We have been places lately but sadly with very little spare time in between to write about it. Had a nice 10 day trip to Sardinia (M’s first overseas holiday), a 4 days trip to Kyparissi and a weekend to D’s home waters. All in all it has been an active and very pleasant last couple of months.
In parallel I have also been feeling motivated and determined to make climbing outside a feasible enterprise again (i.e. post fatherhood shock) so I trained and strived with that in mind. I have not exactly being successful yet but I believe I will get there at some point. I have also been reading Tommy Caldwell’s “the Push” which inspired me and energized me to find a “next level” long term project to work on. Now if that’s not unwarranted optimism I don’t know what is. “Guy coming out(?) of a long hiatus from outdoor climbing and while still struggling to balance the super demanding life of being a father decides to come back on the rock and aspires to climb his hardest grade ever”.
People are funny I know.
But anyway, cashing on this new-found motivation I decided to commit on climbing weekend road trip, the way we used to do in times past. And for that trip we chose a rather unconventional destination.
Wiki insists its “Euboea”, but that doesn’t look right to me at all. So, I will stubbornly stick to the more nihilistic “Evia”.
Evia is the second largest island in Greece and it is one of the most seriously overlooked places in our whole amazing little country. It is hardly an island (has at least two bridges connecting it to the mainland) and lacks that “Greekness” that make a “true” Greek island feel like one. It is big and cumbersome by Greek standards with long “non isladish” expanses if you know what I mean. It resembles more the mainland than a landmass surrounded by salt water. It is close to Athens, it is seriously uncool, it is boring, and it is not worth anyone’s attention or time unless you are 80 years old.
Only that it is none of these things despite what you might be thinking your entire life.
In fact, Evia gets quite spectacular once you get off the beaten path. It has some of the most awe-striking **still remote** beaches in Greece. This is a fact, known to locals, free campers and nudists for ages untold but only recently started to gain traction with the mainstream crowds. For that reason it feels like that every recent picture of a remote Evian beach shared on social media is almost always accompanied by the angry comments of locals complaining about the sudden overflow of sunscreen wearing Orcs tourists arriving to their -until recently- virgin beaches.
Apart from beaches and more relevant to climbers, Evia also has some wild wild untouched mountains. And as I recently found out it has at least a few rocks of stupendous quality and potential for hardcore sport climbing.
To say that Vrysi is a sleepy village doesn’t really cut it. In the midst of summer midday haze, it feels more like a far-west border town than a 21st century human settlement. There is nothing special to that. That’s typical Greek countryside outside the tourist loop.
What is special about Vrysi is this big fucking cave:
This has been our destination of choice for my first ever “free weekend” in ages done properly with the appropriate old style free camping . Family stayed at home and -usual suspect- climbing partner Nikos, tagged along.
I could hardly believe it but the last time my tent was unpacked was exactly one year ago and that was for a family tip to an organised camping spot. The last time my tent was unpacked for a proper climbing trip was this one.
Blime me, time flies…
Interestingly this was not our first time in Vrysi. We have been there almost a year before but not for a proper full-on climbing trip. Back then we managed to climb only for half a day on a smaller sector called “Pehnidia” (Games).
If I can describe that small sector with a single phrase that would be “more than meets the eye”. It didn’t look much from a distance. In fact, no. It looked shit from a distance. But once we were under the routes and started clipping bolts we soon found out that climbing was really good! Albeit it was quite sandbagged but unless you get too frustrated by getting your ass handed over to you by routes that you should normally cruise, this did not detract from the awesomeness of the lines.
While climbing at “Pehnidia” it was hard not to notice the opposite side of the wide gorge, where a gargantuan cave was opening its gnawing maw like a mythical beast hungry for our climbing souls.
There it was, calling us, a titan inverse amphitheater dwarfing sector Pehnidia by what seemed like an order of magnitude.
We were both intrigued and intimidated. If climbing at Pehnidia was so good, what would it be like climbing in the cave?
Meanwhile bolting had already been going on in the cave for some time and indeed the route setters were raving about the new routes.
We made a mental note to return.
. . .
Almost a year past. Its finally Friday night and we are driving straight after work towards Vrysi. A bit short of a 3 hours drive finds us setting up our tents by midnight in a nearby spring with a name that sounds like a foul taunt coming out of the mouth of a certain vulvar Athenian climber.
First light and we are up and heading to the cave. At 8:30 we start climbing.
About 30 hours latter and after finishing 2 long morning climbing sessions we stand utterly destroyed and largely satisfied despite having been punished by rock and heat.
The thing about Vrysi:
The cave delivered what we hoped for (and more) despite our great expectations . I climbed some easy routes and Nikos climbed some hard ones. The easy routes were harder than expected but really good. I can hardly remember so steep a 6b+ anywhere else in Greece. I was taken aback by this fact. Super steep easy routes are really hard to find on real rock.
Hard routes were…well…hard but equally amazing. Both witnessed and reported they were also super intimidating in terms of length, exposure and sheer size.
The place is in itself wild with an unsurpassed feeling of remoteness. You are only 10 min away from the closest village and yet the absence of human activity is deafening. This certainly adds to the experience. It can also be quite unnerving.
So what’s the catch? Or is there one? I can;t say for sure. For one, the cave is very condition specific. Summer is not a good time to climb here. We got that one wrong. It was hot and humid and sun catches the crag too early. A very early start (8:00) on the rocks was not sufficient (we had to gradually move away from the sun from 9:00 onwards and at 14:00 we were scorched by the heat and had to go). Winter might be better (will have to check but intrigued how tufas will behave after rain) but it might also get too cold. So it seems like that conditions might be tricky to get right.
The sheer size of the cave hints that there are many many more routes to bolt than the 20-ish already existing. I would not be surprised if someone more qualified could envision 9as or even 9bs on the monster walls. The question is who is going to find them and no less who is going to bolt and climb them.
Let’s this be a shout to the world.
Hey climbing world. Here be dragons!
Instead of an epilogue
Climbing with a single partner and no other people around leaves little room for climbing photography. I think this is by now apparent.
But there are still beach shots, so here’s one to intrigue you. It is summer after all, and this exit point is especially close to Vrysi.