The other, unusual climbing in Greece. By Maurizio Oviglia
A climbing trip off the beaten path in Greece, between Epirus and Thessaly.
July 2013 - I'm in the middle of Turkey for a base jumping event that had been combined with rock climbing. I had been asked to develop the climbing in this remote location, but there wasn't great communication between us climbers and the base jumpers: out timing was very different, perhaps because they flew down quickly where we are climbed up slowly! In short, we chatted briefly about the area, told a joke or two, drank some tea together, but left it at that. Until two Greek base jumpers headed my way and asked if they could team up with us, they hadn't brought their gear but they'd love to climb a route or two. And so I lent "Billy" and Petros my rope and harness, convinced they were beginners. We scrambled up to the new crag which hosted the climbing competition, and since most of the routes were already taken, all that remained was a 6a and a … 7b+. I was puzzled and asked Petros whether they still wanted to give it a go, especially since we only had half-ropes! “"Yeah, okay, I'll do the 7b+, tie me to the two half ropes and I should be fine!" A few minutes later, while I lower him off after he's just onsighted the route as a warm-up, I think to myself that modesty is a great gift, unfortunately not shared by everyone! As the saying goes, I wouldn't have given two cents! As for Billy, I subsequently find out that he's one of the most daring climbers at Meteora. Petros told me that he'd climbed some of towers' most fearsome cracks, without placing any pro whatsoever! Crazy, scary, etc, etc ... the adjectives are sprayed liberally while Billy smiles slyly. Ah, Meteora, one of the places I've always dreamt about! We soon became friends, swapped addresses as one always does, even if you never meet up again... But this time...
June 2014 - Cecilia and I have a 10-day holiday: Spain, Portugal or Greece ..? We'd been in touch with Petros, he'd frequently invited us to come along and check out his area and in the end we gave in, also because we found a Ryan Air flight from Rome to Thessaloniki for only 30 €! Whenever we mentioned Greece as our next holiday destination, our friends would all say "Ahhh, Kalymnos, we've been there too!" "No, we're not going to the wonderisland, but further north, say, to Ioannina!" But no one had ever heard of this, let alone about the climbing there.
From Thessaloniki we crossed Greece along the new motorway, thank goodness it's been completed, otherwise we'd have needed at least 7 hours for this first journey. Instead, in the early evening and after a mere 3 hour trip we reached Ioannina, a pleasant little town located on the border to Albania, perched just below the mountains. Despite the rest of Europe sweltering away in the heat wave, here we had to wear pullovers as we ambled past the beautiful shops along the lake shore. Petros was extremely friendly and showed us his town, told us about its history, from Turkish domination to how they had defended themselves against the Italians. It's always great to travel with someone who knows the place intimately! "I've got the weekend off - he said - what do you want to do? Where do you want to go?" "You decide, we don't know a thing about the place, there was absolutely nothing on the internet." And that's how we were catapulted into the mountains, that's right, the mountain, a mountain chain that we didn't even know existed! The Pindus Mountains to be precise, which Petros explained are an extension of the Alps. That morning Petros took us to Vicos Gorge, one of biggest canyons in Europe, and showed us all his projects. In the afternoon we climbed, making a hit and run at three different crags. The area was enchanting, with the river running deep in the valley below, crossed by medieval stone bridges. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to check out Kokori Tower with its 3-pitch routes and the crag Kipoi which hosts plenty of difficult sport climbs. Then there was the new crag Bridge Mision, with its beautiful routes located within the canyons eroded smooth by the river. How ever could we have discovered these by ourselves? This was followed by dinner with two wonderful sisters in the charming stone village of Kapetsovo, set below the snow-covered Astraka mountains. The atmosphere was akin to that of the nineteenth century and it seemed to us as if we'd landed in Eden, moreover completely unheard of, right within our old Europe!
For Sunday we decided to use the kindness of Petros for us to show Meteora, the real goal of my pilgrimage. But not to the monasteries, you understand! In just an hour and a half drive from Ioannina we ... we arrived at one of the shrines of the climbing world, perhaps the most hidden and least known among them! Riabbracciamo Billy for a coffee, we salute Vangelis, one of the most active local climbers who now runs a restaurant. And listen to the stories and legends of the particular world of Meteors: really seem to have arrived in a parallel world, made of mythology! Compared to other popular massive conglomerate that I visited the Meteors are enormous. There is talk of 270 towers, nearly 1000 streets, and a potential barely dented. For example, there is almost nothing modern, although some hard route of 8 course there is! Peter speaks of the cracks, of climbing, but now it's time for action, not do more to look and not touch! Despite the heat climb the bell along the German Traditional Dancing, one of the few modern streets. The premises, says Petros, call it "American Insurance" because of too many bolts. And then, later on, we realize that he wanted to say and what is the norm for Meteora! The surrounding atmosphere is unreal towers everywhere, with the monasteries on the top, we feel totally won! But Petros is eager to show us more, so after a quick salad ... Greek Vangelis, also sketch out only for three hours at Mouzaki, one of the most popular sport climbing in Thessaly. Here, he tells us proudly Petros, are to climb even the Athenians! Along the path of 10 meters that separate us from the cliff stumble into a turtle, here there are many, but unfortunately many of them have a habit of falling asleep on the center line of the streets! Will be adrenaline junkies too? A Mouzaki know Constantinos, who shows us some beautiful pearls of the place, pull up to 45 m! The cliff is not very flashy, but the quality of the shots leaves us speechless! Inevitable climb into the night!
Petros had set off for Istanbul where he had a base-jumping competition. They'd have to leap off the tallest skyscraper, 270m! He left us alone, but he gave us a house, explained where we'd find a good Italian espresso and, importantly, he gave us plenty of tips. So we returned to Meteora,where we repeated two beautiful classics, Action Direct and Traumpfeiler, before discovering the incredible, hidden limestone tufa crags at Pyli. Beofre Petros' return we even found the time for a quick dip on the island of Lefkada and a brisk walk on the Astraka mountain before checking out the new grotto at Emin Aga. Once again we were struck by the quality and beauty of this far-flung crag! We're probably the only foreigners to know where it is, eh, eh, eh, getting details about this place will cost you dearly!
Our holidays were over and we drove back to Thessaloniki, returned out mini rental-car in the purest spirit of fly and drive ... and climb. Our minds were still brimming with images of these intense 10 days. Epirus and Thessaly certainly aren't Kalymnos or the Peloponnese, but just image the joy of climbing at beautiful crags, completely alone, so far off the beaten track! For both climbing and mass tourism! There are no two ways about it: whenever I return home I find myself wondering about how truly multiethnic climbing is. All you need to do is travel a short distance to discover radically different realities, people, diverse and interesting places that are sometimes so very different from what we're used to! At the end of the day, I don't feel that far removed from the climbers in the eighties, who drove their vans and slept at different crags every night. Things are somewhat different nowadays with the modern fly & drive culture, certainly less romantic, but the basic concept hasn't changed in the slightest. "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page." said St. Augustine. I'm not very religious, but I bow my head in honour of this "holy" truth, expressed so masterfully ...