Not just a gangsters hideout – KYPARISSI – Climbing in the Peloponnese I
Kyparissi ,named after the cyprus trees is a small village on the east coast of the Peloponnese. In summer, this not so secret spot is full of summer tourists. It is also a favourite destination for yacht sailors, or a stopover for Presidents, Prince and Princesses. Gangsters, mobsters and assassinators all think this area is a great hideout. But eventually, they get found. Crystal clear waters, pebble stone beach, and enough infrastructure in the town to keep you surviving for a week or two without having to leave the place (if you come prepared). The village lays right below the soaring cliffs of the Parnon Mountains some curvy 2.5 hrs away from Sparta.
You get the idea, there’s something remote about this place.
The first Climbing Festival held in 2015, threw a lot of light on to Kyparissi. The “new Kalymnos”, half of “Ceuse” were words used describing the crags found here. Which really meant only to describe the hard-core Sector Babala. I’m always critical when you compare a climbing area with another – because your expectations go soaring high, and drops when it doesn’t meet.
A new mini Topo guide came out online in October 2016 describing 9 sectors in Kyparissi. All the sectors are mainly in the shade on most of the day and half of them lay around 900m high. This makes it a good venue especially on hot humid days. It’s a lot cooler here too, comparing to the rest of the Peloponnese.
Hello Kyparissi, where is everyone?
There were no pre-bookings or reservations. We shaped our vacation according to our nose, fingers and the weather. We arrived in on a weekday afternoon, and found a deserted Kyparissi. Nobody was at any reception desk , although one or two guests (in the sea) could be seen, other studios in town had their window shades tightly shut, and nobody answered to the ringing of the doorbell. The town square Cafe was somewhat open with sweet colorful chairs and tables outside but had the door closed. Not a soul on the streets. Where was everyone?
It was more like a ghost town on a Monday afternoon in October.
We walked around the port and saw one guest on the other side swimming in the clear waters. We hopped back into the car and made another round around the village hoping to find someone with whom I could practice my broken greek phrases, learnt the last few weeks.
Finally, I gave up. I called one of the studios owner to ask if they were open. Oops, she did not speak a word of english, and I, no greek. Without being able to visualize with my gestures, it was the most difficult 5 mins, trying to ask her to come and show us the rooms. We finally got everything right and checked into one of the nicest places for 30€/night. Ok! So we learnt, its best to catch them directly on the phone with some greek knowledge prepared. Not all the accommodations are on the online booking platforms (!).
A rainy day followed. It was more of a drizzle, nothing of which could cause serious worries of wet rocks.
This was in the shade in the mornings and made it a perfect crag to warm up on easy, perfectly bolted routes before continuing to Watermill in the afternoon. The rock here is amazing, with structured and homogeneous climbs, on a grey limestone. No wonder most of them earned three stars and more for their beauty. “Kastraki” a 35m long 6a+ gets better and better the higher you get. Perfect bolting and sufficient grades in the 5th for fearless lead climbing. The right sector above has more routes from 6b onwards. This sector is probably the best place to take that phenomenal climbing picture. Another new sector with easy routes was “Playground”, which we saw only from the street.
You can’t miss this massive wall as you drive into Kyparissi. You have to make a compulsory stop to look (google street view) before carrying on into town. It is the next nearest crag from the village next to Kastraki. The crag is just by the old watermills and chapels of the gorge above the settlement of Vryssi. With an access less than 2 minutes, its has also become the most frequented crag of all sectors. The main sector is full of tufa snakes, blobs and has often technical moves. Jerome the Gangster 7c+, Myros 7b+, Kiparissi and Thanks George 7a, are routes not to be missed. Routes on the balcony are mainly overhanging, and totally structured. Amazing moves on great quality rock.
You could climb or warm up on Smoke on the Water, 6b+ or Zellis 6b further right or right in front: Tiris or Welcome to Kyparissi 6a. The rock here is a mix of red and grey, sharp limestone.
Since this crag lays lower in altitude than the rest, it can get rather humid in the evenings. On days when strong wind blows, it can be a pain when you get all the dirt in your eyes and get your hairdo messed up.
Kapsala is a new sector that lies on the new coastal road that will connect Kyparissi to Leonidio. This coastal road is one of the prettiest I’ve seen in the Peloponnese. We went there on a rest day, totally pumped from climbing days before and were totally under-dressed. But after all the pain we had in getting past the guard, we decided to climb there and then and not the next day as originally planned.
We had no water, no munchies or climbing garments.
Just the equipment and bikini. (note: the road is still closed to traffic and we had to get permission to get through the guard. However, there were some miscommunication that had the other construction workers shoo us off on the other end of the road – not easy when you try to explain you’re here for climbing. Damn! What was climbing in greek again? AAaargh!) Anarríchisi, anarríchisi anarríchisi…. can you remember? anarríchisi!
This cliff lies just above the sea and has some really nice routes on the left sector. Born to lose is for me the best 7a I’ve climbed in Kyparissi. 2 little problems on a lightly overhanging wall, 30 m long. At the anchor, turn around and look. On clear days, you will be able to see all the little islands on the opposite. There’re not many tufas here, but has instead plenty of holes. The sector on the right is a little shorter, with easier routes to start. We climbed till we felt completely dehydrated. I kept seeing cool beer bottles in front of me, but they kept disappearing once I reached out for them. It was time to go! It would be dark in a few minutes.
The other sectors
If you like it cold ( and I really mean cold like back in the Alps) the sectors Stavros, Jerome’s House and Psilovrachos are cool. Short access to each sector makes it an easy approach – quick to climb and quick to go. The road-side section of Psilovrachos are newly bolted and great for warming up before hitting the upper sector after the rope access. (be careful not to throw loose rocks down while traversing) It can be very windy especially at Stavros and Psilovrachos, and once the temperatures drop, it might not be much fun belaying if you’re not properly dressed (forget the bikini). Otherwise, the temperatures are really good for climbing (around 14-16°c)
Stavros stops getting any sun at all from mid October. The rocks here are a little varied. It can be very sharp and not always good.
My personal favourite in Jerome’s House was “Of Author brown” a 6b+ (don’t miss the extension!), and the newly bolted “Mon Armour” 6c at Psilovrachos. We found the grades at “Bangsters 6c/7a” pretty stiff. This could be easily a 7b right up to the second anchor. Tufa- lovers will find many routes on the upper sector of Psilovrachos starting from 6c+. Astropeleki, 7c starts off with a bouldery, wide move at the 3rd bolt, before moving on to some sharp needle tufas.
A word about Babala
We didn’t climb at Sector Babala, but didn’t want to leave the place either without having to ever see it for ourselves. The hike up to the crag takes officially 50 mins up. The path is easy and wide, there’s not much chances of getting lost as the trial brings you directly to the walls. On the way, you will start to realize that there are plenty of wild boars in the forest. Once there, you will see the vast potential of walls waiting to be bolted. Looking down on the other side, a panoramic view of the village and bay awaits you. The wall is smooth, long, overhanging. Loooong straight colonettes without much structure whispers to you that demanding climbs here are placed next to each other. 30 m, no 40 m… no even 50 m routes means bringing a long rope would be of advantage. A good psyche and maybe some extra biceps could help too. Shortly after we left, we heard that many new routes and another new sector was born.
About 30km away, a new little sector with just 15 new routes was born in Vlychadia. This sector is perhaps the furthest venue from Kyparissi and takes about 45 mins by car to reach. (if you get lost, you might need longer) Check out the beach!
Climbing in Kyparissi is different. It’s a retreat. The town is very quiet in the off season – so quiet that you have the overview who’s in town and not. (And if you’re the only climber in town, the locals will eventually know that you climb, even though you’ve never mentioned it to them, or looked like a climber. “My husband saw you climbing” was one of the excuses they used)
If you don’t meet the climbers at the crags, you’ll catch them at one of the Tavernas or at the beach. There ain’t too many bars around, just 2 Cafes, 1 bakery, 1 butcher, 1 supermarket that had everything (except greens). Veggies and fruits are not stocked up well in any of the shops (besides tomato and apples), so either you stock up before you come or you have to keep your ears open to catch the mobile fruit/veggie vendor that comes a few times in the week. (yuhuu, god save the Bananas!) There’s no petrol station or banks nearby, so don’t forget to tank up and fill your purse with cash too. Ups, did I frightened you? But I liked that. It was remote. And everyone else who came wants to stay longer.
If you enjoy climbing in the shade, often with a breeze, you will be blessed with a majority of walls getting shade from midday onz. (Times vary depending on the season) Kyparissi is now a big playground for elite climbers easy with 8a – 8c. There are lots of potential here for that. For all the others who will never see a French 8 in their tick list, there’s “only” a limited choice of a few sectors, but yet enough to keep you busy for a week or two. So, yes, we are hoping for more development here for everything below the 8.
I can imagine well, that once the new coastal road is finished (no, I will not say when (everyone says “in 2 months” since years ) – because there’s been a delay for decades) combining the sunny areas of Leonidio and the shady areas of Kyparissi, will make this area the most important corners to climb in the Peloponnese. It’s great to beach out in the day and hit the crags in the afternoons. You can sleep in, enjoy your breakfast in the morning sun, and then go climbing. Unlike in Kalymnos. We enjoyed having all the sectors for ourselves except on one single day when a few other climbers came.
If you’re looking for Tufa-wonderland in the middle grades and more “nightlife”, you’ll probably be better off in Leonidio. The official guide book is now proudly presenting > 1000 routes in 50 sectors, available in the Café Panjika in Leonidio.
Did it feel like Kalymnos? No. Was it like Ceuse? No. This is Kyparissi, it’s (still) a beautiful, quiet village hidden under the cliffs of Mount Parnon. Except for a few climbers that strayed over from Leonidio for a few days, we felt as if climbing happened in an environment 20 years back. The locals are friendly, and opens up heartily after a few times you’ve see them.
It was hard to leave the place. But we were also excited to move on because of bad weather forecasted for a few consequent days.
Good to know:
Best time of year:
Autumn, Spring, Summer. Coming too late might mean even colder temperatures in the altitude. When the Northwind blows, it’s very uncomfortable. And when it rains, it pours.
On hot, humid days, hit the upper sectors like Stavros, Jerome’s House, Psilovachros
At this moment (Nov. 2016), there are not many choices of climbing in the pure sun for e.g. winter. Leonidio would be the better choice for more choices of sunny crags.
Accommodation and logistics
- There are no camp grounds here, neither is there much space to wild camp secludedly. Public toilets on the beach and on the squares were all closed while we were here in October. It’s really best to just take a studio and relax. Give the locals some credit and business.
- There’s a list of several rental apartments / studios in the area. The biggest challenge was to contact the owners and communicate (not all of them speaks english!). If you shy from this, then the only way would be to use the usual online booking platform instead. Here, the choice is limited to just two. Generally, I thought the quality of the studios here is almost as good as home. Water from the tap is drinkable (not salty) and solar showers are as always having the same problems. (burning hot as long as the sun shines). All available accommodations are listed on the climbgreece website.
Guidebooks and Topos:
- Best of Greece from 2014 mentions Kyparissi with just a few sectors
(it’s out of stock now, but a new edition will be out in Spring 2017) An online Topo Guide came out in October 2016. (limited time only (!)) Download here: Climbgreece.com
- In 2018, the climbing Guidebook of Leonidio and Kyparissi from Pánjika Cooperative describes Kyparissi. I have contributed a few photos in there too. Very pleased to see them in there. Look out for new editions.
- New crags described in 2019 here
A 70m rope is sufficient for most of the routes. Ours was 80 m, 18-25 Quickdraws for the longer routes.
You might need a longer rope for Babala. (still waiting for official infos on the routes). Helmets (not only) for newer sectors
Rock and Style:
Vertical and slightly to strongly overhanging on red and grey pocketed wall, some with sharp side holds. Big holes in Kapsala.
Tufa-ish at Watermill, Psilovachros and Babala.
Great potential everywhere.
Just because it’s (still) remote it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. I would’ve extended a few more weeks here just doing “nothing”.
- Take a short, even, hike to the isolated chapel Agios Georgios on trial #X6 you see on the right of the bay. 35 mins along the coast (Follow the signs)
- Beach out and snorkel. (I mean like, why else would you be here?)
- Do one of the hikes in the area. There’s also a trial #X7 that goes down to Jerome’s house. (His real house by the sea)
- A short hike on #X5 – Palaiochora & Aghia Varvara (20 mins up to the 2nd Chapel) in to the trials by Watermill will lead you up to 2 Chapels, the last one comes with a (triple) summit cross. Great views and mini chapels which barely fits your shoulders.
- Chill out at one of the Taverns overlooking the sea. Cava Korta has the best views and Rosé, our personal favourite was Ploes (The rest were closed while we were there. ) Forget your waistline!
- Research about the notorious life of John “Blackjack” Jerome (e.g. here, or here There are hundreds of story variations)
- Find the hidden secret cave (be prepared with your headlamps) not listed anywhere.
- Visit the Port of Gerakis (Fjord landscape), Monemvasia (“the Rock”), Geraki (ruins), Zarachas (ruins). They are all within a days excursion.
- Do more research on the history of Kyparissi. It’s almost like an intriguing thriller book.
If you are thinking of visiting the Peloponnese sometime, you might be interested in whats like in the other parts of the Peloponnese. Read on for areas in
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