Article by Chris Heald
On a recent rock climbing trip to the Greek island of Kalymnos, we found a route called “La Troisieme Age” (The third age). Perhaps a French U3a member had been here and created the route?
It was a lovely 30 metre long route and climbing it prompted me to write this, for several reasons- partly to illustrate how changing fortunes have affected the island, partly to explain to friends in the Walking Group about how climbing works and partly to see if there are any other climbers in Craven U3a (as there are in Ambleside U3a).
Kalmynos is part of the Dodecanese Islands, 183 nautical miles south east of Athens and a 40-50 minute ferry ride from Kos. The ferry arrives at Pothia the island’s port and capital.
The island was the centre of the sponge diving industry, (a dangerous occupation), in the Mediterranean until the 1980’s when the industry declined and the economy was hit badly. Now, Greek tourism has grown to fill some of the gap. When the Greek holidays are over, the west coast village of Masouri in particular now offers a home to visiting climbers from Europe and all over the world. The peak climbing seasons are Autumn and Spring, so the many climbers extend the holiday season substantially and are welcomed by the local people involved in tourism.
Other villages like Emporios, Palionosis and Vathy offer havens to visiting yachties.
Kalymnos has considerable archaeological interest, with sites dating back to Byzantine and Paleochristian eras. The sites I have seen are protected, but low key and just a part of the landscape. There is a recommended archaeological museum in Pothia.
Generally the islanders are warm and welcoming and a typical exchange in one of the many good restaurants may go like this – “But, we didn’t order any soup.” “Ah, this is Mama’s homemade soup. Everybody can have it. It’s complimentary”. Followed later by,” But we didn’t order dessert.” “Ah, this is on the house”. Add to that good Greek wine for a brimming glass at 2 euros and all is good!
Prior to 1997 there was virtually no climbing on Kalymnos. Then an Italian climber visited in 1996 and was stunned by the huge unclimbed limestone cliffs and caves above Masouri.
Soon after this, Aris Theodoropoulos , a Greek climbing Guide, liaised with the local authorities to progress the potential of the island as a climbing destination. Top climbers were invited to visit and create new routes. Aris began to do new routes himself and produce guidebooks to the new climbs, with updates provided between guidebooks by a Brit expat living in Masouri.
In 1997 the first 43 routes were climbed. Now there are over 3,500 climbs of all grades.
Kalymnian climbs are what we call “sports” climbs. This is where the route creator has picked out a potential line to climb, then has drilled bolts into the rock at intervals for protection. There are also fixed bolts to provide a “lower off” at the top, if it’s a climb of 40 metres or less. She or he then gives the new route a name and a grade (of difficulty) and it goes in the guidebook.
Subsequent climbers leading the route clip karabiners in to the bolts as they climb upwards and their rope into the karabiners, in effect to act as pulleys if they fall off.
At the top of the climb the leader clips the rope through the ”lower off” and is then lowered to the ground by their belayer, nowadays using self-locking belay devices.
It’s a far cry from “ traditional”, or trad climbing, where the leader places his or her own protection into cracks as they climb upwards, then you generally walk off from the top of the climb, or abseil down, if you can’t walk off.
In the 50 years that I have been climbing my aim has been to maximise “reward” and to mitigate risk. So I take into consideration – the choice of the right climb for the conditions and my level of fitness. I also ensure that I have a very reliable partner. I do lots of research about a climb and have the best equipment and training.
Both climbing and hillwalking are activities with a risk of injury or death. Interestingly, according to ROSPA you are actually more likely to be injured playing football or cricket than hillwalking or rock climbing. ROSPA also reports 1000 accidents per 100m hours for walking and 4000 for rock climbing. Cycling scores 7000 and horse riding 10,000.
Accidents in sport climbing are rare and generally avoidable.
When I started climbing in 1968, doing trad routes, the mantra was still that “the leader must not fall”. Now for many climbers doing sports climbing, falling off is part and parcel of trying harder routes, often falling off until you have worked out the moves and can then climb the route in one go (which is called “red pointing”).
Kalymnos is not the only “sun rock” destination for Brits looking for warmer climes during our winter, but for me it offers a lovely combination of good weather, great climbing, friendly local people and that special island atmosphere.
If there are any climbers in our U3a I would be happy to get together for a chat and a session at the Harrogate climbing Wall.