The conglomerate towers of Meteora were formed over 60 million years ago. The pillars are all that remain of a prehistoric sea bed. Over the passing millennia, once the waters had receded, the rock formations were sculptured by the elements into the dramatic landscape visible today.
There aren’t too many UNESCO world heritage sites with over 800 climbing routes. But considering the evidence of humans climbing the towers dates back to the 12th century, it seems only natural that people continue to do so today.
However, when we arrived in Meteora, it seemed the climbing season had ended. We saw very few people on the rock except on Saturday when the local climbing school was out in force. It was quickly evident that climbing between the hours of 12-17h was borderline impossible, even in the shade. We had temperatures of up to 36 degrees. We spilt most days, getting up early to climb in the morning on southern or western aspects, dying in the shade for the afternoon, and then climbing again in the evening, making dinner after dark.
The climbing style in Meteora is completely unique. I, personally, loved the slabby technical style with tiny crimps (small hand holds). The high exposure (due to the sheer walls), and the extremely run out (large spaces between) bolting was a different matter as were the uncomfortable hanging belays. It quickly enters in to the terrain of Alpinism, were a fall could do you or/and your partner significant injury. Perhaps another reason for the lack of other climbers, a lot modern sport climbers don’t have the skills or want to tolerate such bolting. Luckily, I had an old school Rovin on the rack, cool as a cucumber on the run out slabs.
After the hermits, monks began ascending the towers and beginning the painstaking process of building monasteries a top of them around the 14th century. Today 6 of the original 24 monasteries still operate. They have been rebuilt for modern tourism and can now be accessed by road. Over 3 million tourist visit Meteora each year. Tour buses charge up and down the road to the monasteries all day. Kastraki, the town at the foot of the towers is filled with hotels, guest houses, and restaurants. It can be overwhelming, each local looks at you with dollar signs in there eyes.
We found climbing was a way to escape the madness and truely experience Meteora. We met the local wild life, getting up with the swallows in the morning playfully diving around our heads as we climbed and rappelling in to the nights as the bats came out to play, ghosting past us as if we didn’t exist. We found peace and solitude a top the pillars just as the hermits and monks once did, reflecting on our surroundings from above as we wrote our names in the summit register (a little black book in a metal box a top all of the towers). While there were plenty of moments of sheer terror and suffering to ascend and descend the towers it was a true to form Mediterranean Alpine Adventure and I could never be more grateful for the experience. Next stop, Macedonia.