2015-04-02

Climbing on Crete

A few weeks ago Alex was visiting from Dublin. He mentioned a planned climbing trip to Crete over Easter and asked whether I'd be interested in joining. Sure. I failed to realize how close the date was at the time though. I ended up booking a flight Sunday night before leaving on Wednesday, securing the very last seat. It was a good time to get away too. The weather forecast for the alps was abysmal, with half a meter of fresh snow, correspondingly high avalanche danger and storms. One of the SAC huts had 150 reservations of which 5 actually showed up. The steward claimed they had to rope up to get firewood inside without being blown off the mountain.

View from our room.
Nicola, Alex, Vladimir, Vinay (and Luisa in the back).

Anyway. During the course of a day Alex, Nicola, Vladimir, Vinay and I made it to the island. I think no two of us on the same flight. I booked a car in advance, choosing the cheapest possible option. A KIA motors mini. Arriving at the airport in Heraklion we pass fancy booths of Hertz, Europcar and Sixt right past the baggage claim. Then you get onto the parking lot: huge flags for Hertz, Europcar and Sixt. A guy walks up to us and names the name of our rental service. We follow him across the entire lot to the very last corner where a tiny dilapidated toll booth and our car await us. The strong box for key returns already broken into. He's very nice though and we have a fun chat.

Where is the rappel anchor?

The car will serve its purpose, but only barely so. Roads on the island are in a sorry state with pot holes and mud slides everywhere. Many aren't paved and include fordings and deep ruts. We hit the bottom of the car on rocks several times and return it covered in mud at the end of the week. With three people and equipment it is barely strong enough to make it up the hills in first gear. Adventure driving.

Wasted after a long day of climbing. Full moon over Mt Kofinas.

We are staying in the tiny village of Kapetaniana at the Southern coast. We are staying at the guest house Kofinas. It is run by the two Austrians Gunnar and Luisa who emigrated to Crete in 1984 and have been intimately involved in developing the area for climbing. We are given a warm welcome, a room with bunk beds for the five of us, great homemade food and tips and guide books for the area. Gunnar also provides guitars to his guests and accompanies Vladimir, an expert guitar player, on a drum. Cozy evenings. Especially if followed with a sauna ;-)

The Minoan Library in all its glory.

The actual climbing is great. Needle sharp Limestone in all variations. Slabby, overhanging, vertical. Cracks, Caves, Roofs. We only meet four other climbers in the most popular area we go to. All the other days we are completely on our own. One area per day. I climbed:

Sector Minoan Library

  • Second Book L1 6b (warmup!)
  • Rage de crète 5b+
  • Flocon de Neige 5c+
  • Soirée Provencale 5c
  • La Galère 6b
  • First Book L1 6a+
  • First Book L2 5c

We all agree that the routes seem much harder than the ratings indicate. So we take to calling it a Crete 6b as opposed to a regular 6b ;-) The first climb on the first day I sort of eyeball a route and declare it should be doable. Without consulting the guide book first I start up. It is certainly doable, but hard! Definitely not recommended as a warm up.

Sector Kofinas Keeper

  • Memory Killer 6a
  • RAM 6b+
  • eprom 6a+
  • Floppy 3c
  • Arche Noah 5b
  • Sonst Flut 5a
  • Unter Geier 5c
  • Amstel 6b

The second day is incredibly cold and windy. Most of the group hangs out sheltered from the wind on the sunny side of the mountain. Only Vladimir and I go into the stormy shade to "Patagonia" and climb a few routes. Once the sun has come around the others join us. Memory Killer is probably one of my favorite lines I have ever climbed. The guide book calls it a remarkably natural line and athletic. It starts on a slab, continues up a vertical corner and climaxes through overhanging stalactites. I'm terrified while leading it, but still manage to pull through, making the reward all that much better ;-)

RAM is an interesting route that hinges on a single overhanging bouldering move at the very start. And that doesn't even demand all that much strength or technique but a high tolerance for pain. You get two small crimpers that feel like needles and torture your finger tips. Once you pull yourself over those you are done. I manage to climb it after a lot of experimenting.

Right of way.
Alex rocking the overhanging crux in Requiem for a Dream 6b.
What helmets are made for. Yes, we did go swimming too!

Sector Agiofarango

  • Requiem for a Dream 6b
  • Tribal 6a
  • Share 6b
  • Le festin de Barbichette 5c+
  • The Avocado Pocket 6a+ (aka "Pocket of Pain", rating is our suggestion)

We wake up to a complete white out and drizzling rain on the third day. With low hopes of getting any climbing done, Gunnar and Luisa recommend driving to the Southernmost tip of the island. The canyon there should offer a nice hike, much better weather and fantastic climbing. It exceeds expectations. It's a gorgeous gorge with caves and cliffs everywhere. Goats are chasing one another in impossibly steep walls and make us look like lame amateurs. The guide book advises to bring extra thick and reinforced ropes because the rock is so sharp as to feel like climbing up barbed wire. Not an exaggeration. Alex sees an unbolted line sharing an anchor with one of our ropes, so we try to climb this new route. We send it and christen it "The Avocado Pocket", after the crux move which requires pulling up on a two finger pocket. I don't exactly recall how the name came about, but I think it had to do with needing a smooth, cool, oily Avocado to treat your tortured fingers afterwards?

Handwritten menu at a restaurant. Prices you can only dream of in Switzerland.
The village of Kapetaniana.
Me leading up to the crux overhang of Africa 6a+.

Sector Africa

  • Africa 6a+
  • White Rose 6c+
  • Le silence des agneaux 5b

Another day that starts out less than promising with lots of clouds and a bit of rain. This time the tip is to go to Africa, a South facing wall that should offer views up to Africa on a good day. Ivan and Sofia have arrived and Ivan will join us for the day. He brought his brand new Edelrid half ropes. Beautiful, ultra-light, ultra-thin, strong ropes with water repellent coating. Unfortunately he bought one sixty meter and one fifty meter one, making climbing on them slightly annoying ;-) I fight for a while on White Rose 6c+, but don't manage to send the crux. We climb the two pitches of Le silence des agneaux which is right next to Česnečka - the Czech word for Garlic Soup. The reason is quite obvious, the entire route is dotted with wild garlic, giving off a strong scent.

The main road of the village.
Nasty vegetation.
"Am I on belay yet?" - Alex, 15m above the deck. And no, he wasn't. It didn't matter either, because he hadn't placed any protection.

Mount Kofinas

  • Pilgerpfad 5b 150m trad
  • Mondschein 6a/6a+

The last day for Vinay and me (the others stay longer). We set out to climb the highest mountain in the area, Mt Kofinas. We go up via the Pilgerpfad, a trad route, requiring us to place our own protection. Alex leads the three person rope team with Nicola and Vinay while Vladimir and I go after them. Thus Vladimir gets to stay at the base of the climb the longest. By far the most dangerous position to be in as there is lots of loose gravel which the ropes or careless moves rain down on him in a constant shower. I get hit on the helmet twice. Luckily without any consequences. Once we reach the summit we rappel down 30 meters and climb the route Mondschein.

Nicola on Mondschein 6a+.
A natural comfy chair high up on the mountain - with armrests and everything!

An awesome trip with an awesome group. I haven't had this much fun in a while. Thanks to Nicola and Alex for putting this together and having me along!

Rapelling is fun!