3 August 2012

Sea bouldering in Kefalonia

Skala boulders

When I last went to Kefalonia I was 17 years younger and had two wee kiddies in tow. I can vaguely recollect that we spent a few days on the beach at a small place called Skala, shading from the late summer sun under some rocks, and enjoying the 'au naturel' dress code as you moved further away from the resort. Returning to the island this summer one of my main concerns wasn't getting an all-over suntan but rather finding somewhere to get a bit of climbing in. This time the kids I had with me were bigger and had started join me in the joys of clambering on rocks. I found we had the chance to head back to Skala after we had booked into the neighbouring village of Katelios, the quiet fishing village we had stayed in last time. From all accounts this had grown into more of a resort, and we found some nice apartments with a pool. In turned out that Skala had got bigger as well since I had been back, and walking down onto the beach there were deck chairs and sun loungers as far as the eye could see. Turn right, though, and within 5 minutes things quieten down considerably- the wide sandy beach narrows and boulders begin to jumble at the base of the cliff. And whilst Skala may be bigger the beach had shrunk- several of the largest boulders were no longer on the beach but instead surrounded by the clear, turquoise water of the Ionian Sea. It turns out that throughout the year the sea shifts the sands around significantly so that the shoreline can vary by up to 20m. Not surprising given that the area was the epicentre of a massive earthquake in 1953 that raised the ground by 60cm. As a result, my initial thoughts of bouldering on the beach needed some rethinking. There were a few options on the beach and I tried a couple of traverses. But I quickly got very hot- it was about 34'c- and walking about meant sand in my shoes, not pleasant. The real fun lay out in the sea- that was where the big boulders lay, I could stay cool in the sea, and falling off should be a lot more fun. First job was checking out the depth of the landings so we got our masks and snorkels on and had an explore.
Keir snorkel bouldering

A few nice easy climbs out of the sea got us warmed up and gave us the chance to do some jumping in as well. Moving around the rocks, I found some more challenging climbs and got used to the Swim Start- much like a Sit Start in that you could get your hands and feet on but stay sat in the water.You sway about, then when the swell comes use it to rock onto your feet. Despite the water, and the polished look of the lower holds, I rarely slipped off, and once up on the rock the pointy nature of the rock meant the water wasn't too much of a disadvantage. Out and drying off a bit I did some more traverses, swinging around one arete onto a sharp, overhanging top- I managed a few metres before the pain in my hands was too much and I took a plunge into the sea.

Heading out of the water at the big hole and heading right
My favourite face was the beachside of the largest boulder, where you could climb onto the face from a dry rock. This had some good looking climbs up a steep face, but was a bit highball and the landing was very shallow. I traversed out right on some beautiful holds, some big handles you only normally see indoors, but only got half way before the overhang did for me. Climbing back on as the water got deeper I pulled into a big hole and worked a lovely rising line trending right, up to the arete. Soon I found myself topping out, tenderly on some friable volcanic peaks, and was king of the castle. I hung about long enough to enjoy the view, and get sunburned on my back, then picked my way down the other side until I was low enough to jump back in- something the boys had been busy concentrating on- before retiring to the shade of a rock on the beach.

 A fun descent
Kefalonia may not be thought of as a climbing destination at the moment, especially in comparison to sports meccas like Kalymnos, but it's definitely worth thinking about. I spotted lots of other rocks around Kefalonia, and even tried to walk into some from Katelios, but the heat and the impenetrable scrub got the better of me.  I have heard that something sounding like a via ferrata is being set up somewhere in the south of the island. I also spotted some nice stuff in less accessible coastline during an amazing day out sea kayaking with seakayakingkefalonia, highly recommended. It's a beautiful island and this is a great way to explore it. You may find some Deep Water Soloing, but otherwise head to Skala and try some Shallow Water Bouldering instead.

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