One of the main reasons we chose to come to Europe was to climb on a small island most people have never heard of before; Kalymnos is well-known for sponges and diving among Greek people, but it isn’t exactly on the international tourist map…unless you are a rock climber. In that case, this little gem is known to be home to some of the best sport climbing in the world. We were lucky enough to spend nearly three weeks here (we liked it so much, we stayed nearly a week longer than we’d planned), and it still wasn’t nearly enough. If you are a rock climber reading this, put it on your short list of dream vacations…but don’t tell anyone else…in late October and early November, Kalymnos is a peaceful limestone paradise!
Getting there is not easy; our path was a little different because we’d started from Santorini (two boats away) instead of Athens (one long boat ride away), which is probably the more common route. For us, it meant staying up until midnight to board a night ferry, and then catching a second short ferry ride from the island of Kos. Sarah, ever the great researcher, had booked a cabin for us on the ferry; we expected a sort of glorified locker with a couple of bunks, but it ended up being a comfortable dorm-like room with twin beds and a bathroom complete with shower. Our hours were all messed up, but it was a great way to travel!
Kos was an inadvertent history lesson for us, although we didn’t realize it until getting on the next boat. We got in so early that nothing was really open near the harbor except for a café that seemed really popular with Greek business people. There was a giant tree right in front of the café, and some ruins behind the building. We saw a couple of signs with the name Hippocrates written on them but had limited curiosity at 6:00 AM. After a couple of strong Americanos and some delicious Greek yogurt with honey, we found our way back to the harbor to await the ticket booth’s opening; later we learned that the tree we were sitting under was actually the “teaching tree” Hippocrates, who grew up in Kos, used for shade while sharing his theories of medicine!
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves racing with a dude named Taxi Thomas through the seriously narrow one-way streets of Pothia, the capital of Kalymnos, towards Masouri and Mirtes, two small beachside towns near the climbing. Our first view included both a massive limestone mountain and deep blue water; not a terrible introduction to the island!We needed a day to get set up because we actually had a home for the next two weeks (we had to switch homes for the last 4 days); Sophie’s Boutique House was perfect for us—it was up a steep private driveway in a really quiet neighborhood…away from the all the scooter traffic in town. We called them skeeter scooters because they sounded like mosquitoes. Anyway, our place was great—comfy, cute, and clean. Our landlady had many cats, so we ended up making plenty of friends at our outdoor dining room—me a bit more grudgingly than Sarah, who was quite enamored with the 3 kittens (one-eyed Patch, tiny Squeak, and the mysterious Dr. Evil) who showed up the last few days of our stay.
While we had to rent a car instead of skeeter scooters (to our dismay, the guy looked up Oregon law to see what type of endorsement we’d need), we got such a good deal for the world’s oldest rental that it was just fine. It did have a hole in the tire, but we got used to the bi-daily trip to the air pump at the gas station on our side of the island; the rental dude patched it, but it only worked for a bit. Approximately 100,000,000,000,000 goats live on this island, so you can’t park underneath trees because they will use the car roof for a stepladder!
Anyway, we did have a different skeeter problem—it was unseasonably hot and humid our first few days, so the mosquitoes were terrible! Nothing like waking up to the world’s most annoying sound (like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber) emitted from a tiny vampire hovering a few inches from your ear. Sarah figured out they were coming from the shower drain, and I got good at assassination via a war whip (okay, it was a t-shirt I coiled up before swinging). As always, she was the engineer and I was the executioner.
So, you’d probably like to hear about the actual climbing, I suppose. Man, I could go on and on (most of you already know this) about all the places and routes we climbed—there are over 3,500 climbs on this small island! Instead, I’ll cover the basics—in short, the rock is awesome! Some of the limestone is gray and slabby with beautiful crimpy holds—we spent a good deal of time on this near the start and end of our time here since we weren’t really in climbing shape anymore. Other routes were vertical with crimps and pockets and maybe a fun bulge or two to negotiate (often the crux). Some were really overhung on orange rock with large jugs and pockets. Caves with these crazy stalagmite “tufas” were usually really difficult, so we mostly watched the really good climbers on these, but we did encounter a few small tufas on other routes. Many of the routes are a full 30 meters, so it was easy to enjoy the trademark amazing flows. The best routes—and there were many—combined stretches of slabs, bulges, pockets, and overhanging jugs.
Kalymnos is known for having vacation grades, easier ratings than other places, but we thought they were fairly true to other limestone we’d climbed in Ten Sleep and in the Balkans. Some were definitely soft for the grades, but with so many different people bolting the routes, we also found some to be surprisingly stiff. Nearly all the climbing, however, does feature super close bolting; with the likelihood of a big fall greatly decreased by this, it is a great place to push. Sometimes, this worked against us, as I found a sharp pocket to leave most of two fingerprints on, and Sarah ended up needing a new pair of shoes to keep up with her swollen feet! Sarah and I both found ourselves leading at and beyond the normal limits of our climbing within a few days; that is, until the final few days when we started to feel the fatigue from all our fun!
Basically, our daily routine was to climb a few hours, swim in the ocean if it wasn’t too windy (Nov. 2 was the last day we swam…not too shabby!), stop at the water station to refill our supply, then relax or plan well into the next months of our sojourn. We occasionally went out to dinner, which meant fish for me and often moussaka (sort of a Greek shepherd’s pie) for Sarah, although we could always agree on Greek salad and kalamari/octopus balls (not what you think) as starters. One particularly charming aspect of Greek dining is the small complimentary dessert you often receive—little Greek doughnuts and canoli-shaped pastries filled with ice cream were our favorites. On rest days, we found a coffee shop with good iced coffees—another Greek specialty…their coffee is actually great, so I think they ice it with plenty of sugar; apparently, Sasha Deguillan (one of Sarah’s favorite pro climbers) has the same taste because we saw her there twice!
On our ManyMoons tour eight years ago, I spent my 34th birthday in a small town in India; I actually really liked the town, but you may recall that India was not my thing. So, I was particularly excited to spend my birthday (you can do the math; I’m too old to do anything beyond round numbers) here the day before we left. We actually found my favorite place of the whole trip to climb—Arginonta Valley—which is the place I’d tell people to visit here. It had endless awesome 6A (like a 10A or B) routes with perfect pockets on mostly vertical rock—perfect for my beat up, age-worn muscles to make one last stand (Sarah of course managed to climb 3 more routes than me in high wind and sporadic rain the next day) before leaving the next day. We’d had big celebratory plans for the afternoon but ended up climbing nearly until dinner instead! Sarah also made a new friend before leaving.
We celebrated my birthday by taking a small boat across to the island of Telendos, which used to be part of the larger island before an earthquake separated the two. The views back to the rocks and the towns of the main island were great, and we managed to find the perfect spot to celebrate our three favorites things while watching the sunset with a cocktail and dinner!
With our Still Moonin’ adventure less than halfway finished, I know we have many great places to see and exciting experiences ahead. I won’t be surprised, however, if our three weeks here in Kalymnos ends up being the one place in our hearts after all of this is finished. We were only here a couple of days before I started checking the temperatures for future trips here in June…school usually gets out around the 15th! For now, though, we will have to keep floating on the memories of a peaceful island with all the amazing limestone we could handle.