Trip Report: The North Face Kalymnos Climbing Festival 2013

Written by Nick B (Exeter store) and Tom (Bristol store)

Nick B writes –

So, how do you fancy going on a climbing trip to Kalymnos, sponsored by The North Face?

“You get three days of climbing, there’s a party and loads of other events. Are you up for it?”

Music to my ears.

After a quick pinch to check I was awake there was little hesitation as I replied “when do I leave?”

I have to admit that over the years I have been on some great “training trips” with the company and manufacturers, but this one was sounding ever more appealing!

If you have read any of my blogs on our website you will have guessed that I am a keen climber so the chance to visit a venue of this quality that I have not climbed at before was a dream come true. Add to that the whole festival atmosphere and the chance to see some of the best climbers in the world battling it out with the project routes it had to be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Due to the difficulty of getting flights to and from Kos our travel turned out to be complicated but very well organised by Sharon, one of the UK The North Face team based in the lakes.

A quick drive to Bristol to pick Tom up was followed by a long drive to Gatwick airport. Having parked the car, we proceeded to get slightly lost getting to the Travel Lodge we were staying at, but after a bit of wandering around we checked in and hit the bar for a welcome pint of beer before turning in for the night.

Nick & Tom slightly lost at Gatwick!

Nick & Tom slightly lost at Gatwick!

4am dawns and we are up and off in a taxi to the departures area where a coffee or two later I feel human enough again to enter into conversation with a couple of other people in the departures lounge – Dave, John and Claire – who turn out to be on trip too.

Boarding the plane we all realised that there was only going to be five people on the flight. The cabin crew and pilots outnumbered the passengers!

Aisle seat, anyone?

Aisle seat, anyone?

Four hours later we land in Kos and exit the plane to blinding sunlight and 25 degree heat. Now the holiday feels like it’s started!

Tom writes –

Kalymnos is a small Greek island that is actually closer to Turkey than Greece, very near to the well-known Island, Kos.

It has a small airport. However, it is common practice to fly to Kos and skip across on a 45min ferry, which is exactly what we did.

The harbour that greets you in Kos is small and next to some beaches lined with bars, cafés and a few small shops where you can relax as you wait for the ferry.

Tom & Dave waiting for a coffee

Tom & Dave waiting for a coffee

As you cross on the ferry you can see Kalymnos and it really whets the appetite for the stay ahead as there is a lot of rock on display.

Nick & Tom with Kalymnos in the background

Nick & Tom with Kalymnos in the background

As soon as you arrive in the harbour of Pothia, the capital of Kalymnos, you are surrounded by beautiful sailing boats, very retro looking working ships (one or two I noticed had old loading cranes on board!) and fishing vessels.

The beautiful harbour of Pothia

The beautiful harbour of Pothia

The sea is clearly pivotal to their way of life, with the fishing trade going on all around you. We saw large blue-fin Tuna being loaded from a van to a lorry as we disembarked the ferry.

Nick –

As we got off the ferry we were met by reps from The North Face, bundled on to a bus headed for our hotel.

Tom & Nick at the hotel

Tom & Nick at the hotel

Twenty minutes later I am sat on the balcony overlooking the hotel pool. It’s a hard life!

Not knowing exactly what our agenda was, we got straight into the local shop for beer and snacks and then decided it would be a good idea to visit the local bar/restaurant for food.

After a large moussaka and garlic bread I was feeling better and ready for whatever the evening had in store, which was dinner with The North Face team and all the other distributors from across Europe (about 80 people).

Luckily, I have a large appetite and the 5 courses of Greek food went down very well.

+1 dinner guest - a rather friendly local cat

+1 dinner guest – a rather friendly local cat

After that it was all off to the Elena village for the opening ceremony and a few cool TNF sponsored athlete films and interviews. By midnight I was starting to feel, having been up for 20 hours and the 3.5 hrs sleep the night before, pretty tired. So, it was great to finally get back to the hotel and SLEEP…

Elena village, with the "Grand Grotto" crag in the background

Elena village, with the “Grand Grotto” crag in the background

Gins all round!

Gins all round!

Tom

For all of you that have not visited Kalymnos I thought I could give you a little bit of history of the island’s rise to climbing acclaim.

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In 1996 the climbing potential of the island was properly recognised by Italian climber, Andrea di Bari, and in ’97 he returned to develop a significant number of sport routes. This continued and has led to the western side of the island being developed into a lively sport-climbing destination.

The local community and even government is now aware that climbing, and the tourism it creates, is supporting a large proportion of the local economy and is very supportive as a result.

As an example of this support, during the Friday night ‘Opening Ceremony’ the island’s Mayor presented their equivalent of the ‘Key to the City’ to the 3 individuals, major players in developing the local crags.

It is currently one of the most popular climbing venues in the world for many, many reasons, not least because it has so many routes in the lower grades making it an ideal destination for climbers of all abilities.

It has fantastic quality, varied Limestone from steep tufa and stalactite-covered lines, some in caves (that range from small to gigantic!), to sharp cracked and pocketed off-vertical slabs. The amount of which is absolutely staggering considering the island is only around 20 km long and maybe 10 km wide. These dimensions really give you no idea of how much rock there is!

It has almost year round climbing conditions; only the summer really causes a problem, being too hot, although this isn’t a complete write off as the crags face most directions (you can at least escape the sun if not the heat) and that’s only the developed areas of the island. There is so much more to discover, as you can see on the map.

Nick –

07.00 dawns and its breakfast and a couple of product displays and a general chat on the way that The North Face are headed when it comes to their Summit Series range of clothing and equipment.

We are one of their preferred retailers of the Summit series equipment in the UK, so it was good to get an overview of the range and see how important it is to them as a company to be at the forefront of product design and innovation.

After the PowerPoint displays and athlete chats about product, it was down to the serious business of climbing.

The North Face very generously gave us all one of their new cragging packs, the Cinder 40, to test and so a quick re-pack of my climbing kit and it was off to catch the ferry to Telendos.

Everyone with their Cinder 40 packs. Telendos in the background.

Everyone with their Cinder 40 packs. Telendos in the background.

Tom –

On Day 2 we popped over to Telendos, a smaller neighboring island, home to some excellent crags itself. It’s so close it can be (but isn’t recommended to be) swam to by experienced swimmers – less than 1km at the narrowest point of the channel.

We visited a cavernous crag called Irox (58 on the map), a cave covered in tufa’s and the odd stalactite, but also having a smoother, but cracked and far from featureless, slab running from one side. Nick and I did 8 routes each in about 6 hours, at quite a leisurely pace, between 4b and 6c+.

Tom, Claire and Sharon on the ferry to Telendos

Tom, Claire and Sharon on the ferry to Telendos

Irox in the background

Irox in the background

The best route of the day was Called ‘Helvet-X’ and was a classic line in excess of 3 stars (denoted by a musical note in the guide) that had everything from crimpy face holds to finger, hand and fist jamming cracks through vertical and steeper ground with a bit of tufa thrown in for good measure.

It stood at 30m tall and was pretty damn tiring! I would say it’s a must for any climber capable of that grade who visits.

Tom onsighting "Helvet-X"

Tom onsighting “Helvet-X”

Dave enjoying one of the fine slabs at Irox

Dave enjoying one of the fine slabs at Irox

Having both ‘onsighted’ (climbed first go with no falls) the route we then finished the day off with two more routes, one of which was a 6b+ called ‘Magma’ that was credited with 3 stars and very popular.

Tom getting up close and personal with"Magma"

Tom getting up close and personal with”Magma”

It appeared to be a little spicy for the grade as it was spitting off other climbers who other than that had been climbing quite happily above 6b+. Following a very pumpy, thick tufa for 5 bolts, it had a difficult mantle move on thin holds at its top, to access delicate slabbier terrain. At its 4th bolt I started to wane and failed to get the rope into the quickdraw. I backed off a little, my foot popped and I was off!

Thanks to Nick’s sharp reactions he caught me a little over head-height off the deck. Nick got the 4th clip in but then fell off the crux as well. We were now both looking at the boat and realised that everyone bar us and a couple of others had boarded, we really needed to get those draws back! I started up again. This time with the rope left in what we had already clipped, for some reason this time it felt easy. Down I came and after a rushed packing exercise we were on the boat and heading back to Kaly.

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Although we didn’t swim until we got back to mainland Kalymnos, others did at the crag itself in a little cove where the boats were moored.

The beach that is by the Melitsachas jetty is a very nice pebble beach and was where we went for a dip when we got back.

Tom on the beach, Telendos in the background

Tom on the beach, Telendos in the background

Nick –

It was a great day out at the crag and the atmosphere was all fun, you wouldn’t have known there was a competition going on. We had three of The North Face sponsored athletes with us and in between watching out for the beginner climbers in the group they pretty much climbed all the hardest routes (8a+/8b) at the crag.

Perfect weather and perfect rock made for a special days climbing.

After another lovely ferry ride and a quick dip it was off to dinner again for more delicious Greek food before hitting Elena village for a beer and more films of the sponsored athletes doing some crazy climbing in some very inhospitable places.

More Greek food. Goat was on the menu this time

More Greek food. Goat was on the menu this time

Story telling evening with big screen entertainment

Story telling evening with big screen entertainment

Tom –

On Day 3 we visited 2 crags on Kaly itself. These were up the coast from the TNF village ‘Masouri’ and around a corner, which created a large cove.

The first was called ‘Arginonta’ (16 on the map) and was south-west facing, leading it to be shaded until about midday. It’s a vertical crag but not too difficult or tall and lends itself to a gentle technical climbing style.

The first thing that strikes you when walking into the crag is a large cleft in the face which houses two routes on the arêtes on either side of its entrance, one 5c+ called ‘and now for something completely different’ and the other a 6b+ called ‘Climate Change’, 3 star and 2 star respectively.

Both were superb and gave very 3 dimensional climbing experiences, one being delicate on big holds and the other very butch and powerful but again on big holds.

Nick B chilling out in the cave halfway up a route

Nick B chilling out in the cave halfway up a route

After the second of these routes we were pretty baked-off as the sun had come round. It was hotter than the day before, getting up to 30oC, so we popped to the back of the cove to a nice beach (sharing its name with the crag as the crag was named after it)…and another relaxing swim, I could really get used to the siesta way of life!

Looking down on the beach from Arginonta crag

Looking down on the beach from Arginonta crag

We then drove down the other side of the cove, back towards ‘Masouri’ and found a north-facing crag called ‘Summertime’ (18 on the map), no doubt as it allows climbing then too! It was in stark contrast to ‘Arginonta’, a steep slabby wall with beautifully sharp cracks and pockets. This produced a very trying 6b+ called ‘Macabi’ – 3 star again, a lovely 6a called ‘Ammohostos Vasilevousa’ that is given the musical treatment instead of stars, and a 6a+ called ‘Orea Dana’ that is given two stars. Nick and I agreed it was a bit tough (6b maybe) and also could have had a third star!

By the end of the day we had amassed 10 routes each and were pretty tired, so it was off to the hotel for a quick shower and out for dinner before we went to the Masouri for an evening of TNF Story Telling, Prize Presentations and the ‘after party’…

Nick –

Having looked at our competition score card for the day it turned out we hit the crag with the most shade for the longest time, which was a good idea as it was seriously hot.

After knocking out 5 or 6 routes each we needed a rest and with the beach seeming a popular choice with our group I had to down quickdraws and do the lazing about on the beach thing.

After a few more routes in the shady crag of “Summertime” it was back to the hotel for ten minutes before hitting the restaurant again, this time a really nice place by the beach.

After dinner it was off to the prize giving ceremony and after party.

The pro climber prize winners.

The pro climber prize winners.

The prize giving ceremony was quite a long affair as there were quite a few categories. The pro event was won by Alexander Megos and Caroline Ciavaldini, we did not win our category and to put it into context we climbed 20 routes in the two days each. The winners were a pair of Italians who managed 44 routes each!!

Eventually the party started at just after midnight and the DJ soon had the crowd busting out some moves on the dance floor. After an hour or so half the crowd was on the stage with him and everyone was in full party mode.

Party on!

Party on!

At about 3am it was time head for the hotel, ready for an early start in the morning.

Tom –

On the forth and final day we were due to head home but as our ferry wasn’t until 2.30pm we decided we’d head north of Masouri again for one last climb! The crag was called ‘Odyssey’ (23 on the map). This crag is something quite special. Like many other crags on the island, it symbolises what the climbing is famed for – cavernous faces formed by large caves, covered in big features such as large tufa, pockets and stalactites. It somewhat resembles a fortress itself when you walk up beneath it, trying to resist those who come there to climb.

The Odyssey crag

The Odyssey crag

Here as we were short of time we got straight on a few lines of obvious interest. The first a 7a called ‘Dionysos’ given 3 stars. This was a steep line that raged up from a short slab, going just off vertical before a hands free rest then powering through a really quite off vertical section, not quite a roof though!

Its holds were formed by lovely organically shaped pockets and after the rest it powers up a cracked groove onto some not so friendly face holds, superb! This was the second most enjoyable route of the trip for me, only Helvet –X was better.

Tom high on "Dionysos"

Tom high on “Dionysos”

we’d finished on this, Nick worked his way up the hardest route of the week, a 7b called ‘Omiros’ that was just to the right of previous route. It followed a series of pockets up a groove into a crack and tufa finish, it seemed incredibly hard. This also gained 3 stars. With time for just one more, I found myself on another ‘musical’ route. This time 6b+, just about all I could manage, but boy what a beauty! It was called ‘Atena’ and is described as ‘a little slippery by Kalymnos standards’, and wasn’t it just! It was polished on almost every hold. Fortunately the holds were big enough to get you’re hand round or in, some being large pockets. These were all polished to a high sheen as well but as I closed in on the chains at the top I knew they were all too big or positive to let go of.

Nick –

Feeling a bit jaded from the night before we stagger up to a crag I had spotted whilst driving past the day before. With time in short supply we hit a couple of routes which were superb, both with hard finishes. I fell off the finish of both of them, the last one about 10 times right by the chains. Hey ho, it was all good fun and as 12am struck we had to make a mad dash for the ferry back to Kos.

17 hrs later (5am) after one ferry, two buses, two planes and five hours of driving, I parked my car outside my house. Home sweet home for 3 hours till I had to go to work. Ouch!

All in all, it was an awesome trip and one I would love to do again. In fact, I will be booking my flights for next year soon. The island is such a great venue for climbing – I just have to go again.

Big thanks go to The North Face for inviting us on such a great trip and thanks to Sharon and the TNF team for organising our travel and the loan of her hire car while we there.

A special shout goes out to John, Claire and Dave, our trip would not have been nearly as much fun without you guys.

Nick & Tom 

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