DESTINATION GUIDE: Greece - In Search of Solitude

I have to confess to a long term obsession with Kalymnos. I really do love the place; the superbly accessible climbing, the cheery locals, the great climate and of course, the sunsets. We normally visit twice a year for a month or so, but it does get a bit busy - OK very busy - at times for my liking. Roctober is the peak season when hordes of climbers from all over the world arrive, often to jostle in jolly groups during the daytime and enjoy the island's excellent vibe in the evenings.

Rock and religion; the monasteries of Meteora. © Chris Craggs
Rock and religion; the monasteries of Meteora.
© Chris Craggs

The reality is that Kalymnos is a bit of an aberration - a 'pop-up' climbing destination, created for climbers to enjoy their two weeks of bolt clipping in the sun, but by mid-November it turns back into a sleepy backwater, with just the locals and cats left behind to enjoy the winter peace and quiet.

So what to do when the the crowds arrive? Last year we decided to escape to the latest buzz venue of Leonidio in the late October 'peak' season, meeting a couple of friends in Athens and heading east for three hours to the dangling triple forked peninsula of the Peloponnese. In the event it was the Climbing Festival and the week of European half-term holidays and so the place was rammed - worse than Kalymnos in some ways as there are less routes to go around. On occasions there were 50+ small white hire cars parked under the Mad Rock area - bah, humbug, foiled again! The second week was better as we visited the less popular areas of Kyparissi and Nafplio and that sparked an idea.

Greece - Off the Beaten Track © Chris Craggs
Greece - Off the Beaten Track
© Chris Craggs

This time around I thought we could try something a little different, using Aris Theodoropoulos's excellent Greece Sport Climbing - Best Of, I picked five crags with a selection of easier routes in central and northern Greece, Colin flew into Athens for a fortnight, and off we headed in search of quiet cliffs and new adventures.

Frygani, Kalogria, Varasova, Mytikas and Meteora? I'm guessing that like me you have never heard of them, well except for the last in the list, which is well known as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Heavy Metal 6c at Varasova in the evening light. © Chris Craggs
Heavy Metal 6c at Varasova in the evening light.
© Chris Craggs

12 days climbing and around 50 routes later I can report that there are great cliffs in Greece where you won't see another climber, let alone have to queue to get on your chosen route. Accommodation was sorted through Booking.com and AirBnB and in most cases, being out of season, it was inexpensive and close to the climbing. We looked for cliffs with a decent set of routes below 6c, but the book also covers others in the same parts of the world with much harder selections if that is your chosen bent.

Varasova - a mountain in the sea. © Chris Craggs
Varasova - a mountain in the sea.
© Chris Craggs

Frygani

Initially we headed across the Corinth Canal and stopped on the coast at the pleasant town of Kiaton. The cliff of Frygani is an easy 20 minutes drive south from here in the middle of extensive vineyards and big mountains. It is a conglomerate crag, east facing, currently with 40 closely packed routes to go at and only five minutes from the road. It has huge potential for new routes as the cliffs run away rightwards for miles and are hundreds of metres high - the current development has only scratched the surface. The rock is sharp and the routes are generally very well bolted, which is always nice. The majority of the climbs are 5b to 6c, with a few harder offerings.

photo
Ladolea 6b, one of Frygani's classic lines.
© Chris Craggs

Kalogria

A set of south facing cliffs above a big lagoon which is an internationally important bird reserve; we spotted spoonbills, egrets and a pallid harrier in a quick visit to one of the hides. There are 100+ routes across a variety of cliffs with a great selection of harder routes in a couple of caves and on the Aeolus Wall. Mozzies can be a bit of a problem because of the lagoon but they aren't too much of a problem on the cliffs. We climbed on School, Spades Wall and Austrians and found the classic combination of good (sharp!) rock and well-bolted routes up to 30m in length.

Kalogria, the cliffs above the lagoon. © Chris Craggs
Kalogria, the cliffs above the lagoon.
© Chris Craggs

Varasova

An old school venue, much used by Athens climbers over the years. Basically the crag is a mountain right by the sea, with a tiny fishing harbour and a small selection of restaurants. There are around 90 routes to go at, from short and sharp right up to the 18 pitch classic of Sendero Luminoso (7a) - a full rack is required for this beast. The recently developed (by the Remys in 2014) Garden of the Heroes has about 20 routes on featured grey rock, with a nice selection of easier stuff, and an amazing amount of unclimbed rock to go at.

Demaratus 6a - Varasova (there are no routes on the walls to the right). © Chris Craggs
Demaratus 6a - Varasova (there are no routes on the walls to the right).
© Chris Craggs

Mytikas

An idyllic crag with 30 routes, only seconds from the road. It overlooks the bay and town of the same name and gets afternoon shade which is a consideration even in the middle of the winter this far south. The rock here is heavily featured and very sharp in places. The town is a popular tourist spot in the summer, but when we were there in early November there wasn't much going on but for a couple of seafront restaurants with a limited menu and a few locals sipping coffee - perfect really.

photo
Allutian 6a. Fine climbing up a great line at Mytikas.
© Chris Craggs

The routes consist of single pitches and a few extensions onto the upper walls. There is a smattering of grade 4 routes on the far left and grade 7s on the far right, but the central section will be the main draw for most teams. Several of the climbs follow strong natural lines that would be classic trad routes in the UK.

Mytikas sunset. That'll do nicely. © Chris Craggs
Mytikas sunset. That'll do nicely.
© Chris Craggs

Meteora

This place is something special - a huge and fascinating area with who knows how many routes? They even filmed a James Bond here - For Your Eyes Only - with Rick Sylvester taking a massive lob off one of the steepest towers. There are single and multi-pitch climbs on a host of towers and the bolting can be a little (or very) spaced, especially on the older routes. The long-time ethic is ground-up bolting only and it is obvious that the aficionados of the area have been on top of their game - some 40m pitchers only contain perhaps three bolts, though more recent climbs, and most of the classics are adequately equipped.

Mythical Meteora. © Chris Craggs
Mythical Meteora.
© Chris Craggs

The rock is a very solid conglomerate, billions of rounded pebbles from acorn-sized to huge - bring your stiff boots. Perched atop some of the towers are monastery complexes that date back to the 1300s; six remain out of an original twenty four, look carefully and you can see bits of buildings and wooden scaffolding in the remotest of places.

Roussanou Monastery with Pillar of Dreams 5c+ behind. © Chris Craggs
Roussanou Monastery with Pillar of Dreams 5c+ behind.
© Chris Craggs

We climbed mostly on Doupiana, a crag that is pretty accessible and has routes up to six pitches long. Perhaps the stand-out routes for the area are the soaring Pillar of Dreams (9 pitches, 5c+) and the amazing Egg Dance (5 pitches, 6a+ and a bit of aid) finishing up a huge free-standing block. For these, double ropes and a smallish rack of wires and cams will be needed to supplement the fixed gear.

So there you have it, a small selection of Greek cliffs where you won't need to join a queue to get on your chosen classic. We enjoyed it so much we plan to do it all again next year. Maybe we will see you there?

photo
Enjoying Ostria (5c,5c) on Doupiani Tower, Meteora.
© Chris Craggs


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15 Mar

All the crags were excellent but Meteora is somewhere really special - it is a lot of years since I have just stood somewhere and gazed around in awe:

https://www.ukclimbing.com/photos/dbpage.php?id=324810

https://www.ukclimbing.com/photos/dbpage.php?id=324811

Chris

17 Mar

Great article, thanks. Them towers are dreamy!

19 Mar

A nice article, Chris. I have some Greek friends who've shown me that there is plenty of little known climbing in Greece. There's also some ski touring and winter climbing to be done!

Outside of alpine environments, Meteora is one of the beautiful places I've visited, never mind climbed in!

19 Mar

Further north in Greece is also worth a visit around Thessaloniki and Kavala, some great sport, bouldering, a few mountain routes and a bit of deep water soloing and rarely another climber to be seen if that’s what you’re after.

20 Mar

It was such a great trip that next week we are going to try a similar loop but heading south instead of north- Solomos, Kardamyli, Lagada, Nedusa and Zobolo are pencilled in - I will report back,

Chris

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