Climb in Leonidio, Peloponnese

Looking down to Leonidio
Looking down to Leonidio

A rest day in Leonidio. It was raining. The sun shone brightly in between the thunderstorms at the coast, as we gazed upon the sea from the coastal Taverna in Plaka. A local parked his car just below our table on the terraced plateau, he undressed completely and slipped quietly from the car door into the sea. A few seconds later we saw how his muscular bum and broad shoulders appear under the surface of the water as he disappeared in strong freestyle strokes out to the sea.

We could’ve complained about the rain, the ice-cold wind and wet weather that we have been experiencing the first weeks of our vacation. It soaked all tufas of the Daphnon valley dripping wet for the rest of the time. But the weather had not stopped us from being not able to climb on any other day! And that was a great plus.

Leonidio

Leonidio, a small Greek town in the Peloponnese with about no more than 4000 inhabitants is flourishing in the development of a new kind of tourism (not only) in the winter season. The year we came, we heard that the town was completely fully booked for the Christmas season! The boom has established so well that at certain popular sectors, you might have to queue up for your turn to climb. With that said, Leonidio is not anymore an untouched, unmentioned and totally unknown climbing area amongst the climbers. More than 700 new routes developed within the last 2 years, adding to the 1000 routes that had been already existing. 60 sectors to choose from sun and shade make this now possible to come even a little earlier than the usual suggested winter season of November to March.

Coastal views just before Leonidio
Coastal views just before Leonidio

The greek neighbor greeted us in the morning as she was sweeping her terrace. She waved at us in a frenzy and wanted to know if we were going to climb. A rhetoric, looking at our clothing and packs. But she wanted also to know where. A funny moment, when we actually stopped talking and used our hands and feet to gesture our conversation over the fence. In silence. 

The climbers’ scene is international and colourful. I have met climbers who came from as far as Singapore, Alaska or Israel, flying here just to climb. The difference to the Kalymnian scene is that the Peloponnese peninsula is also reachable by land from central Europe, which made this an interesting destination for camper and van-lifers seeking to escape the harsh winter in central Europe. But wait! Escape the winter? Don’t be disillusioned! It can also be very wet and very cold for a very long time in this part of the world if the weather gods are angry! Thank goodness, for central heating and hot waters in our cozy little apartment at Leonidio Apartments Selini & Asteri!

Access to Sector Blasphemi, Leonidioa

The Greek winter

The best time to climb in Leonidio is at the end of November till March. It is also the wettest and coldest time of the year. Not once did the greek weather forecasts get the weather right. When it was supposed to be a rainy day, the sun shone brightly by the coast, and it was almost too hot to climb in the southern side of the walls. We were lucky to have short spouts of heavy rain that didn’t last more than a day. The lady at the market stand complained that rain was not good for the crops and vegetables on the field. And I fully agreed with her, rain was also not good for climbers.

Fresh snow after the thunderstorms
Fresh snow after the thunderstorms

The crowd who came after we left, had even colder periods and 3-4 days of rain in a stretch. Pictures of a snowed-in Kosmas, a village that lies high up in the mountains behind the Elona Monastery, flowed in my Insta timeline. For a moment I thought it was the German northern Alps. Yes, it can pretty much snow too, sometimes right down to the front of the Leonidio coast.

The majority of the walls are clustered on the blazing bright Red Wall perched high above the town of Leonidio. These whole stretch of wall enjoy a microclimate which is usually much warmer and more protected than the walls at the back of the Daphnon Gorge on colder, cloudy days. These vertical walls above the town dried up quickly and climbing was well possible. We stopped our usual 2:1 climbing routine and instead climbed all days when it didn’t rain.

The red walls of Leonidio
The red walls of Leonidio

The greek swimmer eventually returned to his car after swimming a few laps across from the little harbor to the coast of Poulithra. He made sure no one was nearby as he made his way quickly up the cement pavement, into the car. He dried himself up with the towel that had been spread over the seat of the car, slipped into a pant and started the engine. By now, we were sipping on our espresso, still working on what we were going to do on this sunny, rainy day. After he left, a group of ducks that we have seen already on our last trip came back to their favorite place to settle in for the night. It started to rain again.

Let’s climb!

The walls of Skiadhianikos
The walls of Skiadhianikos

We spent a great deal of time just climbing as we go. It felt good to have time to take my time. Leonidio offered a perfect playground with vertical, homogenous routes and an abundance of mid grades – perfectly bolted. Down the valley, we checked out sectors like Grande Cuckoo, Montanejos, Sabaton and Skiadhianikos left. Nima and Steve whom we met on our last trip to the Peloponnese and Mandy from Movingroovin accompanied us on most of the climbing days.

In Skiadhianikos, we experienced a scary rockfall through the goats. Without warning, it started raining stones in the center of the crowd just behind “Super Ramasca”. Keep an eye open for goats in all the areas.  Speaking of Super Ramasca, you shouldn’t miss the 2nd pitch climbable in one line with a 70m rope. We moved up to the uppermost sector later on. It had views right on to the coast in a distant. Hubby made an OS-go in “Ginger” but the conditions were far from perfect and the day was getting dark. A pleasant sunny sector to hit before torrential rain swells up the river and cuts off the access to this wall in the wintertime.

Dornröschen, Mad Wall, Kokkinovachros, Love Ledge and Theos right are situated nearer to town and the coast, are south-facing and somewhat better protected from cold winds and weather. For this reason, they are also much more popular. Interestingly, you will find a number of routes with broccoli holds in Theos Right. They weren’t ugly, though somewhat interesting to grasp.

Wild Easterbells in December. Leonidio in the background

Surprise, surprise!

Two weeks passed. It was so much fun to just climb an enormous amount of routes, one after another. We weren’t looking for projects, we just climbed.

The yellow wall
The yellow wall

We took in some sunshine after the rainfalls and basked ourselves in the warming sun of Theos cave. There was hardly any skin left on our fingers. This was my favourite sector, however, hundreds of others had the same opinion too. That evening, there was a knock on our apartment door. As we opened it, two people grinning from ear to ear greeted us and shouted out “surprise” !!!

What a pleasant one!

Our besties from home had planned a visit without us knowing and wanted to surprise us on the spot. So sweet!

After the 3rd week of climbing, we finally made an obligatory visit to the popular Mars, a sector you shouldn’t miss as a Leonidio first-timer. The girls worked on the left, the boys started off in the right. For the first hour, we couldn’t quite believe that we had this place, full of tufas, to ourselves. Eventually, the crowd came in and soon, every route on the platform was occupied.

Happy to have climbed almost all the 35m – 40m routes on the left (Black Hole, Super Nova, Biosphäre and El Gecko – all 4 stars), we moved up to the right, finding the boys amidst the crowds in the 38m Chuck notis Ext. 1, a 7c in the 2nd pitch. What a beautiful line! Sinter Sinfonie, Tufatango and NASA came in as the last pitch as my fingers started to throb and ache. The next day was surely a rest day!  The Mythos bottle felt so heavy that night.

Sector Mars
Sector Mars, tufas in abundance

After a good rest on a rainy day, we headed out to the Yellow Wall. This sector dries quickly.  Sweating from the short but steeper hike up the wall, we were now drying off in the blazing sun that came out without warning. The yellow submarine, a 40m 6c looked inviting for a quick first warm-up. We took along Lazari, Markaris, and Kokoletta as we moved from the left to the right. These 40m routes were so intimidating and fun to climb. I had only hoped that my fingers stayed intact and were strong enough to hold what I had planned for them.

The yellow wall
The yellow wall

Arriving at the Twin Caves the next day, the winds were blowing so strong, it was hard to stand my ground while eagerly trying to find a good looking line for a warm-up. A storm was brewing, but it looked as if the weather would hold while the winds blew. The twin caves is by far the hottest spot in Leonidio. Top tufa routes like Tufadango 8a+, A pig in the roof 8b or Gravity 8c were constantly occupied. It seemed the world had an instagram tick list that had to be ticked before the vacation was over.

I settled in to take in the lovely Psoraomallis 6c and made a go at Vromika Myala 7a+ which had a crimpy crux and somewhat polished character. The boys attempted on Bonobo ext. 7b+, Mr. Magoo 7b+ whenever there was a chance to get into the route. And then it rained and hailed stones down on us. Wild goats were roaming above the cliffs again, and it was really dangerous sitting just under the edge of the cave. What a day!

The Twin caves
The Twin caves

The next morning, the sun shone brightly, and we were ready for sunny cracks. Hot Rock sounded like it would give us some good chances to warm up the wind blown bodies from the day before. Once again, the girls took off on the left, the boys proceeded to the right side of the wall. Both sides offered routes in 26m – 38m length. Each route was better than the last one. This vertical wall was just as fun as the yellow wall, with it’s homogeneous routes in mid grades. Quite a shame as the day came to an end.

Me, in Hot Rocks
Me, in Hot Rocks. It was blazing hot too

Another rainy day followed. It was hard to leave the front door as the winds whipped the orange trees to and fro. We thought for a moment it was going to be another rest day when suddenly the heavens opened up and blue skies started to appear.

Quickly we took the chance to drive up to the edge of the cliffs by the sea and fought our way through the exposed and slippery Ferrata that was in a horrible state after all the rain. Miti tis Pelias was definitely far quieter (than Theos) after the rain and probably dried off faster than the rest with the sea breeze coming in. The south-facing wall offered 10 routes that looked out directly to the sea. However, unlike some other sectors, the bolts were somewhat “spaced” and every now and then there were some loose flakes, especially in both Tempora Mutantur 7a, and Poseidon 6c+ .

 It was grande finale for our friends, as the sun started setting and as we sat there listening to the waves and feeling the breeze on our skin and savouring the moments of a good weeks climbing together.

Miti tis Pelias
Miti tis Pelias

The rest of the week saw us returning to some of the sectors, trying to pick up some routes in redpoint. Hada, Golden Dusk, Jupiter and Olimpos were some of the other sectors we visited. Tufa areas like Elona & co were wet all the time, we missed our chance in the beginning, while the tufas were still dry. Just a few days before we left, our host, Alexandra treated us to a lovely breakfast in an authentic greek café downtown – we felt so pampered.

Views down to Jupiter
Views down to Jupiter

We were happy with the mass of sectors at the doorstep, the flair of this little town, the people, the food and having all the comforts of a warm and cozy apartment in the heart of Leonidio. Leonidio, you did some magic to my soul. And gave us back the zest we were looking for. Efkaristo poli!

Summary:

The first time we came here to Leonidio 2 years back we were stoked to see how much potential there was to make this an awesome climbing spot. It was immediately clear that Kyparissi was good for climbing in the shade and Leonidio had sun most of the time in numerous sectors. Coming back here, I was pleasantly surprised to find the whole palate of climbing routes in the new climbing guide book published in 2018. While looking through, my eyes glowed seeing photos and some quotes of mine of Kyparissi in the guide book.

Some say that Leonidio will be the new Kalymnos. I think that will stay a mythos, even though 2018 saw the town completely booked out for the festive Christmas season. Both climbing areas are a jewel in this part of the world. Both areas are well bolted with excellent routes sharing the same greek sun. Same same but it’s charmingly different.

I am happy for the locals that they have found a tiny economy niche to keep the tourists coming in the wintertime. Although “everyone” is pushing this new boom to make it flourish, I hope that it will continue to grow sustainably and they will avoid the mistakes many other communes make to deal with this eco-tourism. At the same time, with my next visit, I hope to never have to clip into any rusty bolts.

The rock:

In all the sectors we climbed in, we never experienced rockfall that came while climbing. However, we have seen how a few passed off a close shave. Generally, the routes are well cleaned up (with the exception of one or two sectors), well bolted with anchors at the top. I will still recommend wearing a helmet. Many complained of the density of bolts in all the sectors – but I always think that with growing anticipation for sports climbing, it’s better to have a safe crag than a big rescue team working around the clock (which does not exist, like in Kalymnos)

Numerous homogeneous routes in all different grades. Facing mostly south, the rocks dry quickly after a rainy day.

The grading: is greek style, and does wonders to your ego. Sit back and enjoy. Stop complaining.

Guidebook:

The newest climbing guidebook from Pánjika Cooperative comes with the complete 1600 routes in over 60 different sectors in Leonidio and Kyparissi. With the purchase of the Guidebook, you help the locals cover the costs of maintenance of the climbing areas and building up new areas.

Leonidio & Kyparissi Climbing Book

Paperback
Language: English
Release date:  Nov. 2018, 2nd Edition
ISBN: 9995423020470

Climb Greece

Paperback
Language: English
Release Date: May 2017
ISBN: 978-960-9456-21-0

Climbing shop

Pánjika Cooperative has a small assortment of climbing necessities. Note that there is a café and a climbing shop about 200m away from each other.

Rope and material:

70 m is sufficient for many sectors. However, if you love climbing on longer routes with 38 – 40m in length (or 2 pitches in one), 80m is the better bet. 16-20 quickdraws and a helmet.

Getting there:

Flights: There are many chartered flights in the high season that flies to Athen. From there, Leonidio is about a 3-hour drive. The roads by the coast are a little windy. Take care, when it rains, these roads can be slippery.

By car: Peloponnese is also reachable by vehicle. From central Europe, you could take a 29-hour ferry ride from Ancona in Italy to Patras. From Patras, it’s about a 3.5 hr drive using the fastest route to Leonidio.

Accommodation:

There are apartments and rooms to let all over the place. There is only one campground right by the sea.

  • Campground Semeli

Things to do on a rest day:

  • basically nothing. Bask in the warming rays of the sun that goes with the rhythm of the waves at the pebbled beach
  • visit the Elona Monastery, perched high on the cliffs, overlooking the Daphnon Gorge.
  • Hike: Our trial started off at the base of the parking lot to Mars, turned left to Olympos, over the top descend down to Jupiter, Mars and Namaste. GPS track: (coming up)
  • Visit the mountain village of Kosmas. There’s a Taverna with local specialties. If it’s snowing, you’ll probably need snow chains and tyres to get up and down from there again.
  • Sparta is 1.5 hrs, Napflio is 1.5 hrs, Kyparissi is ~ 1 hrs (use the new coastal road – not in Google Maps!) from Leonidio. But basically, it’s better to just enjoy the retreat
  • Acropolis is good to explore while you are in Athen.
  • Monday is market day. You can buy local fruits and vegetables from the local farmers, at astounding prices. So much fun to use your hands and feet to talk!
  • If you are here with your van, there are a few other climbing areas just within a few hours drive away. And sometimes, it’s sunnier behind those mountains.
  • Eat. Seriously, make a lunch break by the seaside and enjoy the taverns by the port. We recommend Mitropoli (don’t forget the Aubergine salad!), En Leonidio (Pizzas from the wooden oven) and Trattoria, Stivos (Souvlaki wrap take away or eat in – their bbq chicken with lemon sauce is great), Dolphins at Plaka (perfect views), Vlamis Wooden bakery (baked bread), Myrtoon in Poulithra.

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