One week in Leonidio: Getting back into climbing

Whenever I take a break from climbing outdoors I feel like I’ve gone straight back to square one. Leading even an easy route can reduce me to a gibbering wreck if my bolt is a little bit too far away, or I’m not quite sure where to go, or my feet feel a little bit slippery. It seems to happen every time after a long break, no matter how confident I feel going into it.

So this time was no different, of course. On our first day in Leonidio we went to a crag called Berliner Mauer, which was bolted by some Germans and promised a range of low grades to ease ourselves back into things.

But three climbs in I found myself crying my eyes out on a 6b (called Children Against Frustration) because the bolting got progressively worse at the top. Stupid and childish, really, because it wasn’t even that hard, but faced with three metres of run out, which included the crux, my brain refused to cooperate. I got to the top in the end, but both my nerves and my ego were severely frayed by the experience.

But now, a week down the line, things are looking up somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, it will take months of very hard work to get even close to the average level of climbers we are encountering here. It seems 7a is a well-established warm up grade, while anything below a 7c is rarely considered a respectable project to work on. 

But slowly, and with a greater deal of caution than I would like, I’m beginning to feel comfortable on the rock again, helped by the fact that luckily the bolting turned out to be much friendlier at pretty much every other crag we have been to since that first day. Truly, it wasn’t a great start!

We have already discovered a few favourites in the week that we have been here (during which time we only took one rest day until today, having climbed for five days solid, albeit mostly only doing half days).

Up there at the top of the list is Hot Rock, a delightfully tall crag of red limestone, which gets sweltering on sunny days, as the name suggests, but was pretty cool when we went. The highlight was a 40 metre long 6b, Mayor, longest single route I’ve ever done! Our 80 metre rope was only just enough.

The last crag we visited, Sabaton, is also now a firm favourite. With a super short approach and out of the sun for most of the day, it is perfect for when it inevitably gets mega hot  and has a huge range of grades. We jumped on a few 7a’s, most of which were enjoyable. Clay flashed them all, while I managed to flash one, leading me to conclude that it definitely wasn’t a 7a. Maybe a 6c. The best one was called Fun – and it was! I only tried it on top rope, and to my surprise managed to finish it without falling. I’ll have to go back to lead it, but I’m not even upset about that.

Both Clay and I have got ourselves a project up near the St. Nicholas Monastery, which is reached by a crazy windy dirt road from Leonidio. Driving up in our van is at least a little scary. He is working on a 7c (though after breaking off a hold, we think it is a 7c+ now), and I discovered a new line which is apparently around 7a. It’s called Peanut Butter Cake, so I  had to try it!

Today it’s raining, so we’re hiding away in the climbers cafe, Panjika. It was empty when we got here earlier this morning, but now it’s teeming with climbers hiding from the rain, drinking coffees or their first beers of the day. Really, life here is very chilled.

Photography: Clay Claydon, follow him on Instagram at @clayclaydon

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