April, October 2011.   Report by: Bryan Rynne


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This year, for our 'traditional' early season climbing trip abroad, Patrick and I decided to give long, multi-pitch routes (and associated thunderstorms) a miss and try out Kalymnos - a Mecca for fans of single pitch sports routes. Over the last few years we have heard a string of people come back from trips to Kalymnos raving about how good it is. Even die-hard, anti-bolt fundamentalists are unable to avoid admitting they have enjoyed themselves there. In light of this, Patrick and I went out there in April, and having now been there I would say it lives up to the rave reviews. In fact, I thought it was so good I went back again in October, with James Dalgarno.

Both trips were excellent, although some of the days in April were a bit cold and windy, but it was always possible to climb, by a judicious choice of crag sheltered from the wind. There were no such problems in October.

In terms of the number, quality and range of routes Kalymnos is now probably the best sports climbing area in Europe. The current guide has 64 sectors and about 1,700 routes, mostly easily accessible from the main centre of Masouri (20 minutes counts as a long walk in here). There is a lot of cheap accommodation available in Masouri and you don't need to hire a car - you can walk to many of the crags from Masouri, and there is a fairly good bus service that gets you to most of the others (the maximum distance you need to go is about 6 miles). Alternatively, there is a thriving trade in scooter hire.

The climbing is excellent on good, well-bolted routes. Accommodation and eating/drinking are also very good (especially if you like drinking very cold, tasteless Greek lager on balmy, hot evenings, while watching the sun go down over the Aegean - I found that tasteless Greek lager seemed just the thing in the circumstances).

Almost all the climbing is on single-pitch sports routes, although there are a few long multi-pitch routes, mostly on the smaller island of Telendos. The two main ones are: Wings for Life 6a, 250m (11 pitches) and Wild Country 6a+, 265m (9 pitches). Patrick and I succumbed to the temptation to do both these routes. These were both highly enjoyable days out. Overall, Wild Country is considerably harder than Wings for Life, being much more sustained and having harder cruxes. In fact, the first 6 pitches of Wings for Life are overgraded and took Patrick and me about an hour, even pitching them as normal. The walk in to the cave is about 1 hour (assuming you go directly to the correct cave...), and the walk back to the jetty is about 1.5 hours. We both felt that Wings for Life was actually much more fun than Wild Country, and a great day out. In fact, I thought it was good enough to go and do it again with James when I went there in October.

A minor word of warning about getting to Wings for Life. The route description says:

  • 'from Telendos village, take the track along the south coastline until a high cave with a monster rib coming down its right-hand side is visible'.
Sounds simple enough, but it should in fact say
  • 'from Telendos village, take the track along the south coastline until the second high cave with a monster rib coming down its right-hand side is visible'!
You should also read the description about getting off carefully - it isn't hard, but there are a lot of things you could fall off on the way down if you go wrong.

The obvious competition for Kalymns, in terms of size, is the Costa Blanca, but having been to the Costa Blanca on a large number of occasions I preferred Kalymnos (however, the Costa Blanca has the long routes on the Puig Campana and is maybe more amenable in the depths of winter).

Given the amount of information about Kalymnos on the internet, I am going to cop out and not write much more here - I would just say: 'go there, it is great'.

Some practical details.

The trickiest part of going to Kalymnos is simply getting there! There are two main options:
(a)    fly to Kos, then get a bus or taxi to Mastichari, then a ferry to Pothia on Kalymnos, then another bus or taxi to Masouri.
(b)   fly to Athens, then fly directly to Kalymnos.

The main problem with (b) is that, when I looked into it, it seemed to be fairly expensive and the flights did not match up, so you needed to spend a night in Athens each way (this may of course have changed by now).
I did alternative (a) on each trip. There are a lot of charter flights to Kos, but they do not start up until May, when it seems to be too hot to climb, so in April Patrick and I flew to Gatwick one evening and then to Kos next morning (both with Easyjet). We managed the return in one day.
In October, Easyjet had stopped flights to Kos, but James and I got the final Thomson holiday flight of the year to Kos from Newcastle. Both these options seemed to work relatively well (well, see below for a caveat to that).

NB due to striking air traffic controllers, bus and taxi drivers, our journey out in October made the Odyssey seem like a well-organised Saga holiday. So, to slightly modify my above advice - go there when the Greeks have stopped wrecking their own economy, don't even think about it before then.

The standard accommodation in Masouri seems to be 2 or 3 bed apartments with toilet and shower, a small sink and tea-making area, and a balcony looking out over the sea to Telendos. The going rate seems to be about 15-25 Eu twin, and 25-35 Eu triple.

In both April and October it was often quite hot during the day, but it could be fairly windy, and cold in the shade first thing in the morning. You also find yourself sitting on balconies eating (breakfast and dinner), and this can be fairly cold, so it is worth bringing both skimpy tops and a down jacket or buffalo shirt!