Λεωνίδιο (Leonidio) Text

I just realized that I haven’t gone sport climbing since leaving Asia in 2016. The last place I climbed outdoors was the Green Climber’s Home in Tha Khaek, Laos. Somehow, in all the intervening time, in six years, I haven’t tied in to a rope outdoors even once. This realization prompted me to think about something Brent likes to say – you can tell what someone wants to do by what they actually do. He’s mentioned this in relation to my climbing over the past few years. Ever since my injuries have prevented me from climbing anything moderately difficult, I’ve prioritized travel for culture over climbing. When we’ve traveled together, I don’t even take my climbing shoes with me. 

In some ways it’s a shame, as I’m quite decent at sport climbing in particular, and it doesn’t provoke nearly as much injury as bouldering. Brent thinks we should just accept our age and transition to sport climbing. He’s probably correct. An additional bonus to sport climbing is that I have almost no ego in regards to it. In bouldering I continue to feel something of a pressure to return to my previous level of strength. When I sport climb, however, I’m happy to climb every climb in an area, from one side of the crag to the other, regardless of grade. 

This is precisely what we did in Leonidio. While I was gone for WeXplore with the students, Kevin arrived in Athens and went to Mamouna a few times. He climbed all my routes, met Antonis, and then met a young Italian studying in Athens, Francesco. On the morning after I returned from Pelion, Francesco drove us down to the Peleponesse for a lovely weekend of climbing moderates. What a massive, beautiful, location. Craggy red limestone cliffs overlook steep approaches up from valley floors or front the Mediterranean Sea. As with many European climbing destinations, Leonidio isn’t a single crag but a large area with over forty walls. We went to just two.

We took the wrong trail for the approach to Skiadianiko, scrabbly up dry streambeds for a while before doubling back to the base of the valey and finding the correct trail with the assistance of Maps.me. The hike was rather tiring due to our confusion (we took another wrong turn and went straight up to the crag rather than following the cliff). With the rotation that we took, Francesco lead most of the climbs, I followed, and Kevin cleaned. Watching Kevin climb sport fascinated me. He’s a brilliantly fluid boulderer, always exerting the exact amount of effort such that he glides through problems much like I do. And yet he’s clearly out of his element on a rope. All that confidence and efficiency is gone. He climbs slowly and tentatively, keeping his feet well below him, and searching for the best holds for his hands rather than trusting the first one he grabs. We stayed on climbs around Francesco’s stated comfort level, 5c to 6c. It was apparent from watching Francesco, too, that his limit was more mental than physical. We climbed until nearly dark.

Leonidio is a tiny town, compact and charming. We walked to the taverna recommended by the group of girls we met at the crag down softly lit streets. Dinner was lovely for the company and the very European-ness of it. Sitting at a tiny wooden table out on the cobblestone street among many other crowded parties, all chatting and laughing long after their food was finished. Our food was simple, decent, and inexpensive. Sometimes one has to admit that Europe has this kind of life figured out.

We climbed the next day at Mad Wall, a crag with stunning views of the entire area. This day was much more of a European climbing destination feel, with four groups of climbers nearby hanging out with music, belaying with that standard appalling disregard to safety. Brent has a brilliant theory for this. He notes that European and American driving standards are analogous to their opposite belay standards. Europeans go through a rigorous, standardized program to learn to drive, while Americans learn ad hoc from their family. The opposite is true in regards to belay technique. Rather than learning a centralized, standard method at climbing gyms, they perpetuate the shoddy practices of their friends.

Our approach hike was again somewhat arduous, as Francesco once again led us astray. This, in addition to the encroaching heat of the day, wiped out Francesco and Kevin by the afternoon. The heat and sun had the opposite effect on me, of course, so I lead all the climbs. These routes were much more enjoyable than the previous day. They were a touch more difficult, longer, and had more varied climbing, with some fun tufas up top. I hoped to try something a bit more difficult, but my mates were quite done, so we hiked down the correct path, headed to the main square, and ate a terrible pizza and pasta before driving home exhausted. This exhaustion, plus a tickle in the throat we attributed to our allergies from the dank AirBnb (possibly the many cats or large flower garden, too) should have been a premonition of what was to follow back in Athens. Kevin and I didn’t get home until nearly midnight, as the metro was closed, though I seized the opportunity to jabber away at our taxi driver in Greek.

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