Othrys is a small mountain rising unceremoniously from the muddy cotton fields of Thessaly. You can easily overlook its hazy silhouette as you drive past the sleepy town of Almyros on your way to Volos. Despite its unassuming presence Othrys’ chestnut covered hills hold some beautiful climbing secrets.
There are three great crags in the mountain (or at least three that I known of). The local climbers named them after the local villages thus Anavra I, Anavra II and Kofoi. The latter two are the most well known and popular. Both are modern crags in every respect and every bit worthy of the 3+ hours journey from Athens. In this post however I wish to talk about the former of the three, the old -and original- Anavra I, i.e. the first crag developed in the limestone heart of Othrys.
Anavra always stirs strong sentiments to me. I seem to have a soft spot for the place and it occupies a place in my mind as one of my favourite crags in Greece. I don’t know what it is but it seems to speak directly to my heart. I love every single second of the time spent there over the years. Sometimes I even refer to it as “Anavroula” with a weird tenderness not exactly fitting to a climbing crag :).
I think all this has to do with the very aura of the place. Anavra is so isolated, so unpolluted by human presence and so pristine that it feels almost arcane. The views from the crag are open, the rock face vast, rough and broken. It is so unlike modern sport climbing crags. Anavra is not a climbing “venue”. It is a true ragged ancient rock face, old titan Othrys himself looking us through a dent of his stone armour. All these clattered huge blocks hanging over our head are a practical departure from modern sport climbing mentality. Despite being fully (and densely) bolted, Anavra manages through its environment and style to be a curious hybrid of sport and mountain climbing.
Someone might comment that climbing in this old crag is seriously outdated. He would probably be right if something like this can be said about a climbing location anyway. Routes are “feety” and gnarly, mostly balance climbs with green footholds and small sharp pockets posing for holds. No tufas exist and few roofs are to be had, no anaerobic thresholds to test. These walls offer only Blind Hopes and Dirty Kisses. And some really Good Voyages…
Of dreams past and present
For me, Anavra is linked to some of the best climbing memories I ever had, the great road trips of the past where climbing was new and simple and free of complications as it could ever be. It evokes memories of slow lentils cooking in the open air kitchen at the meadow above the crag. Of frosty moonlit nights and long conversations around the campfire.
Deep nights themselves were never boring. Be it gales and broken tents or wild boars dropping by to say hi. Or sounds of cow bells galvanisng the morning mists. Or the customary visits of the free-range piglets and their tenacious mothers.
And if this post is now becoming a bit too much of a old fart’s memoir here’s a new -fresh – addition to the Anavra ongoing tales of enchantment, an addition just one week old and maybe the weirdest of all.
In the darkest hour of the night, he was suddenly awaken by horse galloping. It started as a faraway sound and grew closer until it became a thundering noise right next to his ear touching the ground. This finally made him crawl cautiously out of his sleeping bag. The sound kept coming closer and closer and then suddenly just as he was expecting the hooves to trample over his tent, it stopped barely a few meters away from him (or so it seemed). Bewildered he stood in silence expecting to hear the sheriff and his marshals dismount and walk -spurs rattling softly, hands resting on their Colts- to the door of his tent (too much Westworld watching lately it seemed…). Instead, after a few moments of silence a horse whinny tore through the night air. It was as if the unlikely ethereal steed outside his tent was objecting to the appearance of his tent. Then a second whinny followed. And a third. And a forth. And on and on this went for a while until finally it stopped and everything went silent again. It was then that he decided to slightly open the zip of the tent. As he did, the galloping re-commenced and he was able to catch a fleeting glimpse of a black stallion and a white mare running playfully away. He watched the two silhouettes bathed in the moonlight galloping in the meadow. Then he closed again the zip of his tent and returned to his sleeping bag- this time smiling.
The whole encounter was so dreamy that next morning he would have dismissed it as a vivid dream. If it was not for his climbing partner mentioning the galloping and the whinning too.
This entirely true tale is why some of us still choose to go out there. Climbing rocks has always been just a very good excuse.