Ode to the mystic lands

After all these years, this small wonderland that we call home and thread our ways upon, still finds ways to amaze me. Almost two decades of climbing and camping and walking and yet every now and then I stumble upon an amazing “new” place. And most wonderfully, sometimes this amazing “new” place is hidden in plain sight.

Parnassos Mt was always a destination that I impudently frowned upon. Notions of posh skiers and Porsche Cayenne traffic jams filled my imagination making the whole venture non-inviting to say the least. Thanks to such mental images, I always shied from the idea of visiting the mountain, let alone explore it beyond the ugly tourist villages, the ski resorts and the archeological sites.

And what a fool I was…

A few months ago Dimitris P, one of the most prolific and motivated crag developers in Athens invited me to visit a new crag he was bolting on the foothills of Mt. Parnassos. Dimitris happens to have family ties to the area and has been exploring the area for some time. I went excitedly to that trip after having experienced his bolting work in the past and came back with the best impressions.  After the trip I even tried to commit here into writing more about his great effort, but as usual life caught up with me and I promptly put this project in the eternal backlog of unfinished ideas…

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The right side of the Tithorea crag

Then, a week ago, while looking for a place to spend a mostly non-climbing weekend with mostly non-climbing friends, the thought to visit Tithorea (the small village below the crag) dropped on the table. The plan was to walk a bit on what seemed like a network of really nice footpaths and if possible also climb a bit on the freshly developed crag. Now, as I said it was a *non-climbing* weekend but …you know how this stuff goes…

The plan would have worked better, if it wasn’t for the scorching heat, very uncharacteristic for this time of the year. As we found out (the hard way), the crag was hit mercilessly by the sun and despite its proximity to the high mountain peaks of Parnassos, it was really hard to pull out any climbing. It felt really strange to be in a mountain environment, in visual proximity to snow-caped peaks and at the same time feel that you are baking alive between a harsh sun and a heat reflecting rock.

Now, normally this situation would be problematic and maybe a source of disappointment and grumpiness, but instead of giving up on our day we decided to turn this “failure” into an opportunity for exploration. Dimitris had told us just the previous day that he had started developing a new “upper sector”. We had a chance to take a distant look on this and other walls while walking the previous day. We had no specific details on what we were looking for, nor grades or any other beta but climbing was not currently happening anyway so we didn’t have much to loose.

It turned out we had a lot to gain….

A further 20(?) minutes uphill walking (and some essential bush swimming / scree sliding) brought us to a spectacular amphitheater, a truly lost word of awe inspiring rock walls, open mountain vistas and soaring eagles (sound effects and all). Bound between fantastic 50-meter slightly overhanging/ slightly featured crimson bleached walls and an unobscured view of the valleys and the high peaks of Parnassos, our jaws dropped and stayed that way for some time.  I could not believe my eyes. What a wild secluded place, what stellar walls just a stones’ drop from home!

Was this a new favourite place? Was this a new Mars, a new Anavra, a new…thing of its own? Excitement run high!

Here’s a mind blowing thought. Thirty minutes away people were drinking their coffee in the village square oblivious of our existence or the existence of this place. Some might have lived all their lives in the village thirty minutes away and never lay foot on these rocks. And us, here we were in this magical isolated land were we could spend weeks without anyone ever finding out. It is like a natural time /space suspension capsule and it is extremely satisfying and intriguing to contemplate from the inside. So the more, when such a capsule happen to be an amazing climbing location.

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First shock subsiding, it took me a bit more to realise that these walls we were laying our eyes upon are nothing but the fainting last meters of a much much much bigger rock band threading down the north side of the valley.

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The entire rock walls above Tithorea village. The currently bolted wall is barely visible in the bottom right of the image inside the red rectangle. The “lost word” wall is the upper left red rectangle.

Now, how about that? Here unfolded before us a whole new climbing paradise, less than two hours from Athens and no one has ever noticed. How’s that even possible?

(plot twist: some few have noticed but that is another story)

As for climbing that day…

There is this climber I happen to know, that likes to speak now and then about “his annual failures”. He mostly refers to unsuccessful attempts on serious winter routes but I love anyhow his old-school approach because it testifies to a mountaineering humbleness and a low profile attitude towards the mountains almost entirely lost in our selfie-infested pro-muscled instagram age. I like how failing is not a bad thing but on the contrary an essential element of the climbing condition. You can tell this guy had some old generation mentors…

Anyways, climbing was indeed a failure that day. Despite Niko’s valiant and largely successful effort to reach the anchors on two lines, we didn’t accomplish much for the history book. We had plenty of good excuses, for sure. Punishing heat, harder than anticipated grades, no warm-up, freshly bolted and desperately uncleaned crumbling lines…You name it!

But the thing is that none of these really ever mattered. Because as we headed down from the lost mountain world to meet our non climbing friends taking late breakfast in the village square,  I felt as content as after the hardest of redpoints. It might be a coming of age, or it might be just getting to understand myself better now that the burden of performance has lifted from my shoulders.

This is a personal thing for sure, but it ends up that all this is hardly about the climbing itself. What this is all about is being out there, suckling hungrily with all your senses every last drop of what the mountains graciously offer, feel grateful and then, simply go on.

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G.

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