The Dodecanese island of Kalymnos was named a top destination for sport climbing in National Geographic (NG) on July 27th due to its unique terrain. With “steep cliffs, stalactite caves, fine limestone cliffs and breathtaking sea views from above”, sport climbing in Kalymnos “contributes to the revitalization of the local economy, attracts both amateurs and experienced adventurers and is gaining worldwide attention this year as a new Olympic event”, reported NG.
Antonis Kampourakis was a sea sponge diver on Kalymnos for more than 50 years and harvesting the valuable sea sponges was traditional work on the island for centuries. and “the islanders’ main source of income also declined,” NG reported.
“Now the barren but picturesque island is one of the world’s best spots for sport climbing, a type of rock climbing where the routes are fixed with permanent anchors,” reports NG.
“The collecting of sea sponges – one in Homer’s epics from the 8th century BC. Activity mentioned above – in Kalymnos since the 19th risky techniques, from free diving naked and weighted down with a marble stone to breathing through a long tube that winds its way to the surface. “
“Though tough and dangerous, this job was a fair for me. I longed for daybreak to plunge into the sea, ”the 80-year-old Kampourakis told NG.
“For 52 years I kept diving for sponges, even a thousand times a day … but it was well paid, I raised six daughters, bought houses for their families,” Kampourakis, whose image is shown on a local statue in honor of sponge divers said NG.
“While the islanders were hunting for sponges, traders were selling the ‘Kalymnian gold’ in widely dispersed markets,” reported NG.
“There used to be 200 to 250 sponge boats sailing all over Greece and the eastern Mediterranean,” Nikolas Papachatzis, a sponge dealer, told NG. “Now there are only a few left.”
“Decades of intense harvest, the disease that afflicted sponges in the 1980s, and the increasing frequency of extreme climatic events since the 1990s all resulted in the sponge harvesting industry being nearly wiped out,” NG reported, noting that “now the local sponges are rare, but surprisingly, the sponge trade is still thriving. Because of the know-how of the islanders, sponges from elsewhere are processed here. “
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“Everything is done by hand, sponge by sponge; clean, wash, trim, ”Papachatzis told NG.
“Kalymnos accounts for 80 percent of the world’s sponge exports and imports sponges from tropical waters to meet demand,” reported NG.
“However, a Mediterranean sponge has unsurpassed quality and a lifespan of 10 years,” he said, NG reported.
“As global efforts focus on reducing plastic consumption, natural sponges appear to be more sustainable than artificial ones,” reported NG, adding that “caution should be exercised with the remaining fragmented sponge populations,” said Thanos Dailianis, marine biologist at the Hellenic Center for marine research.
“In order for the sponge fishery to continue, it is imperative to have solid management plans in place and promote sustainable practices,” Dailianis told NG. “Cutting off part of the sponge instead of completely removing it from the substrate has been shown to minimize the impact of the crop, as the remaining part can regenerate.”
Dailianis “also advocates the designation of protected areas, which he says” can have significant long-term benefits by encouraging the recovery of depleted areas, “NG reported.
“As the spongy harvest declined, a very different industry emerged,” NG reported, adding that “high yellow-orange cliffs jut out of the sea along the island’s coastline – dramatic features that Italian climber Andrea Di Bari noticed when he went on vacation to Kalymnos in 1996. “
“Enchanted by the high quality of the rock, he returned the following year with climbing partners in tow to open up 43 routes,” reported NG, noting that “published pictures by photographer Andrea Gallo attracted the climbers’ attention” and “then Aris Theodoropoulos, a mountain guide, climbing instructor and author of the Kalymnos Climbing Guidebook, worked with the community to make Kalymnos a real climbing destination. “
“In 1999 we noticed some strange guys carrying equipment and then saw their figures hanging on the rocks,” George Hatzismalis, director of the community’s tourism office, told NG. “We soon started looking for interventions so that this could develop: opening up new routes, maintaining them, organizing a climbing festival.”
“The first festival took place in 2000, and since then there have been 13 more, with the biggest names in the climbing scene climbing the most impressive routes and creating new ones,” reported NG. “Today there are around 90” climbing sectors and 3,900 routes, most single-pitch lengths and levels of difficulty from 4c to 9a (beginners to professionals) “and” the neighboring island of Telendos offers another seven sectors and 800 routes, some of them multi-rope. “
“The numbers are increasing,” Lucas Dourdourekas, president of the Kalymnos Volunteer Rescue Team and a top sport climber / instructor, told NG, adding: “[the combination of] the huge vertical walls, the negative cliffs, the routes with bags, the great variety and everything close together … and the spectacular sea view while climbing … is awesome. “
“The easily accessible routes suit different levels and styles, from adrenaline seekers to more cautious amateurs and families,” reported NG.
“Kalymnos is great vacation climbing, good for beginners,” the American elite climber Alex Honnold previously told NG, noting that “they have these huge caves with huge stalactites and it’s like super fun limestone, but then you can swim, if you want in the sea afterwards and it’s really nice. “
“Spring and autumn are the best seasons for climbing, but the island’s climate is mild all year round,” reported NG.
“The rise of climbing has resulted in an extension of the tourist season from three or four months to at least eight months with all the resulting benefits for the local community,” Nikolaos Tsagkaris, president of the Kalymnos Hoteliers Association, told NG.
“Typically around 12,000 climbers arrive each year to challenge their skills and perseverance,” NG reported, adding that “some have bought homes on the island and others have been waiting for coronavirus lockdowns here.”
“The bond between climbers and locals is strong … personal relationships are developed, visitors are not strangers,” Hatzismalis told NG.
“Our mountains, once a curse on our island, inaccessible and not buildable, are now a blessing … Our goal is to use them in all possible ways … such as hiking and mountain biking,” says Kalymno Mayor Dimitris Diakomichalis told NG .
“Kalymnos has secured a place on the global climbing map, but in order to be sustainable in the long term, the island’s natural heritage must be protected,” reported NG, preventing uncontrolled expansion, ensuring safety and minimizing the negative impact on the environment. “
“There has been no interference with the natural environment and the climbers, who are environmentally conscious, appreciate the pristine landscape,” Hatzismalis told NG, adding, “as long as places of archaeological interest and ancient formations like the stalactites of the Grande Grotta” continue to be respected “, …” potential challenges can be avoided. “
“With care and maintenance of current and future routes … you [Kalymnos] can be a model for other travel destinations, ”Dourdourekas told NG.