Flicking through cheap flight websites trying to find a suitable climbing destination for a week at Christmas, my top priorities were:
- Likelihood to be warm and dry;
- The presence of steep, pumpy climbing; and
- Somewhere I haven’t been before.
Athens seemed to fit this bill and whilst its merits as a great sport climbing destination are not (yet!) widely known, a friend of mine had been before (see Jon’s blog here) and said good things! A beautiful guidebook for the area was only just published in 2014 which may explain why the climbing isn’t yet very well known by the international community.
Tim and I arrived on Christmas eve and checked into our AirBnB apartment. The crags are located all around the city of Athens so we chose an apartment in Marousi, fairly close to the ‘Attiki Odos’ (the number 6 motorway thats runs North to South through the city and is almost essential to use each day for getting to the crags). This motorway is a toll road but is only €2.80 to use. Often the road signs are in Greek but the guidebook has very good instructions on how to get around.
The plus side to staying away from the tourist areas was that the locals were so surprised to see us there they were incredibly friendly and kind. One particular bakery gave us numerous free samples and a huge piece of cake when we left.
Christmas day was our first day climbing and we headed to ‘Vrachokipos‘, a south facing crag to the south of the city. This crag has a great range of routes, mostly from 6b+ to 7c. Most of the routes are fairly steep but surprisingly also quite technical! Or perhaps everything just felt technical due to the lack of recent outdoor climbing as a result of abysmal British weather! Needless to say Christmas day exhausted us and we finished off with a nice homemade chilli and wine back at the apartment.
The following day we went to the most impressive crag of the trip – the Mavrosouvala cave. The guidebook describes it as a geological wonder and this description is almost an understatement. The crag springs up out of nowhere and would give the Spanish caves a run for their money!
I was almost in tufa heaven, aside for one particularly giant hanging tufa that seemed perilously close to crashing down and killing anyone below.
On the third day we were feeling shamefully weak and tired so we decided to do a “mileage day” at an easier crag (Mikri Varasova – vertical and slabby sustained pocketed walls which bake in the sun all day). However, even dropping a couple grades, our skin and bodies weren’t really feeling it so we only managed 7 routes.
Our first rest day was spent exploring some of the famous archaeology sites in Athens, including the Acropolis. Sadly we didn’t get to climb in the marble quarry (Spilia Daveli) which supplied much of the stone for the ancient buildings (the quarry is in the guidebook but many routes require some trad gear which we didn’t bring).
Another crag we really liked was Iera Odos. The climbs were long and technical with lots of small pockets and crimps, the style felt quite similar to some sectors of Siurana.
Although I didn’t climb anything harder than f7b, it was fun doing lots of onsighting and ‘second go’. Out of 30+ routes in 7 days climbing I think only 4 were not given 3*s. We were also incredibly lucky to have our sunshine wish granted and were able to climb in t-shirts most days. There was one day which was bitterly cold and snowed but the next day it was lovely again!