To Climb or Not to Climb -- the Crags of Kalymnos

First, a Story

Are you one of those people who thinks you must try everything?

I am.  I draw the line at skydiving and bungee jumping, but on the ground or in the water, I want to try it. During my thirties and forties, the challenge of the Olympic Games flowed through my blood. “I want to do that.” I urged myself. Running the 800 meter race, pole vaulting 15’ in the air, doing arabesques on ice skates, slaloming downhill at stop speed, you name it I was there – in my head, anyway.

After the Atlanta games in 1996 I followed Forest Gump out the door and started runnin’. “Sydney, here I come!” I was psyched.

On day 5, I stopped runnin’. Forest has much more stamina than me. My forty-some year old legs and lungs really weren’t into it. They flat out let me know that I had never run more than a mile in my life.

But finally, at age 48 (I remember it well because an official wrote 48 in black marker on my left calf.), I joined two of my colleagues (10 years younger and male – not that that matters) and completed a mini-triathlon – half-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride, and a 5k run.

On the morning of the event, after the “Hey, we’re gonna do this thing” and some high fives, I never saw them again.

Into the water I went, never looking back until my husband Bob came running to my side during the 5K. “You can do it, Berk.” He pushed me along as he had his track athletes for years. “You can do it.” And I did it!

 Many competitors never crossed the finish line that day, so dead last is not really last in my book. Yep, I finished dead last, and I have a well-worn T-shirt to prove it.

View from Massouri

View from Massouri

Crags hovering. Luring the climbers.

Crags hovering. Luring the climbers.

Kalymnos - a Climbing Mecca

A long story to bring you back to Kalymnos. Sport climbing is huge here! Ah, you think you know what’s coming next, right?

Kalymnos is a well-known rock climbing mecca. It’s still early in the season, the temperatures are just beginning to cool down, but I have already met several climbers heading up or coming down.

You guessed it! The urge to join the fun began to burn. My head started spinning – shoes, helmet, ropes, lessons. Yep, I was all in until I saw those folks (mostly young folks) swinging and dangling from rocks so high the zoom on my camera couldn't reach them.

Splash in the face. Fire out. Nope Berk, maybe in your next life. An Edge, yes. But I’ll keep my feet squarely on the ground as I explore it. Maybe I will just sneak a peak over it and call it a day.

International Climbers

Hailing from the Czech Republic, Petr and Jaromír are the first climbers I met as they descended the craggy mountainside at Massouri – the epicenter of climbers’ paradise. Physically fit and drenched with a sheen of strenuous activity, Petr was eager to talk about the experience.

“It’s very exciting to be here,” he said. “Climbing is good all over the island and here [at Massouri] you can jump right into the sea after a climb,” he added, gesturing toward the expanse of aqua and turquoise below. Both are experienced climbers having challenged the Alps in Austria and the Tatras of Slovakia. But, as Petr explained, “at Kalymnos there is the sea.” A soothing respite for an exhausting sport.

Soon this tiny island will be swarmed with rock climbers wearing and carrying the tools of the sport – climbing shoes, helmets, carabiners, harnesses, ropes, etc. The Kalymnos Climbing Festival runs from October 7-9 this year, and the island will be hopping.

Evi, the very sweet and always accommodating proprietor of Alkyonis Apartments, gives a “whoosh” as she sweeps her hair back. “After the 9th. Everything after the 9th,” she says, meaning she will then have time for my endless questions.


Beautiful mermaid sings a song of the sea, welcoming climbers and seafarers to Massouri

Beautiful mermaid sings a song of the sea, welcoming climbers and seafarers to Massouri

The signs along Massouri’s main road shout out to the climbers. “Dine here after you climb;” “Get a massage in the morning for half price.”  After missing the bus (I was chatting with Petr and Jaromír as it zoomed right on by me) I met Alrini and Eleyheria at Kaimaki for freshly baked galaktoboureko – a phyllo encrusted custard dessert – and Greek coffee (thick, sweet, and strong).  Every day the sisters bake galaktoboureko, bougatsas (another custard treat), and other Greek specialties. I found the two ladies and the desserts delightful. And Alrini made sure I didn’t miss the next bus!

Late September into early October is a lucrative time for the island. The Greek economy continues to struggle, so this is a welcome time. For a short span of days Kalymnians cater to the rock climbers who have replaced the sponge diving industry as a main source of income. It is the time for Evi, Alrini, Eleyheria, and other entrepreneurs on the island, to work hard and enjoy the rewards.

American climbers Kate and Zach

 Zach and Kate from Oregon have been climbing on Kalymnos for 17 days.  Day jobs? Data analyst and structural engineer, respectively.

 Zach and Kate from Oregon have been climbing on Kalymnos for 17 days.  Day jobs? Data analyst and structural engineer, respectively.

Back at my apartment I smell the warm spicy aroma of curry. Next door Kate and Zach are enjoying their dinner, al fresco of course. Lured by the fragrance I walk to their balcony to chat and find they are climbers from Oregon. I asked them what attracted them to climbing and learned a very different perspective from my thoughts of bagging peaks.

“I like the physical challenge, but also the mental challenge. It’s like trying to fit a puzzle together," says Kate ,

“It’s a multidimensional experience,” added Zach. “It’s not linear like many sports. It’s spatial. Sometimes you’re just hanging out there trying to find a way to grab hold of that next stalactite, or reach your leg far enough to grip the rock. Your body is rarely aligned. You have to arrange yourself into abnormal shapes to continue."

I have met climbers from all over the world -- Finland, Norway, New Zealand, the U.K. to name a few – who have come to challenge themselves on the craggy edges of Kalymnos.

Me? I stand below to watch daring women and men puzzling out the Edge, then wander down to a lovely taverna overlooking the crystalline seas washing ashore. I hope to do a lot of hiking, but the desire for ropes, harnesses, and carbines ebbs with a nice glass of wine. .


Sunset over Telendos, another climbing destination. Just add a glass of wine.

Sunset over Telendos, another climbing destination. Just add a glass of wine.

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