What do you do when you’re getting married in two weeks? Leave the wedding planning behind and climb limestone tufa with your closest friends. That’s what. In Greece!
Pros and cons
For some time, I’d heard from a bunch of fellow climbers how incredible the sport and trad climbing is in Kalymnos. So finally, after seeing the pictures and listening to story after story, my friends and I decided that we had to try it out for ourselves, so off we went. The wedding would be there when I got back.
The island is part of the Dodecanese and is seemingly just a stone’s throw from Turkey, depending on the map. Kalymnos boasts a rich history of sponge diving, and more recently, world-class sport climbing with a host of recently developed well-bolted climbs. It’s flanked by Telendos to the west, a small island that broke away after a large earthquake in 550 AD – coincidentally, if you’re in the mood for island hopping Telendos is becoming an area of active development with adventurous multi-pitches.
Planes, ferries and automobiles
If you’re traveling via Athens, you can fly directly to Kalymnos. Another option is to take the ferry but it’s a 9-14 hour journey. Your call. My friends and I opted to fly to Kos, an island just south of Kalymnos, and from Kos’ airport we took a short taxi ride to the nearby port, Mastichari.
The ferry to Kalymnos doesn’t leave until the last flight has arrived at the airport, which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how early you arrive. The ride was a short and sweet 1.5 hours, and dropped us off in Pothia, on Kalymnos. From Pothia, there are buses and taxis that will take you to Masouri, where the climbing is, which is roughly a 20-30 minute drive away on steep, winding roads. Be sure to check the return ferry schedules ahead of time — we learned there was limited service on weekends.
The lodgings and views were great
Like most other climbers, we stayed in Masouri. The four of us rented a larger flat on the hillside above the town, the Sdregas Flats. Our apartment had the usual amenities, and, more importantly, there was a patio on which we enjoyed many a glass of wine while taking in incredible views of Telendos below.
After some of our group left early, we wanted to change lodgings and chanced upon Villa Myrtia, a traditional Greek home complete with a courtyard. We stayed there stayed in a blue-shuttered studio apartment just a short walk to the beach. Other recommendations we had heard from friends included Elena Village and Hotel Philoxenia, which are a bit pricier but have the added advantage of having the Grande Grotta right behind it. Location, location, location.
Getting around the island
There are abundant car and scooter rentals on the island, and to play it safe, make sure you have an international driver’s license and a motorcycle license. The roads are narrow and windy, and nearly all rental agencies also include helmet rentals.
For those North American visitors, keep in mind that all of the car rentals have manual transmissions, and cost roughly $30/day. When the four of us travelled together, we rented a car and then later opted for a scooter when there was just the two of us. With that said, we got a brand-new scooter rental across the street from Villa Myrtia at Margaritis Automoto.
Where to climb?
The better question is where NOT to climb? With well-bolted crags and a wide variety of grades, the climbing in Kalymnos is accessible for climbers of all abilities. Even though we climbed nearly every day of our trip, we weren’t able to visit all of the crags we had outlined.
Be sure to check out the Grande Grotta for classic cave tufa climbing – DNA is a pumpy 7a jugfest that is worth your while. To the right of Grande Grotta is Panorama (a crag with a variety of grades and many moderate options; the majority of routes are between 6b and 7a), which, as the name suggests has incredible views of Telendos. There’s also incredible, steep tufa climbing in the area with moderates like Cyclops (6c), one of our favorite climbs on the trip.
Ghost Kitchen is one of the more popular sectors with a center area of impressive stalagmites and adjacent areas with technical slab climbing.
We intended to climb at Telendos, but after we hiked to the top of the island, we discovered we had forgotten the rope! So, instead we visited the beaches and enjoyed exploring routes for the next visit. We had also intended to visit the classic Sikati cave, but since we were visiting in June, we heard it could get quite hot and humid, so we decided on shady and breezier crags.
On the last day of the trip, we went in search of the best views on the island and did Three Stripes – a delightful 5c multipitch which lands you on top of the Grande Grotta. Unfortunately, we didn’t have two 80m ropes, but if you do, there is an epic rappel through the cave of the Grande Grotta when descending from this route.
In addition to your standard sport-climbing gear, bring at least 15 quickdraws and 80m of rope at a minimum.
Food, after all you gotta eat and drink
While there are many restaurants in Masouri, Myrties, and Armeos, we quickly found our favorite places to eat. As far as drinks go, your biggest decision will be whether to drink an Alfa or Mythos beer, or to enjoy the house red or white wine.
The Aegean Tavern easily has the best food we had during the trip — a slightly steeper price tag is worth the incredible, high-quality food. We enjoyed fresh fish, fried octopus croquettes, and donuts covered in local thyme-honey and ice cream to top off the meal. On The Road Street Food is a solid, budget-friendly roadside eatery for simple fare. Wooden Roots is an organic cafe with a farm to table feel that sells local products you can bring home as souvenirs.
We used the Kalymnos Rock Climbing Guidebook by Aris Theodopoulos. When you buy the book some of the proceeds contribute towards the purchase of bolting for voluntary rebolting. You can also check out www.climbkalymnos.com