Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The not-so-Secret Garden

This morning N and H realised that the coffee they’d been stoking up on since the beginning of the trip was actually decaff.... “That’s why I’ve been having so many headaches” mused N, the ultimate coffee addict. Fresh (fully caffeinated) coffee was made to see us through the early start and we set off on the scooters to Secret Garden. 

Secret Garden is one of the more recently developed crags on Kalymnos, and though it may have been a secret initially, it is definitely one of the more popular crags we’ve been to. It was described to us as one of the best pieces of rock on Kalymnos, and deservedly so; a tall wall of perfect steep rock, varying between short pocketed walls and long, overhanging, tufa-laden routes. There really is something for everyone - unless you’re purely a slab fiend that is!

Secret Garden
The first challenge in climbing at Secret Garden is tackling the hairpin bends that lead up over the pass from Skalia to Palionisos. It was R’s first time as passenger on my scooter and she was (understandably) rather nervous. This probably wasn’t helped by me overshooting the sharp, hidden turn off the main road and shooting into some gravel by the side of the road...

Turned round and ready to go, we shot off up the hill; heavily laden with two people and bags, the balance between getting up enough speed to get up the steep turns, versus being able to get round the corners was delicate. But, with only a slight wobble or two we made it; though I swear R was holding her breath the whole way up!

Over the worst, we cruised down the bends on the other side – relaxing in the sun and open road. Parking up, a twenty minute gentle walk brought us to Secret Garden. We were first to arrive, but were not on our own for long; a couple of parties of European climbers complete with fluorescent pink and green clothing soon arrived to brighten up the crag; making us feel drab in our subdued, British greens and browns.

We warmed up on the left hand side of the crag; the steep, pocketed routes of Margarita (6b+), Bratsere (6c) and Remetzo (6c) necessitating a ‘race-to-the-top’ approach, to reach the chains before your arms pumped out. The air was hot and humid with no breath of wind, leaving the holds slick and sweaty. Chalking up between moves was essential and we lowered to the ground dripping with sweat.

Taking a break to rest, and without the pressure of the sun coming round (Secret Garden stays in the shade all day), we sat down to admire the view. The aqua sea below, clear and still, was inviting, and if the crag hadn’t been quite so high up the hillside, I may have jumped in to cool off. Sailing boats with brilliant white sails lazily drifted off the coast, and on the hazy horizon, the coast of Turkey could be seen. The peaceful tranquillity was broken only by the calls of other climbers battling with the steep routes behind us.

Looking out to Turkey

Back on the routes, N led off up Ricounet (7a), past an initial steep section and into an impressive groove between two huge tufa flakes. I was up next, and after enjoying the jugs of the tufas lower down, found myself faced with the blanker groove above. Bridging was the way forward here, delicately pasting your feel on the tufas, gradually balancing your way up the tufas, conscious of the air below your feet. I found myself wondering if the ‘musical note’ routes in the guidebook (the presence of a quaver symbol indicating a top quality route) were actually reflective of the worrying singing the hollow tufas made when you touched them rather than the amazing moves...

N and H led up Crisis (7a); another fantastic looking tufa route, but I had set my eyes on some steep, fingery pocket pulling and decided to have a go at Markoutsi (7b). This turned out to be a great varied route, with a hard, boulder crux low down, followed by lovely pocket-pulling, a scary (but actually quite easy) slab, then some more jugs to finish.  Possibly the most un-nerving part was sticking my finger in a mono, only to feel a buzzing and for a hornet to fly out! After putting the clips in I fell on the last move of the crux on a redpoint go; my arms wasted, but resolved to return.


Secret Garden was too good for just one day, and we returned a couple of days later to tick some more routes. The highlight of the day was Frapogelo (6c), a fantastic route leading up on juggy tufas through some impressively steep ground. A huge tufa extending horizontally from the wall gave numerous possibilities for holds and which I used to hang off, lean against, sit on and stand on!

N chilling out on Frapogelo (6c)
 After we'd all had a turn whooping our way up the tufas, thoughts turned to projects, and back to Markoutsi (7b). I put the clips in, falling just one move off the end of the crux section. Feeling positive, I lowered down and pulled through the rope for N, who put in a great effort on a flash attempt, but also got caught out at the crux, where have a good foot sequence wired is the key to success. After a rest, I set off again, up through to the crux, but the holds felt slippy and something was wrong. Frustrated, I came off, trying to figure out why the moves hadn't worked. With a bit of help from my fantastic belayers, I realised my left foot hadn't been high enough. I lowered to the ground, rested for ten minutes then went again; pulling through the crux with the correct sequence then continuing up the jugs to glory! After a couple more attempts, N followed suit.

Meanwhile, H was intent on finding the most greasy-looking, slippy slabs on the crag, and put in a great onsight effort on Apocalypse (6c), working her way up a groove on tiny holds and slapping for a crucial hold on the wall above. 

H on Apocalypse (6c)
Tired but satisfied, we headed back to our scooters and over the hill back to civilisation, leaving the not-so-Secret Garden behind. Contender for the best crag on Kalymnos? In my opinion, definitely yes, and I can't wait to go back!

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