Aegean Afternoon

© Dan Arkle
The east ridge of Telendos, Kalymnos.  © John Colton
The east ridge of Telendos, Kalymnos.
© John Colton

Aegean Afternoon

by John Colton

When the Western horizon smokes at sunset you know its going to be very cold or very hot. This being the Dodecanese in August resolves the question of which.

Forty or fifty Eleanoras falcons circle and manoeuvre in the twilight. They've descended from the mountains to take insects from above the few tree covered areas of Kalymnos Island. A cross between Peregrine and Hobby, watching one would be a delight, but to see half a percent of the worlds' breeding population at a glance! No one else seems to notice them.

Next day, in the late afternoon I set off for one of their fastnesses. The sun was moving round off the North and east face of Telendos mountain. It was time to go.

Ever since I first set eyes upon it I fancied making a route up the long rib of limestone that descends 460 metres from the summit into the sea. I suppose it's the East ridge and where it becomes distinct and high on its southern edge, a number of large caverns add to its aesthetic appeal. They look like eye sockets in the skull of the mountain.

I wasn't seeking technical difficulty in this route, just getting up as sportingly and safely as those contradictory factors allow. You won't find reference to this way in the Kalymnos Climbing guide, nor does it get a mention on the fairly hideous climbing sector indicator boards, sprung up since last year. The island is proud to be without a MacDonalds but the American West has arrived.

The small, subtle, early climbs signage was reminiscent of the way markings to the remote and lonely monasteries and more than adequate. For me, the journey to the bit where the rope comes out is part of the fun too. The Walker Spur, the Drus and the south side of Mt Blanc all began at my front door in West Yorkshire; the first 800 miles have their own potential for adventure if not quite as blatant as the final one or two. Besides, some of us don't even mind getting lost, which might be the case on this ridge as what appears to be seamless and continuous from the beach will almost certainly be not so.

Telendos Sunset, Kalymnos  © Dan Arkle
Telendos Sunset, Kalymnos
© Dan Arkle

Prickly vegetation soon draws blood from my unprotected legs. Boots and gaiters would be ideal but don't really fit in with 30 degrees C. I make for the rock as movement there is easier than on the loose scree or scrub that is alternative. Progress is good and I leave little cairns to indicate the way back should I be thwarted higher up. I measure where I am relative to the East face round the corner on my right.

The last 200 metres of that are plumb vertical and home to many falcons and a couple of hard multi pitch routes. There's a high, narrow cave near the base of the nose which separates the east and north faces. This and a couple of discontinuous cracks higher up are the only apparent weaknesses on this crag, which is definitely a “big boys” place. I cross the track to this face (hardly discernible) where it bisects my ridge at the one accessible point, near to where it rears up into the first step.

Towers separated by steep, thorn festooned gullies bar the way. Only committed, enthusiastic penitents need apply! The angle is hard to assess from below and I move from left to right then back again to gain height, avoiding contact with the sharps. The rock is good though some pitches exit abruptly onto loose, steep and precarious scree. Another cairn, just three stones high to mark the improbable way down. Sometimes I am out of the sun but my shirt is sodden and sweat stings my eyes. Goat shit is everywhere, I hear their bells and see them peering down at me from ridiculously exposed pinnacles. The falcons are out in force, I've become the entertainment up here today.

At a terrace below the penultimate steep step I stop for breath and some warm water. There's enough to pour some over my head. A long traverse across the base of this plinth allows me a view into the secret recess between this ridge and the North face. This place is visible from the sparsely populated north part of the main island or from out on the sound between the two. Last year coming back from Emporious on a small boat could have given me some clues but the fierce Aegean light was against me and Telendos was a solid wall of pure indigo shadow. Even the white remains of St Constantines Monastery were difficult to make out.

A twisting rib emerging from nearby vegetation accessed a steep, slim nose that was bisected by a diagonal crack. Climbing it provided the only moves on the route that might be hard to reverse; finger holds small but sharp, friction for the feet and a good 15 metres above a nasty landing. My heart thumped with the effort and adrenaline as I crawled onto another shelving pile of small stones. An attractive ramp now drew me across and up the next buttress. This deposited me on a large sloping ledge where an ancient wall blocked the way.

I was weary and overheated by now and pleased to be so high with only a short pitch between me and the top. A 30 metre loose corner took me to the crest of Telendos, knee high in prickly scrub and no path to speak of. Making sure that my outline was against the sky I sent a message by phone text and waved my shirt at the beach below.

A local man told me that cereal crops were once grown up here and the sites of winnowing platforms had been found; hard to imagine today. The goats have a lot to answer for. My curiosity and desire to explore this place now satisfied, I turned to the North and began the long, rough descent.

UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by jcolton

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1 Nov, 2009
Nice article, John. I keep meaning to do it each time I go but keep putting it off waiting for a cooler day - which of course rarely comes! And I also agree - The Eleonara's are quite spectacular on Telendos. Second only to those on the Cavall Bernat Ridge in Mallorca in my experience. Dave
3 Nov, 2009
Great article. I did the walk just up to the church on a "rest" day - BIG mistake! 30 degree heat meant that I was ducking from boulder to boulder just to try to get some shelter from the sun. It would be fun to do the summit experience and then walk off westwards (the island slopes off quite gently, which is not obvious from the "volcanic"* profile it presents when you are on Kalymnos). That would require someone meeting you by boat at the other end though! * PS it is not, repeat not an extinct volcano, which is a "fact" I have overheard a number of times from ignorant tourists!
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