Sport climbing in Kalymnos featured in National Geographic | food and travel, travel

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The Dodecanese island of Kalymnos was featured in National Geographic (NG) on July 27 as a top destination for sport climbing due to its unique terrain. With “sheer cliffs, stalactite caves, fine limestone rocks and breathtaking sea views from the summit”, sport climbing in Kalymnos “helps revitalize the local economy, attracting both amateur and adventurous adventurers. experts, and attracts global attention this year as a new Olympic event, ”NG reported.

Antonis Kampourakis has been a sea sponge diver for over 50 years in Kalymnos and harvesting precious sea sponges has been the traditional job of the island for centuries. and “the main source of income for the islanders has also fallen,” NG reported.

“Now the barren but picturesque island is one of the best places in the world for sport climbing, a type of climbing in which the routes are secured with permanent anchors,” NG reported.

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Kalymnos Island. (Photo by Eurokinissi / Christos Bonis)

“The harvesting of sea sponges – an activity mentioned in Homer’s epics in the 8th century BC. risky techniques, from naked apnea weighted with a marble stone to breathing through a long pipe that snaked on the surface.

“Although difficult and dangerous, this job was a fun fair for me. I couldn’t wait for dawn to plunge into the sea, ”Kampourakis, 80, told NG.

“For 52 years, I continued to dive for sponges, even a thousand times a day… but it was well paid, I raised six girls, bought houses for their families,” said Kampourakis, whose likeness is depicted on a local statue honoring sponge divers, NG told.

“While the islanders hunted for sponges, traders were selling ‘Kalymnian gold’ in distant markets,” NG reported.

“Previously, there were 200 to 250 sponge boats, sailing all over Greece and the eastern Mediterranean,” Nikolas Papachatzis, a sponge trader, told NG. “Now there are only a few left.”

“The intensive harvest that lasted for decades, the disease that plagued sponges in the 1980s and the increased frequency of extreme weather events since the 1990s all combined to almost wipe out the sponge harvesting industry,” NG reported, noting that “now local sponges are scarce, but surprisingly, the sponge business is still flourishing. Thanks to the know-how of the islanders, sponges from elsewhere are processed here.

The national herald

Kalymnos. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

“Everything is done by hand, sponge by sponge; clean, wash, trim, ”Papachatzis told NG.

“Kalymnos accounts for 80% of the world’s sponge exports and imports sponges from tropical waters to meet demand,” NG reported.

“A Mediterranean sponge, however, has unsurpassed quality and a lifespan of 10 years,” he said, NG reported.

“As global efforts focus on reducing the use of plastic, natural sponges may appear to be more durable than artificial sponges,” NG reported, adding that “caution should be taken with fragmented sponge populations. remaining, “according to Thanos Dailianis, a marine biologist at the Hellenic Center for Marine Research.

“For the sponge fishery to continue, it is imperative to establish strong management programs and endorse sustainable practices,” Dailianis told NG. “Cutting off part of the sponge instead of completely removing it from the substrate is proven to minimize the impact of harvesting, as it allows the remaining part to regenerate.”

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A traditional wetsuit and snorkel gear were presented at the event titled “The Kalymnos Sponge Divers” in Myrties, Kalymnos. (EUROKINISSI / Giorgos Rigoutsos)

Dailianis “is also advocating for the designation of protected areas, which he said” can have significant long-term benefits by promoting the repopulation of depleted areas, “NG reported.

“As the sponge harvest dwindled, a whole different industry was emerging,” NG reported, adding that “along the island’s coastline, tall yellowish-orange cliffs rise from the sea. – dramatic features that caught the eye of Italian mountaineer Andrea Di Bari when he vacationed in Kalymnos in 1996.

“Delighted with the high quality of the rock, he returned the following year with climbing partners in tow to open 43 routes,” NG reported, noting that “the images released by photographer Andrea Gallo drew the attention from more climbers “and” then Aris Theodoropoulos, a mountain guide, climbing instructor and author of the Kalymnos Climbing Guidebook, has collaborated with the municipality to help make Kalymnos a true climbing destination.

“In 1999, we noticed strange guys, loaded with equipment, then saw their silhouettes hanging on the rocks,” said NG George Hatzismalis, head of the municipality’s tourist office. “Soon, we started to find out what interventions we had to make to make this evolve: to open up new paths, to maintain them, to organize a climbing festival.

“The first festival was held in 2000, and since then there have been 13 more, with the biggest names in the rock climbing scene climbing the most impressive routes and creating new ones,” NG reported. , noting that “today there are around 90 climbing sectors and 3,900 routes, most of them single step and ranging in difficulty from 4c to 9a (beginner to pro)”, and “the island Telendos’ neighbor offers seven sectors and 800 additional routes, some of which are at several lengths ”.

“The numbers keep increasing,” Lucas Dourdourekas, president of the Kalymnos volunteer rescue team and top athletic climber / instructor, told NG, adding that “[the combination of] the huge vertical walls, the negative cliffs, the tracks with pockets, the great variety and all close together… and the spectacular view of the sea while climbing… it’s awesome.

“The easily accessible routes accommodate different skill levels and styles, from adrenaline seekers to more careful hobbyists and families,” NG reported.

“Kalymnos is a great holiday rock climbing, great for beginners,” elite American climber Alex Honnold told NG, noting that “they have these huge caves with huge stalactites and it’s like limestone. featured super fun, but you can then swim if you want in the sea afterwards and it’s really beautiful.

“Spring and fall are the best seasons for rock climbing, but the island’s climate is mild all year round,” NG reported.

“The rise in rock climbing has led to the extension of the tourist season, from three or four to at least eight months with all the attendant benefits for the local community,” the president of the association of hoteliers of Kalymnos, Nikolaos Tsagkaris.

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A freediver from Therma, Kalymnos, uses the weight of a large stone, which also serves as a flywheel, to drag it to the bottom of the sea. This method has been used in sponge fishing in Greece for about 2,000 years until that diving equipment is used. (EUROKINISSI / Giorgos Rigoutsos)

“Typically some 12,000 climbers arrive each year to challenge their skills and endurance,” NG reported, adding that “some have bought homes on the island and others have waited for coronavirus closures 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 uncultivable, have now become a blessing… Our goal is to make good use of them in all possible ways… such as developing hiking and mountain biking,” said the Mayor of Kalymnos, Dimitris Diakomichalis. said to NG.

“Kalymnos has claimed a place on the world rock climbing map, but for it to be sustainable in the long term, the island’s natural heritage must be safeguarded,” NG reported, noting that “officials have established the protocol of the new road in 2018 with the aim of preventing uncontrolled expansion, ensuring safety and minimizing negative impact on the environment.

“No intervention has been made in the natural environment, and climbers, concerned with the environment, appreciate the unspoiled landscape,” Hatzismalis told NG, adding that “as long as the places of archaeological interest and the formations centuries-old, such as the stalactites of Grande Grotta, continue to be respected ”,…“ potential challenges can be avoided. ”

“With care and maintenance of present and future roads… she [Kalymnos] can be a model for other destinations, ”Dourdourekas told NG.


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