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Rock climbers head to Kalymnos for annual festival

- by Jeremy Guest

Some of the world's best climbers sign up to tackle the impressive crags of Kalymnos in this annual island event.

Holidaymakers may not normally associate the Greek Islands with mountain climbing but one island in particular attracts top climbers from all over the world and this year is no exception.

The steep cliffs and rock formations found on the island of Kalymnos are a proven testing ground for even the most experienced climbers and its annual four-day climbing festival held each October tempts some of the top names in the climbing world to test themselves against some of the most spectacular cliffs in the Mediterranean.

This year's North Face Kalymnos Climbing Festival runs from 9-12 October and big name climbers already signed up include Britain's John Dunne, French mountaineer Jean- Baptiste Tribout, Japan's Yuji Hirayama and top Austrian climbers Beat Kammerlander and Gerhard Horhager alongside many other world renowned rock climbers from all over the world.

This is the first time prize money is being offered and events include climbing marathons at all levels, deep water soloing, beach parties, movie presentations, storytelling and more all co-organized by the Municipality of Kalymnos and the climbing kit company The North Face

Climbers will tackle famous routes such as Odyssey, Olympic Wall, School and Iliad. Last year new climbs were opened up in Skalia named Ghost kitchen, Skalia Pillar and Cave specially for the climbing festival and will probably feature again this year.

All climbers can expect to enjoy panoramic views over the Kalymnos countryside with a backdrop of the endless blue of the Aegean Sea.

Kalymnos is the fourth largest island in the Dodecanese group which includes Rhodes and Kos. Impressively steep rock masses drawn from the island's volcanic past make up around 90% of the island while the seas around plummet to depths of more than 1,500 metres.

Wild and wonderful limestone formations create some very testing climbs which, combined with traditional Greek friendliness and exceptionally beautiful resorts make Kalymnos an island growing in popularity .

Each summer seems to attract more visitors and climbers of all ages and nationalities can be seen on the many crags over the summer season , pitching themselves on the many outstanding climbs that Kalymnos has to offer.

Indeed, it's not unusual for queues to form on the best-known routes at busy times but such is the extent and diversity of quality crags that climbers can always leave the crowds behind and head off for quieter routes.

Some say the rock climbs available on Kalymnos appears almost limitless with testing routes at every turn among the orange and grey limestone. Over the past few years, the number of new routes has soared with more new lines every year.

It has made the work of producing climbing maps for visitors that much harder and the official guide has gone through at least five major rewrites in the past 10 years and now includes nearly 2000 climbing routes, many of exceptional quality.

Many of the best crags can be found in a 30 minute walk from the main island holiday resort of Massouri and many hire a scooter or car to take in crags that lie further afield. Others head across the bay be ferry to the impressive volcanic plug of Telendos which rises majestically from the sea.

But the beauty of Kalymnos is not only the impressive climbing. Many opt for Kalymnos for a traditional Greek island holiday. Most of the beaches are shingle and stone but there is a splendid sand shoreline at Emborio, a charming port resort at Vathi and several relaxing beach coves on the islet of Telendos.

The island capital port of Pothia is colourful and lively mix of waterfront tavernas and interesting shops with some impressive public buildings at the centre of the bay.

Nearby Vlychadia has two pleasant beaches split by a small harbour and the remarkable Museum of Submarine Finds, the collection of a former sponge diver with an impressive array of underwater ephemera including sponges, salvage from sunken ships and stuffed marine animals.

Other highlights are the pretty port of Vathi in the east, stuffed with waterfront tavernas and cafes and the splendid sandy beach of Emborio in the north. Most tourist however head for the beach resort of Massouri and Myrties on the west coast, with the stunning islet of Telendos just offshore.

As Kalymnos is on the main ferry route for islands in the Dodecanese it also makes an ideal base for Greek island hopping with the hugely popular holiday island of Kos just to the south and the interesting islands of Leros, Patmos and Lipsi to the north with, just beyond them, the island of Samos , the home of fine wine and ouzo, which lies just off the Turkish coast.