInonta, a fantastic crag overlooking a bay and a village of the same name. The approach is a little adventurous involving scaling a small cliff face into which a ladder of iron staple had been fixed. We climbed 9 routes here ranging from 4a to 6b (good lead by Alex). We warmed up on a slabbly 4c called Victoria** 4c (Tob had a choice between this and the neighbouring Katarina, but figured he’d get in trouble with the real victoria if he chose the latter). The highlights of this day were a trio of harder routes beginning with Koubinos 6b; a fantastic 6b with a steep and strenuous start on small flowstone pockets and some delicate climbing above. This was followed by Free Style*** an incredible steep 6a+ that follows a never-ending line of fantastic pockets for over 30m. We finished the day on Pornokini a 6a that had been one of our main reasons for visiting the crag, but had been occupied for pretty much the whole day. This was an amazing and varied route featuring delicate slabs, steep juggy terrain, traverses and even some 3D climbing inside a cave.
On Sunday the 9th we visited the Island of Telendos which sits in the bay opposite Massouri and despite being a tiny island with only a single small village offers a fantastic wealth of climbing including multi-pitch routes up to 11 pitches long and 240m high!
Visiting the island involves chartering a boat from a local fisherman who drops you off at the foot of one of the more popular crags. Our first stop here was a sector called Lambda which is an impressive and imposing face of rock about 20 mins walk from the boat drop-off point with single pitch routes up to 50m long. Here we climbed 5 routes from 4b to 6b including Lambda a tricky, balancy 6b, Hot Chilli*** a fun but challenging 6a followed and Lava a very delicate 6a+. All 3 of these were fantastic 30m+ routes on the great and varied rock.
In the afternoon we moved back to sector Irox (where the boat dropped us off). Here we climbed 3 routes, with Tom putting in a heroic effort on Anastatisa a supposed 5a that me and Alex both agreed was much closer to 5c.
On Monday Neal joined us, after getting a very late flight the night before, spending the night in Kos airport and then getting the first ferry in the morning. After a much-needed coffee, we took Neal back to Kasteli as this sector has a short approach and a good variety of grades allowing us to give Neal a crash course in Kalymnos rock. Despite running on very little sleep, Neal led 4a, 4b, 4c, 5a and 5b, 5c and cleanly seconded a 6a, a heroic effort for his first day (on very little sleep).
On Tuesday after spending the morning dodging rain showers and enjoying the local cafes we eventually ended up at a crag called Noufaro which was a little further up the road from Sea Breeze which we’d visited earlier. Among the routes we did here, Alex put in a great effort on Spice, a very steep and pumpy 6b with a powerful sequence through a roof. But the highlight of this day was Revue a 6a+ which, despite “only” getting 2 stars in the guidebook, both I & Alex agreed was one of the best routes of the trip, featuring superb sustained and technical climbing up a long steep pocket-filled slab. (The fact that we were ‘looking down’ on 2 star routes should give you an idea of just how much ridiculously high-quality climbing Kalymnos offers)
On Wednesday we visited Ahri which is one of the most incredible crags on the island for low-mid grades with over 70 2 & 3 star routes within the grade ranges of 4c to 6c! Here we had our most successful day of the trip climbing: Jolli 5b, Theia Fotisi 6b (a sustained technical slab), Couce Couca 6a (a slab split by a short steep overhang), Axe 6b (a 38m sustained pocketed wall with some very thin moves in the midsection), Tspoanakos 6a+ into Del Mabul Extension 6a (a nice varied route, starting with a slab, a steep pull over Tufas, a very delicate slowstone grove and then steep jug pulling to the top) and Ercole 6a (which had some of the sharpest holds I’ve ever pulled on).
The forecast for Thursday was hot, so we visited a crag called Sikati Beach on the less frequented north side of the island reached via a winding mountain pass. True to its name this crag is situated on a beach. The highlights here were Karpouzi*** 6a which climbs a huge soaring flake up interesting flowstone features (and we all agreed could be lead on gear), and Tomboi*** 6b+/c a very technical and sustained fingery route up small flowstone pockets. We then spent the afternoon enjoying the beach and the sea.
Sadly we did not climb on Friday as there were reports of very strong winds forecast for Friday afternoon & Saturday morning which we were told can sometimes cause the ferry to be canceled. There was only one ferry we could get on Saturday and still make our return flight, so we decided not to risk it and took the ferry back on Friday and got a hotel on Kos for a night. We had a nice walk along the seafront of Kos town, the Sea wall here fascinated us as it was made of large heavily featured stone blocks and would offer numerous opportunities for climbing if one was so inclined. We also explored the only crag on Kos marked on UKC, the Kardamena boulders which is an extensive granite boulder field somewhat reminiscent of font.
Overall it was a fantastic trip and we can’t wait to go back again. It really does have some of the best quality rock anywhere, all of which are very accessible (max 20 min drive) with mostly short walk-ins (typically less than 10 mins) and there is so much of it that we barely scratched the surface. One of our biggest problems was deciding where to go because so much of it looks so good!
Alex Thakway and Dave Mountford joined us for the tail end of our trip, arriving on the 12th of April, and staying for a couple of extra days. We hung out with Alex & Dave in the evenings but tended to do our own things during the day.
Below is Dave’s report of his and Alex’s trip:
“Alex & I bought the guidebook 5 years ago so thanks to Lee for organising a great break and breaking my apathy. It will not be long before there are more guidebooks for Kalimnos than the peak!
I was surprised by the prosperity, nice accommodation and restaurants and welcome for climbers who have transformed the island.
We hired a car and very quickly trained ourselves to abandon (greek highway code) as opposed to parking the car – while we did in total 35 routes over our week – I did 33 and Alex led 35 – it was so easy to find small crags just 15 minutes from the main town of Massouri. The walkins were very easy and we did a nice spectacular walk on day 6 to the far crag on the Arginonta skyline While Alex led most I had a great start to my retirement and was leading a few by the end of the week.
Our grades ranged from 4s upward and Alex did a 6a and we are now nicely set for the year. A week is definitely needed as we lost 2 days travelling – but the whole transfer was easy with car hire being massively cheaper than the UK. As we ate out every night including a couple of dinners with Alex, Tom, Neal and Lee – it cost me I guess 1000 euros so it works out at 29 euros per climb – only joking as I am no longer an accountant – as with all our travels we are in it for the journey and friendship.
The island is a must if you are a keen climber looking for a great scenic week in the sun.”