We enter Greece following the last wild river in Europe: The Vjosë River. This was a beautiful transition between Albania and Greece, with wide forests over many hills in a wild, low populated area. The only companions we had were sheep. Our first goal was to climb in Meteora, a “forest” of massive conglomerate towers, but as we approached the mountain pass over the Pindos National Park, we found ourselves face to face with a winter storm. We didn’t want to wait for better weather conditions and as the locals told us about the dangerous shepherd dogs along the road (they are not used to cyclists and attack them to protect their sheep), we decided to cycle around the mountain range till the city of Ionnina.
We left our bikes there and went by bus for 3 days to see these colossal monoliths. Meteora means “floating in the air”, and all the monasteries, built on top of these up to 400 m high rocks, really seem to float over the ground. In a time before electric lifts, the only way up to these holy sites was to get pulled up, sitting in a fishing net. In this rainy weather, we were happy to climb up on some modern stairs.
Back in Ionnina we packed our bikes again and headed south. After one day of cycling, we arrived along the sea. Around us were orange-, mandarin-, and lemon trees, literally anywhere we turned our heads.
The weather was great for cycling, we camped in orange gardens and got offered as many fruits as we could pack. Cycling along the coast for multiple days was a big change to the inner mainland and for the first time on this trip, we camped at a beach. The roads were relatively flat so we could cycle between 90 and 120 km per day. The 3 km long bridge in Patras brought us finally to Peloponnese where we had to face rain and aggressive street dogs.
After three days of bad weather, we finally reached our next goal: the amazing cliffs of Leonidio! Powered with a lot of fresh, local oranges and mandarins, we climbed three weeks in Advent on the amazing diversity of rock formations and joined the happiness of the pre-Christmas time. The “grandparents” living in the same house where we rent an apartment offered us coffee and cake every morning.
Leonidio is the new mecca for modern sport climbing in Greece: lots of new sectors, stable weather, perfect rock, and above all a very warm welcome! The rock is still sharp, and the tufa formations look like they come from another world, especially on the sector “Mars”. Half of all sectors are around the village, so we could easily join them by foot or by bike. Only the sectors higher up in the valley necessitated a car to access, so we climbed there only once when we could hitchhike with friends to the sector “la maison des chèvres” (the goats’ house).
We would have liked to climb also in Kyparissi, but the rainy season started early this year and all the tufa were linking.
A popular place also means lots of people, especially during Christmas Holliday, so we decided to leave Leonidio before it got too crowded and made a cultural stopover in Athens before taking the ferry to Kalymnos.
If we were amazed by the rock formations in Peloponnese, Kalymnos was just out of our imagination: huge caves with hanging tufa sculptures, rest positions in the middle of the routes, where you could have a picnic or a mandarine. And the best: at this time of the year, there is no direct international flight to the Island and the place is almost deserted: no more climbers, no more tourists. We usually like it when there is a bit of a crowd and a good atmosphere with other climbers at the cliff, but who would say no to having a whole island to themselves?
Kalymnos was the opposite of Leonidio: instead of having 30 people in the same spot, there were only about 20 climbers on the island. Some tufas were linking, but there were plenty of dry routes, and we could climb alone almost every day in sectors like Grande Grotta, Panorama Wall, Secret Garden, Ghost Kitchen…
Kalymnos is only 20 km away from the Turkish mainland. But due to Covid- Measurements, the sea border was closed for public transport and only private boats were allowed to cross. As we could see our next climbing destination, Datça, from the Greek island, it was unbearable to deal with the idea of going back to Athens (11 hours by ferry) and then cycling 2’000 km all the way around. So, we faced the impossible: finding a private sailboat that was willing to take us with them and convince the coastal guards that we are traveling as friends and not as passengers (which wasn’t allowed). At the Greek yacht clubs, everybody seemed to know somebody who was planning to cross, but they always canceled at the last moment because they were afraid of the coastal guards. With stormy weather, we were waiting at the harbor of Koş, and as the days went on, we also had to stay patient and face disappointment.
Finally, one morning the wind was less strong, and an Israeli sailboat arrived. We went to the docks to speak with the captain, and he agreed to take us to Bodrum. Two days later, once the storm has abated, we loosened the lines and sailed to Turkey.
The wind was strong but in an unfavorable direction, so we arrived after the closure of the border control. They had been waiting for us and as the administration was done, night fell, and they told us that there was no more place at the harbor for us. Returning to the stormy sea by night was neither an option, so the boat could stay just next to the coast guard, and we walked through the security check to have our first real Turkish Döner.
The next morning, we charged our bikes in front of the border control (who looked surprised at us), said goodbye to our captain and took another ferry from Bodrum to Datça.
After almost one week of waiting, hoping and being patient, we were so happy to be in nature and climb again. The crags of Datça are around 15 km away from the city, in an idyllic valley with a nice basecamp. There we settled down and hiked every day to the climbing spot. Especially the enormous cave of the sector Can Baba made us stunning. Almost every route goes up on tufa or stalactites. The ambiance is unique! We were unlucky that it had rained a lot the weeks before our arrival and half of the routes in Can Baba were wet, but we could still find some perfect lines.
The north wind became too cold to climb, even in the south-facing crags, as the north wind got stronger. We continued our trip east to find some warmer conditions in Geyikbayiri.
For one week we cycled from Datça to Marmaris – Fethiye and Demre to Antalya. Almost half of the time, we were directly at the seaside, but with a lot more hills than we had in Greece. The ups and downs seemed endless, but one morning we had a big surprise: the landscape was white, covered with a layer of snow! The people living at the seaside in the south of turkey haven’t seen snow in their gardens for 25 years. Never could we have imagined finding ourselves in a winter wonderland here, at the Turkish seaside.
Between Datça and Antalya, there is a small climbing area called Olympos. We had a small stop there and went climbing at the fantastic sector Cennet: a rainbow–wall with many one-finger-pockets, small holds, and technical styles. This is maybe one of the most aesthetic walls we have seen since we started climbing. And in the evening, we could see the Eternal Flame of Yanartaş, also called Chimaera.
Geyikbayiri was our last stop on our first stage in Europe after 5’500 km of cycling. This small village in the mountains is around 20 km away from the center of Antalya and the access by bike is easy.
Before climbers started to put up routes, the people lived from farming and small tourism due to the Lycian ruins of Trebenna. When the first climbers arrived, the locals thought they were doing soloing. There were even some car accidents because the drivers looked more at the climbers than at the road.
Even if there are no climbers to look at, the red limestone of Geyikbayiri is really an eyecatcher, and the climbing is even better. Usually, the weather is quite hot in the south of Turkey during this time of the year, making it a perfect destination for winter climbing. This year, we had 2 months of cold weather, which rarely happened in the past years. It allowed us to pass almost all the time on the sunny side. We climbed many technical routes on vertical, sharp red rock, trained some mono’s, and we could both break our grade record. All of this without making more than 5 attempts in the same route.
Having this success at the end of our first chapter showed us that we could still improve our level while cycling between the destinations, even by climbing many different routes without projecting during multiple days on the same route or doing specific indoor training.
Now it’s time to go on with the project. So see you in Canada!