The Greek island of Kalymnos is one of the most famous sport climbing holiday destinations in the world. People travel from all corners of the globe to sample its delightful limestone and tantalising tufas.
One man who has been central to the Kalymnos climbing scene is Steve McDonnel, owner of the Glaros Bar in Massouri, Kalymnos. Recently the Glaros Bolt Fund has raised it's 10,000th Euro and has funded the equipping of approximately 300 routes on the island.
Ralph Stöhr of Klettern Magazine catches up with Steve McDonell in his bar, to find out more about the Kalymnos bolt fund and how climbing and tourism are key for the island:
The well known British climber Neil Gresham once called him "the most famous 5c-climber in the world". And it is true: Steve McDonell, owner of the Glaros bar in Massouri, Kalymnos, has been involved in the climbing on the Greek island from its very start and pretty much every climber, who has visited this climbing paradise, will have sat at least once in his bar, studying new route lists while holding an ice cold Mythos to cool the fingertips.
Not that Steve is a super strong climber himself, at least not in the classic "climbing" sense of the word, meaning strong fingers and arms. But the 53-year old from Liverpool, who has lived on the island with his wife Sue since 1993, has strong opinions and has always supported the climbing community on Kalymnos.
INTERVIEW: Steve McDonnel and the Kalymnos Bolt Fund:
Ralph: Steve, what is the bolt fund and how does it work?
Steve: Since 2001 we have published amendments to the guide book. The development of new routes and sectors is so fast, that the regular guide book is always out of date. We gave the amendment – a printed list of new routes – to our customers for free. Then one day Dave Musgrove, who is involved in the Yorkshire Bolt Fund, pointed out to me, that it would be a good way to collect money for a bolt fund. So since 2004 we have been asking for a donation when we hand out the amendment.
Ralph: Where does the money go to?
Steve: It goes to an Italian bolt manufacturer called Raumer and to a Greek one called Rocklands. I transfer the money to them, in return they send bolts and belay chains. At first, the material only got distributed to climbers who re-equipped routes. But we were doing so well, we started giving it to people who put up new routes.
Ralph: Do they just come and ask for gear?
Steve: Usually they e-mail in advance and ask for the equipment needed. A lot goes to the Remy brothers, who have put up hundreds of routes, but also to Neil Gresham, Dave Musgrove, Hans Weninger, Urs Odermatt and many others. Many people have benefitted from the Glaros bolt fund.
Ralph: How many routes on the island are equipped with bolts from your fund?
Steve: There must be over 300. Last year the Remy brothers took 400 bolts from me in one visit.
Ralph: Do you get any support from the local scene?
Steve: The only people who have helped with donations are Birgit Müller from the Climber's Nest and an Englishman called Stuart Turner who runs Memories Appartments. He is not a climber, but was surprised to find out, that bolting a route and putting the belay in can cost up to 100 Euros just for the gear. So he donated 100 Euros, and there is now a route in Illiada called Memories, named after him and his appartments. These are things that people should know, but don't.
Steve: The municipality of Kalmynos has a limited fund for climbing, which usually goes to the Remy brothers. They do good work and keep the development going, which keeps interest for the island up. Which is why I support them. The rest of the people don't contribute in any way, which is tragic, because we all live off the climbing community to a great extent.
Ralph: How much of the tourism on Kalymnos is climbing related?
Steve: I estimate that about 30 to 35 percent of tourism is climbing orientated. It allows us to extend the season and gives us the opportunity to work longer.
Ralph: How did you originally get involved with the climbing scene on the island?
Steve: I started the Glaros bar in 1997, the same year, that Andrea di Bari discovered the rock potential on Kalymnos for climbing. I got in by chance and met some of the people who put up the first routes, like the Swiss guys, Kaspar Ochsner, Felix Mayer and Marcel Schmed. A German climber, Michael Drechsler, then said to me, "Be prepared!, this is going to be a huge place for climbing". Many years later he came back and was astonished to find how big it had become. I wasn't a climber and had never been to a rock. But I put a sign outside the bar, "Climbing info" and I wrote down what people did, without knowing a thing about it at first. In 2000 I met Neil Gresham and he took me climbing for the first time. Then I became, not hooked, but I liked it and started to go on a more regular basis. In 2001 I was putting bolts in for the first time with Hans Weninger and Christian Schmitt.
Ralph: Will the Glaros bolt fund continue to collect money?
Steve: Yes. At the moment there are steps to produce the Glaros Bar Topo. This will be an up-to-date topo in the form of a downloadable iPhone app. We are trying to work out how to make the payments at the moment. An English friend is doing that for free. There will be some sort of Glaros bolt fund Paypal-account. The money will go to re-equipping and putting up new routes, just like now. This is our way of giving something back from what we take from the climbing community. A concept, that unfortunately is very uncommon for the local population.
Ralph lives in Stuttgart, Germany and is an avid climber who has travelled extensively across Europe and beyond, from sampling the delights of British trad at Gogarth to putting up many new routes in his local and beloved Schwäbische Alb.