Aegialis, the World's most beautiful sport route

Shawn Boye after slipping off on the crux of Aegialis, Grande Grotta, Kalymnos, Greece. Photo Linda Sandgren © 2012 Tielma Productions
Photo Linda Sandgren © 2012 Tielma Productions
Aegialis is said to be the most photographed sport climb on the planet and with good reason, it is the most beautiful line I have seen on limestone. Having been rejected on two previous trips to Kalymnos I was hoping for a charm the third time.

I recall the sudden overwhelming sense of failure after having let go after the technical crux, I had nothing more to give. It was the last day, my last chance, I had high pointed but there I was flailing through the air overwhelmed by my inability to reach the chains.

“Success is easy to handle, it is our failures that cause us to search within”

A year and a half later with the possibility to avenge myself I was experiencing that emotion all over again after pumping out, unable to clip when the belay jammed. Finally managing to pull rope, I pulled more than enough only to blow the clip, and flew for 15 meters giving me ample time to experience that sense of failure all over again.

Success is easy to handle, it is our failures that cause us to search within, that lead us to better understand who we are, where we are headed, and question why? Character is defined by our ability to cope with adversity.

Shawn Boye working on Aegialis, Grande Grotta, Kalymnos, Greece. Photo Linda Sandgren © 2012 Tielma Productions
Photo Linda Sandgren © 2012 Tielma Productions
With two days left on the trip I was still uncertain if I had enough to give to send Aegialis. There is nothing particularly hard about the route, but it requires either excellent stamina or the creative use of one’s knees. My approach involved significantly less stamina than I had hoped to have to finally finish off the beast. I ended up in Kalymnos six months earlier than I had planned, at the end of the ski touring season, without having trained pump in three months. A trip in the fall would have given me ample time to train the required endurance over the summer climbing season, but when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped. Now, my plan was to race from one poor rest to the next and hope to be able to recover enough to engage the next section.

Climbing quickly feeds confidence, there is no time to over grip or change beta. I suddenly found myself with power remaining in a knee bar just below the technical crux. Shaking out, I felt good, and after a couple of pinches managed to pull my right foot onto the tufa my left knee had been jammed against. I was caressing the rock, holding on gently, conserving for the upcoming steep moves but as I pushed my center of gravity into the rock my left foot slipped and I was off again, rejected, gazing out at the Aegean, knowing I had had my chance. I would return to the knee bar twice more that day only to grasp desperately for the pocket marking the end of the crux, too tired to control my execution. With only two days left I needed rest and time was running out.

Shawn Boye lining up the tuffas, Aegialis, Grande Grotta, Kalymnos, Greece. Photo Linda Sandgren © 2012 Tielma Productions
Photo Linda Sandgren © 2012 Tielma Productions
In search of a belay, I found a wonderful couple interested in spending some time on the underside of the grotto. I could feel the fatigue setting in pulling through the first steep section, the knee bar rest insufficient, I succumbed to my fate before even entering the crux, resulting in yet a different failed solution. I’d clean the slings and return home to plan another trip. Fortunately, one of my companions still wanted to give it a try, the slings would stay and we quickly agreed to leave them on for one last try the following day, my last. I worked the crux one final time and climbed through to the chains, pumped. I’d have all day to rest and sat looking out over the Mediterranean watching the cirrus clouds foretell of the 15mm of rain scheduled following day. Over dinner I borrowed a clip stick, I was certain I’d be rope soloing in a thunderstorm to get my slings back.

“Projecting is about mental strength manifest in desire and execution”

I awoke, surprised, to clear skies and a cool light breeze and quickly hurried to meet my companions for the walk up to the grotto. Sometimes a project can detract from experiencing an area, so I warmed up on a route I hadn’t previously attempted, relaxing though focusing on reading the moves. Then I sat, watching the Aegean, listening to Neil Young’s masterpiece “I am the Ocean” and thought of nothing. I knew I had but one chance to close the deal and it’s all about finish but you don’t get there by thinking about that.

The mythical after climb, Massouri, Kalymnos, Greece. © 2010 Shawn Boye
© 2010 Shawn Boye
Projecting is about mental strength manifest in desire and execution coinciding with focus. You know its possible but the goal is elusive.

Reaching the knee bar before the crux, I shook out, pinched and made sure my feet would stick before pinching up the fin and gaining the pocket. The fight was on. Pulling into the steep section above I missed a sequence and was forced to match a sloper, there was no way I was letting go. Only once did a detracting thought enter my mind, tiring as I fought the rope drag to clip the chains, I recalled a Spaniard who, after borrowing my rope to replace the fifth hanger by hand that had fallen off during my attempt, too gassed to clip grabbed the chains. Willing the pinch to hold and avoid such a fate I reached up and it was over.

I cleaned the slings, headed to the pub for a glass of celebratory wine before a refreshing dip in the cold Aegean. It was over, I had sent on my terms. As I ran back to the beach through the crashing surf the sun disappeared. A couple of hours later the skies would open, like my send, slightly behind expectation but from my point of view, right on time.

Text and photos © 2012 Shawn Boye

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