Brett Merlin is living his dream. A graduate of the University of Vermont and alumni of some formative summers learning to climb in Colorado as a teen, Brett works for CAMP USA in Colorado and is a strong, enthusiastic, and always smiling fixture at front range crags.
Brett recently returned from a honeymoon to Greece, where he and his wife Courtney visited the world-famous tufas and caves of Kalymnos. It did not disapoint, and Brett has some insider advice for anyone looking to visit the limestone paradise of Kalymnos and travel in Greece.
Many climbers have heard of Kalymnos as a European limestone shangri-la, with idyllic beaches and steep tufas in every direction. Did this describe your expectations prior to the trip?
Kalymnos is amazing. It definitely has a lot of big tufa climbing which is really fun, weird, and incredibly interesting. But it also has a lot of face climbing. So don’t feel like if you don’t climb 5.12 you can’t go there. There is literally something for everyone. The beaches are perfect. I would describe it as the perfect beach vacation with awesome climbing.
You went to Kalymnos as part of a honeymoon, so the trip wasn't just 100% about sport climbing. What did you do when you were not on the rock, and was there enough to keep your better half busy and enjoying herself?
This trip was really the perfect honeymoon spot. I got some great beta from one of the CAMP USA athletes, Jenn Flemming, who also went on her honeymoon there. We did a lot of “beach power lounging” as I like to call it. We also did some really cool hiking around the island of Telendos across the bay. It is a really interesting island without any roads, lots of goats, incredible views looking back at Masouri where the climbing in Kalymnos is based. I got the impression that Kalymnos is pretty much THE vacation destination for the European climbing community. We love experiencing new cultures, languages, food, etc. and that really added to our trip. Kalymnos is more than just climbing. With that being said there is climbing for every level. Many families vacation there regularly with kids who are just getting into climbing. There are also some super hard routes for those that are looking to push the grades. We were there at the end of June and early July. We would get to the crag in the morning and climb until about 2 or 3 depending on the when the sun hit the crag. Spring and Fall are probably most optimal as opposed to Summer but we had an awesome time right in the middle of Summer.
How did you get there? (flight/boat itinerary)
We flew to Frankfurt then to Athens for the first leg. Spent a day in Athens to see some sights (which ended up being plenty of time). Then we flew to Kos and took a 30 minute ferry to Kalymnos. I recommend getting on one of the “fast ferries”. The Euros are so lucky that they live so close. Some can even get direct flights from England to Kos on a three hour flight! They get to hit up Kalymnos on a long weekend.
Where did you stay, and how did you decide to stay there?
We stayed at the Plaza Hotel which was exactly what we were looking for. It had a free continental breakfast, fantastic pool, great access to the sea, wifi, and great access to downtown. We got a suite overlooking Telendos with a really nice balcony. I’m pretty sure that was the best place to stay.
Did you rent a car/bike/vespa/rickshaw?
We did not rent any form of transportation while we were there. Our hotel was close enough that we could walk every day to the crag. It was only about 30-45 minutes and actually really nice. We did try to rent some scooters but they wouldn’t rent to us because we didn’t have an International Driver’s License. That is one thing that no one told us about beforehand and is worth knowing for seeking obscure crags.
What gear should the visiting climber bring?
The obvious sport climbing gear as well as some longer 15cm and 20cm draws. A handful of full length slings is also incredibly useful. Climbing in-between the huge steep tufas can create a lot of rope drag. I definitely hosed myself a couple times with too short of draws before big tufa features. Be sure to bring a 70 meter rope. This is key for the Grande Grotta cave. The flagship routes are really long (don’t forget to tie a knot in the end of your rope). I would also bring a helmet there as some of the huge tufa features feel like they could break off. Lots of people wear helmets down there which is great.
Any good food advice?
Eat at the Aegean Tavern. This is the best restaurant in town. Lots of fresh seafood. We ate there many times and were never disappointed. It also has the best sunset dining experience in town.
- ClimbKalymnos.com is the best resource for all the info you will need. I got a guidebook once I got there. It was really hard to find the guidebook here in the States, and I didn't need to waste time looking.
What would you do differently if you want back next year?
I’d spend more time there and have an international driver’s license for sure. I’d also like to do some of the biggerish climbs over the top of Telendos and down the other side. Those look really good. I’d also like to go to some of the more remote areas in Kalymnos such as the Secret Garden and the remote beaches.