21st October, 2023

Kalymnos (Greece) Bolting Trip 2023

By Francis Haden
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Pericles and Thucydides

New South Telendos multi-pitch routes

Sunsets and Telendos 

Another Kalymnos bolting trip and my return to the South Face of Telendos which has always held an appeal for developing new routes. 

Tufas anyone?

Whereas many developers seek single pitch, preferably easy-to-access-from-the-road crags, the logistical aspects of traveling halfway around the world with 77kg of luggage to establish 200m big wall new routes invariably means there’s more choice when it comes to finding a new route. 

The elevated wall dripping with tufas on a separate buttress of rock left of Prometheus had long caught my attention from previous trips equipping Titan Towers and Prometheus. After six years, this year presented the opportunity to realise my curiosity. 

The logistical aspects of establishing new routes more than 200m high in locations such as the South Face of Telendos dissuades only but the very motivated non-resident developers. The island consequently continues to provide bolting opportunities for those sufficiently driven to realise new lines.

Yes, it would be easier to use expansion bolts, but glue-in anchors (bolts) will ensure that no climber will be posting about a missing hanger on pitch nine sometime in the future and can someone bring a spanner and can someone…you get the idea. 

Bringing in a little over 3.5 litres of epoxy adhesive is always fraught with concern that cartridges will be damaged or worse, baggage fails to arrive. Hardly as if it can be taken onboard as carry-on luggage.

With hardware unpacked and inspected for use, my final preparations were to put the epoxy adhesive on ‘ice’ and pack the haul bag ready for day one, the hardest day of the trip.           

The first day is the hardest. 250m of static rope, cordless drill, rope access harness, seat and rigging hardware represents a not insignificant weight, 36 kilos having weighed it to be exact and this must be carried up to the summit plateau. 

The excitement builds on the ferry ride into Irox, my mind wondering about what the wall will be like, will the tufas be as good as they appear to be? Stepping off the boat, the slog begins immediately. Life will be uphill for two hours with a customary stop-off at the chapel, which is the half-way point. 

Finally, I am standing on the edge of the South Face, searching for a patch of sound rock into which I can install temporary anchors to rig from. The excitement is palpable as I descend over the edge for the first time, searching out features and assessing where to fix the line away from spikey bushes and loose rock.

Peering down the face, 200m to the deck

Here the advantages of equipping top down are numerous not least it is considerably safer and efficient than ground-up but with sufficient rigging hardware, a charged drill and enough rope, it is literally possible to rig fixed line anywhere on a face.

Comfortably suspended in my harness and supported by the Petzl Podium seat, the rope whizzes out of the bag until successive re-anchors bring me closer to the section of wall that has piqued my curiosity all this time.

Fixed line re-anchored to avoid sharp edges and wear points

The wall of tufas, looked at for so many years, is in view and wow is this going to be fun! The rope continues feeding out of the haul bag as I pass 100m of line out and only just touching down on the large terrace below the wall. 

The lower section with ledges and discontinuous sections of slab, immediately raises concern as to where the entry pitches should go so, I decide to focus on this last, fixing my line to ease the daily commute up to the higher pitches. In five hours, I have carried 36 kilos of kit from Irox, up to the summit and fixed around 230m of rope down the South Face. With the rope fixed, the daily commute in is made considerably easier: a smaller bag with recharged drill batteries, epoxy, anchors, food, and water. With kit is stashed at the base, it’s time for a beer!

The following few days are a familiar cycle of rising early, coffee at Ethereal Snack and Coffee then catching the first ferry across to Telendos. A brisk 30-minute hike in, gearing up then jugging up the line to start drilling, cleaning, and gluing. Progress is going well until illness strikes and I’m relegated to bed for five days. This has the unfortunate effect of delaying the completion of bolting until after Aris (Theodoropoulos) will have left, not least other climbers who could have been on the first ascents.

Palionnisos beach – top spot for snorting saltwater should your sinuses be blocked

Several days spent at the beach yields a few stones upon which I paint the route names. A trip into town acquires the necessary brush and locals donate the paint. Progress is only interrupted by the local cat who stays guard until the paint dries!

Route stones ready to glue in place

Why Thucydides and Pericles? Adopting Greek names for new routes is a Kalymnos tradition but very apt for two famous Greek men who were rivals in many ways but shared a heritage together. With both routes sharing the opening pitches but splitting into separate lines of their own, climbing ‘politics’ will no doubt debate which of the two is the better line. Certainly, pitch six on Thucydides is a ‘trap’ before the harder pitch seven and arguably the tufa riddled pitch six of Pericles trumps any pitch. 

Finally, my energy returns, and the equipping continues. Now to drill and glue in the anchors for pitches five and six on Thucydides then de-rig to the top and use the newly installed abseil descent line to relocate everything down to work on the lower pitches.

Fixing in belay anchors on Thucydides

Having attended to the upper 100m of rock for both routes, the remaining task is to work out the best way through the broken lower 100m of slabs and ledges. It became clear early on that rock in the lower half appears great from the ground but entirely the opposite when viewed from above looking down. The intended line is covered with loose blocks and patches of uncharacteristically shattered rock. Instead, I opt for a solid pillar of rock for pitch one but run the second pitch as a rising rightwards traverse to ensure the belayer is never directly below the leader in case anything should ever be broken off. 

After removing several massive blocks and flakes, the cleaning is finished, and the remaining bolts can be drilled and glued in for pitches one to three. Cleaning has covered the lower ledges with dust and soil so I’m fortunate to have the use of a cordless blower and in two trips, everything is blown clean. While arranging the final pull through, I reflect on the past eight days of work in which 191 glue-in bolts were fixed using over two litres of epoxy adhesive, 36 sets of links and rings placed, and 380 metres of new route established. It’s time to climb!

Vicki Schwantes seconding pitch one on the first ascent of Thucydides

Francis looking up at the large roof on pitch six of Thucydides

Vicki cranking out across the cave roof on pitch seven of Thucydides

The summit of Thucydides and the choice of strategically pre-stashed lime or orange Gatorade

First ascent of Thucydides in the bag

Another early rise and stunning morning atmosphere (image by Vicki Schwantes)

Joona on pitch one

Joona leading out across pitch two

Francis amped for the superb pitch six – ironically representing his wait in years to climb it!

Joona seconding the superb pitch six

Joona cranking up the bulging wall on pitch seven

Summiting on Pericles

Back on the ground for the post first ascent photo after only an hour to abseil down

Beer sends – Finland style


All this fun in the sun would not have been possible without formal approval to equip these new routes according to the Kalymnos New Route Protocol. 

I wish to thank:

 Aris Theodoropoulos for providing additional static rope, crowbar, and wedge bolts to facilitate safe rigging.

Mike at Mike’s Bikes for wheels and long conversations about shared quarrying experience!

Ethereal snack and coffee for being on station at 6am every morning – the day would never have started without you.

Giannis for your blower and the paint.