Climbing on the Greek island Kalymnos

Destinations

8 min. 21. 02. 24

Are you looking forward to climbing in warm weather after a long and cold winter? For inspiration, here's a tip for a well-known climbing destination, one of the Greek islands - Kalymnos.

Sergi Medina looks out to sea after the climbing session.

Until you come to this wonderful Greek island, you won't understand how much quality climbing this small place offers. It's really hard to put into words what Kalymnos is to all keen climbers, but every time you come here you'll get it very quickly!

Whether you choose to travel by air and arrive at the small Kalymnos Island National Airport, or if you arrive at the port of Pothia, it's only a ten-minute drive to the top of the nearest cliff in front of the city Massouri.

And that's exactly the moment when you realise how much climbing is waiting for you on this island!

WHAT CLIMBS DO YOU FIND THERE?

In the huge vertical walls of Kalymnos, you'll find some of the best tufa climbing in the world ever!

For example, in the Panormos area and the Psili Riza sector, you will find incredibly long lines full of tufas, both in vertical and slightly overhanging profiles. An area that will please all lovers of technical climbing and climbing on long stalactite formations. The routes reach 60 metres and range from a friendly 6b to a difficult 8a.

Another place that immediately catches your eye is the world-famous and massive 50-meter-high cave in the Armeos area. This cave is called the Grande Grotta and is covered with giant tufas. In this crag, you will find the biggest classics of the whole Kalymnos island, such as "Aegialis" 7c or "Fun de Chichunne" 8a. Both of these routes are extremely overhanging, but they offer pretty huge holds that allow you to try them and you don't have to be a pro-climber.

However, this "hardcore" tufa climbing is far from all you'll find on this island!

Tufas of all shapes offer incredible climbing in the overhanging walls of Kalymnos island.

It may surprise you, but the high-altitude area of Le Coeur d'Armeos will delight even less skilled climbers. There are some great routes with easier difficulties, such as French 6a to 6c. All the routes are well-bolted and they lead on incredibly compact and solid walls of grey limestone up to 40 metres high. Thus they are undoubtedly a climbing paradise for all sixth-grade climbers.

A little further on, just behind the Grande Grotta cave, lovers of vertical face climbing will enjoy the huge Spartan Wall. Perfect vertical climbing with long lines in the seventh French grade. After all, the entire Massouri cliff represents only a small percentage of the climbing on the entire Kalymnos island!

If you drive north along the coast, towards the town of Arginonta, you will find another breathtaking world of climbing. The Odyssey sector is a cliff with over 100 climbing routes, where you can try just about every type of possible climbing style in just this one sector. Short and strength-intensive routes, but also long endurance lines on perfect holds. Verticals and overhanging walls and even some "crimpy" climbs. In the Arginonta Valley, you'll simply find a ton of first-class climbing on outstanding limestone.

You have many sectors to choose from, not too far apart. There is something for everyone...

If you're looking for tougher challenges, check out sectors Arhi or Noúfaro, where you'll find some real island gems and five-star challenges for the strongest among you, routes up to 8c+.

It is no coincidence that some of the lines were first ascended by the best elite climbers such as Adam Ondra or Alex Megos. There are even routes of the highest calibre: 9a and 9a+, drilled by Simon Montmory, but the difficulties of the routes are not confirmed yet, so if you feel on it, you can try to climb them and give a Simon grade confirmation!

The amount of fantastic climbing on Kalymnos is endless and every year many new routes are drilled. To this day, more than 4,500 climbing lines have been bolted on the island!

The girls on Kalymnos can climb hard too! On the photo Sergi's friend "Julia" (photo: Klara Stein Photography)

PLACE AND AREA

Climbing spots and their surroundings couldn't be better! On one side you have a beautiful limestone cliff and on the other side a breathtaking view of the Aegean Sea. The scenery and the views of the endless space above the sea give you an unforgettable atmosphere and a very pleasant feeling. Watching the sunset on the way back after a full day of climbing? That is completely priceless!

Kalymnos is simply an exceptional place that every sports climber should visit at least once in his lifetime.

Kalymnos is an exceptional place with breath-taking views of the open and blue coloured Aegean Sea.

FOOD AND ACCOMMODATION

Kalymnos is a popular tourist destination, so there is no problem with accommodation, as well as with dining options!

The largest concentration of hotels and restaurants is in the Massouri area. Here you can find everything from the cheapest (but delicious) "street food" to luxurious restaurants. Due to the popularity of this place, it gets really busy in the high season.

If you are looking for a more peaceful environment, come to visit all the surrounding smaller villages. In the north of Massouri, nestled in the bay, welcome Arginonta, and further south a village Kantouni and Platis Yialos. Both of them are within a short drive from Kalymnos Island National Airport. After all, it's a pretty small island, so whichever direction you go, you're everywhere you need to be in a 20-minute drive by car.

If you want to experience a real Greek taverna, go visit Teo's Taverna in the small town of Arginonta. On a hot grill, you'll enjoy Greek specialities and of course, homemade rakia, served directly by the owners (the Teo family) to celebrate every extraordinary day with them.

On the Kalymnos island, you will find a climbing shop, where you can buy a great Rafiki's climbing clothes. (photo: Eduardo Ruano Lin)

TRANSPORT AND TRANSFER

People usually like to ride on scooters. This way of transportation is very cheap, but most importantly, it's a lot of fun! However, if you don't feel like riding, you can rent a car for your safety and comfort.

Anyway, if you're staying somewhere near Massouri, it's good to know that many climbing sectors are easily accessible just by foot. Grande Grotta, PanormosPoets, Spartacus Wall, for these crags, you don't need any means of transport to access these cool climbing spots.

Another of Sergi's climbing buddies "Marta" captured during a rest on one of the many local sport routes. (photo: Klara Stein Photography)

WHERE DO YOU BUY CLIMBING GEAR?

Right on the island close to the Massouri beach, you will find a climbing shop Radosport, where you can buy all the necessary climbing equipment, whether you need a quick-draw, a climbing knee pad or a harness. What's more, the shop sells almost exclusively our Rafiki climbing clothing, so don't hesitate to dress up before you head out to climb the local tufas and beautiful limestone walls!

THE BEST SEASON

The main climbing season is considered spring and autumn, but since Kalymnos is a relatively open-space island, everything depends on the wind blows.

If there is a north wind, the climbing conditions are always great. To clarify and understand: a week when the wind is blowing from the north, even in mid-August, there will be much more pleasant climbing than in late November with no wind blowing.

Even the winter months can be very pleasant if it is not raining. In winter, you will experience a quiet atmosphere without people and this also has its charm.

The local climber/guide "Sergi Medina" climbs hard too! (photo: Klara Stein Photography)

INTERVIEW WITH SERGI MEDINA

Climbing conditions depend on the direction of the wind. (photo: Klara Stein Photography)

Hi Sergi, Kalymnos is a famous sports climbing area. Can I find any multi-pitch routes or bouldering above the ocean?

Sergi: You'll find everything on Kalymnos! On the main island, there are several great multi-pitch routes up to 200 metres, but also on the neighbouring island of Telendos, there are some interesting multi-pitches with heights up to 300 metres. Most of these classic routes are very well secured with bolts, so you'll need only a quick-draws to climb them.

There are also a few spots for "DWS" (deep water soloing, author's note) that can add an extra adventure to your climbing trip. I would say that Kalymnos stands out for the quality of the single-pitch sport climbing routes, so if you only have a few days during your visit, I would prefer to focus on these sports climbs and choose the best routes in your climbing grade.

THERE ARE ALSO A COUPLE OF "DEEP WATER SOLOing" SPOTS TO ADD A LITTLE ADVENTURE TO YOUR CLIMBING TRIP.

When were the first climbing routes established and who brought the "climbing life" to Kalymnos? Locals or foreigners?

Sergi: The first crags were bolted on Kalymnos at the beginning of the 90s if I am not wrong. Classics in Odyssey or Arhi are dated there, but I think at the beginning of the 2000s the voice got more spread and the development started to speed up. Also, it's fair to say that long ago some Greek climbers maybe climbed some of the mountains using climbing techniques far before sports climbing was a thing.

SOME GREEK CLIMBERS conquered LOCAL MOUNTAINS USING CLIMBING TECHNIQUES LONG BEFORE SPORT CLIMBING BECAME A thing ITSELF.

Till now more than 4.000 routes have been established here and a full way of living has been created around this. How we reach this point is a mixture of situations that made it possible. First of all: the incredible quality of the climbing combined with the effort of Greek and Italian developers put this place under the spotlight for international climbing holidays. After that some brands like Petzl and The North Face used Kalymnos to launch climbing festivals and that made it very famous outside of Europe as well.

I would also mention that in Kalymnos the number of local climbers is very small. Like in any other place in Greece, seems that sports climbing is available just for tourists, this is something we need to think about and try to make rock climbing more accessible for the locals. Otherwise, there will be always a gap between locals and tourists. The tourists will be the ones who enjoy the climbing and the locals ones, who work for them. I think we should somehow try to make it accessible for the youth of Greece, like offering courses at a more affordable price for them or promoting it in the schools, trying to find a way to make it more available.

IT SEEMS THAT CLIMBING IS A PRIVILEGE ONLY FOR TOURISTS AND WE SHOULD THINK ABOUT IT AND TRY TO MAKE IT ACCESSIBLE TO LOCAL PEOPLE, OTHERWISE, THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A GAP BETWEEN LOCALS AND TOURISTS.

How many active climbers do you have on the island? Do you climb just outdoors or are there any indoor climbing gyms as well?

Sergi: Kalymnos is a place with a lot of seasonality, meaning that many climbers will come for a month or two during the high season, but there are very few active climbers that live on the island the whole time. A few climbing guides that we leave there plus some climbing legends who decided to settle in this amazing place for their retirement.

But if you take out all the climbers that come in for a short climbing holiday, the rest will be a very small part of the climbing community. On Kalymnos, we have a very small, but nice climbing gym, so if you need to train something specific you may use our pleasant indoor facility.

Kalymnos is a seasonal destination, which means that many climbers only come for a month or two. (photo: Klara Stein Photography)

How long should I fly in to experience the best that may island offers? And I don't mean climbing itself, but also the local Greek culture?

Sergi: For as long as you want! There are no time limitations on Kalymnos, no matter if it's a month or two months long trip. There is never enough of climbing! You will always find more, so if you can try to make a long trip here, be it... (he smiles)

What should I bring with you? What length of rope to take and how many quickdraws? Is there anything else that I need specific for this area?

Sergi: The 80-meter rope is a minimum! But if you are looking forward to climbing some of the incredible extensions of Panorama or Grande Grotta, you will find very useful a 100-meter rope.

If you want to be sure, take 25 quick-draws just in case you want to jump on the mega-pitches. But if you want to climb just the classics (without the extensions), 18 to 20 quick-draws will be enough. Yeah and of course: a pair of knee pads can be very helpful if you like to use them.

A one hundred metres-rope, 25 quick-draws and couple of knee pads. Routes on Kalymnos may be very long and varied.

Where can I find the best information on climbing, routes and sectors? Can you recommend a climbing guidebook?

Sergi: You can get the guidebook for climbing on Kalymnos. It's a pretty good book with great pictures and descriptions, but also: ask me! I'll give you all the tips I have! (Sergi is smiling)

SERGI: "KALYMNOS AND LEONIDIO, I HAVE A STRONG EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT TO BOTH OF THESE PLACES..."

Kalymnos or Leonidio? What do these destinations offer? How do they differ and which do you prefer personally?

Sergi: Well that's the hard one…I have emotional attachments to both of the places and I like them a lot. I think Leonidio is a great place for winter when you can enjoy all the crags in the sun, but also hard lines in the shade (crags like Elona or Nifáda). In the winter months in Leonidio, you will find a nice and warm community and a Greek village full of life. Jam sessions, concerts and many cultural-social events will take place in Panjika Cooperative Cafe, the local climbers truly love this place and there is a great welcoming feeling in the climbing community.

But Kalymnos: it's very hard to compete with the variety, quantity and quality of the climbs in every grade scale. The possibilities are endless. There are great routes literally for everyone. I climbed here unbelievable routes in the eighth grade and also some of the most amazing aerial and full-of-good holds routes in the sixth grade like nowhere else in the world. The climbing on Kalymnos is love at first sight, the beauty of the walls so close to the ocean is breathtaking and the rock is bulletproof. It is for sure one of the best climbing spots in the world.

"CLIMBING on KALYMNOS IS JUST LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT AND THE BEAUTY OF THE WALLS NEAR THE OCEAN IS BREATHTAKING..."

Also, you can climb almost all year in Kalymnos, even in summer you can find very good conditions when the right wind is blowing. And the fact of having the ocean so close to you when you climb, it's something very special for me. The only downside is that you may not find a living community in the winter months. It's quite a dead place, but in high season you will see many climbers around having a lot of fun.

You also run climbing courses. What are people most interested in? Which courses are the most popular?

Sergi: We have a lot of various people, from total beginners to very experienced climbers with some specific needs. Recently a lot of the people who reached me, are climbers pretty strong in the climbing gym, but not so confident in climbing outdoors. During five days I coach them to transfer all their power into efficiency and a good mindset to climb outdoors.

Also, people are very interested in the Tufa Climbing Course where I teach how to understand and unlock some of the tricks to find the flow while climbing on tufas (which is probably the climbing style I like the most). But to be honest, I love my job so I also find the joy of teaching hyper-excited total beginners climbing for the first time.

Climbing on tufas, crimps, pockets and jugs with breath-taking views of the ocean. Experience the beauty of Kalymnos on your own climbing skin! (photo: Eduardo Ruano Lin)

What's not to be missed besides climbing on stalactites when I arrive on a trip to Kalymnos?

Sergi: Climbing on crimps and pockets.

Some of the nice beaches like Plati Gialos and beautiful hikes in the sunset like the one to the Kalymnian Monastery Saint Savvas in Pothia. Don't forget to visit the small island of Telendos, have a meal in Teos Taberna in Arginonta or drink a rakhi in the narrow streets of Pothia.

Rent a motorboat in Vitamin Sea on a calm sea day or freedive around Kastelli beach. Just enjoy this Greek island to the fullest! (he smiles)

Can you reveal to us at least one less-known sector where you usually do not meet any climbers, but at the same time you have a great climbing there?

Sergi: For sure! It is no secret that in any sector with a longer approach, you will find fewer people so try Jurassic Park, Galatianí Cave or Big Shadow. All these require 30-plus minutes of hiking under the cliffs, so they are normally less crowded.

Thanks for the interview, Sergi. Wish you all the best!

No problem at all. Nice to meet you and I look forward to seeing all of you there! (smiling)

If you hesitate where to go climb on Kalymnos, contact Sergi and let him guide you through the beauty of the island.

PHOTOS TO THE ARTICLE PROVIDED BY

Eduardo Ruano Lin

www.ruanolin.com

Klara Stein Photography

www.klarastein.com

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