From October 9-12, the Greek island paradise of Kalymnos played host to the 2014 The North Face Kalymnos Climbing Festival. Thousands were on hand to take part in the event, participating in climbing competitions and celebrating legends of the sport. The North Face climber Matt Segal traveled to Kalymnos for the four-day festival, and came away with a reminder of how rich his sport’s history is.



Kalymnos: I’d heard countless stories about this Greek island in the Aegean Sea, a magnificent limestone climbing paradise, but I’d never before made the journey. With this year marking the third and final The North Face Kalymnos Climbing Festival (October 9-12), I knew I had to attend.

I arrived on the island late at night, and woke up early the next morning to a pleasant surprise: From one window I could see the calm and beautiful Aegean Sea, and from another the amazing limestone cliffs stacked with the most crazy tufa and stalactite formations. It was out of this world!

Kalymnos_2014_Image_5_Credit_matt_Segal_Climbing in Kalymnos. (Credit: Matt Segal)

Fighting jet lag, but eager to climb, I got on my scooter (the best and most fun way to get around the island) and rallied to the closest crag, where I met up with old friends and quickly made new ones.

While most climbing festivals are as much about socializing as they are about climbing, this year’s Kalymnos festival also was billed as a celebration of the history of sport climbing. So in addition to a couple thousand registered participants, in attendance over the four days were a handful of the climbing legends that took our sport to new levels in the ’80s and ’90s.

Kalymnos_2014_Image_3_Credit_Eddie_GianelloniMatt Segal sizing up the Kalymnos limestone. (Credit: Eddie Gianelloni)

For Jean Baptiste Tribout of France, Patxi Arocena of Spain, Gerhard Höragher of Austria, Ben Moon of England, Boone Speed of the US, and Yuji Hirayama of Japan, Kalymnos was an excuse to put on some Lycra, climb amazing limestone, and reminisce about the past. And for everyone else at the festival, it was an opportunity to relive a little piece of climbing’s history with these iconic individuals.

In addition to the standard climbing comps, this year’s festival included two parts with the “Legends”— a panel discussion led by Niall Grimes and the Legends Invitational, an outdoor climbing competition at a new crag developed specifically for the event by European TNF athletes.

Kalymnos_2014_Image_2_Credit_Eddie_Gianelloni Legends of climbing. (Credit: Eddie Gianelloni)

Topics during the panel discussion ranged widely. Young super-star Alex Megos asked the legends two questions that stayed with me throughout the festival. The first: “Why did you stick to the slabs and vertical faces and stay away from the overhanging walls?” The second was something along the lines of if the Legends were in their prime do they think they’d be the best climbers in today’s age.

Most of the legends on the stage humbly ignored the second question, but Alex’s youthful excitement couldn’t be ignored and Gerhard Höragher responded with a question of his own: “Alex,” he started, “have you ever placed a bolt by hand?”

Kalymnos_2014_Image_4_Credit_Eddie_GianelloniMatt Segal climbs Kalymnos. (Credit: Eddie Gianelloni)

The crowd laughed, and it was at this moment that we all realized how much the times have changed. These guys first began placing bolts with hand drills verses the now standard power drill. Attempting to establish routes on steep terrain wasn’t even thought of back then.

The next morning was the Legends Invitational. Of the 15 new routes — ranging from 5.11d to 5.14a — that were bolted, 9 were completed by the legends. Yuji Hirayama, my teammate from TNF Asia, walked away with the hardest ascent, a 5.13d he named Kaze.

Kalymnos_2014_Image_1_Credit_Eddie_GianelloniTNF Asia climber Yuji Hirayama. (Credit: Eddie Gianelloni)

It was amazing to see these legends of sport climbing in their element, interacting with each other and having a great time climbing; and I feel super fortunate to have spent the week laughing, climbing, and sharing stories with them.

Though our sport is super young, it still has a rich history, and this event brought a piece of that history to life. I’d say it’s safe to say that everyone who participated at Kalymnos would agree.

Feature image photo credit: Matt Segal

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