Monasteries in the Air
Cracking a thin layer of ice, we emerged from our toasty cocoon into the bitter November dawn to find our saddles caked in frost. That we had not anticipated this at all means we need to give a big plug to our Alpkit 900 Alpine Dream sleeping bags and Vango Spirit 300 tent.
We sped across the cotton-growing Plain of Thessaly towards the shimmering sandstone towers and cliffs of Meteora. The cotton was still being harvested, even this late in the year, by huge snail-shaped tractors threshing the balls from the stubby brown stalks - although a few fields had small groups of people hand-picking the cotton and working their way along the rows in a cramped half-crouch.
Kalampaka stands right at the edge of the mountains between Thessalia and Macedonia and looks up at the monasteries of Meteora. These 6 monastic getaways (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) are perched precariously on top of the pillars bringing those who made the perilous pilgrimage closer to God. Although steps, ladders and rope bridges are now in place, originally the only access for the monks was to climb or be lifted up in nets, the ropes for which were replaced only "when the Lord let them break" - some got closer to God sooner than they planned!
The area is a magnet for climbers, seeking their own form of enlightenment amongst the dramatic rock formations. Many of the (trad-only) routes are done so rarely that the only guides are the notebooks traditionally placed at the top by the first climber, carrying a few sparse entries. That's not to say it's a hardcore-only area as there are topos for a whole range of grades (guys - we've gotta come here!). The pillars on which the remaining monasteries stand are out of bounds, with the only climbing there being done as part of an annual ceremony where local youths carry scarves blessed by pilgrims to the caves high in the cliff-faces. The material from the previous year is then shredded and passed out as good-luck charms.
Day 96.6km (Total 2712.7km)