Climber Jennifer Wood on an overhanging section of the Gaia climb, with neighbouring island Telendos in the background.

The Gift of Gaia

It’s late in 2020 and Jennifer Wood is looking up at the wrinkles of a limestone face. Not the first, not the last, she has been drawn to this specific spot on the northwestern side of Kalymnos, a Greek island, for one thing: to rock climb.

Jen is a competition climber for the UK and is facing up to a sport-climb called ‘Gaia’, 20 metres tall, gorgeous and grainy, and, also, an unrelenting ‘8b’ challenge. Classed according to the French system and a scale of 1-9c, 8b is elite level. This is dauntingly different to her usual indoor arenas.

Aiming to be one of the few female climbers to ascend Gaia, our heroine contemplates the crag, cool until the afternoon sun catches it, and waits for her moment. Around 100 routes span the 400m of connected caves and walls in the ‘Odyssey’ sector of the island, but her mind and body are set on just one.

Jen calmly prepares for one last attempt at 'sending it' on Gaia
Gaia 8b. The name and difficulty rating of Jen's climb marked on the rock.

Ancient history tells us that Kalydnos, son of the founding gods, fell to earth here. The island sprang up from the sea to save him, and taking their shape from his limbs, the mountains and slopes still bear his imprint, just as the island bears his name: Kalymnos, the island of Kalydnos.

Standing still, Jen thinks back on ‘beta’ (information about the climb) and anticipates not one ‘crux’ (the most difficult part) but a whole wall of them, all before imagining ‘sending it’ (completing in one go). Another language runs through her head, a world’s worth of physical and mental features, specific to the climbing community. Calm, our protagonist reaches out and touches the stone.

“I had taken an interest in the climb on the first trip to Kalymnos in 2015, as there were some Italian climbers screaming their way up it and having loads of fun fighting through the moves.”

Idioma imagines the scene. Knowing nothing of the secrets, all we see is a female figure facing up to her challenge. Pulling herself close, she hugs the rock and her senses fill with the soft sediment. The climber knows exactly where and when to exert her pressure, her grasp controlling the wall. This piece of the world belongs to her.

Musing on the motivations of the climber: of female firsts; escapism; the adrenaline junky; love for the wonders of nature; a community and a sense of belonging; personal goals...

Inspired, Idioma imagines... an open-minded community feels the pull of foreign lands where languages, nature, and self-discovery combine.

With skillful sequences, our heroine scales upwards, alternately stretching and contorting. Far off the ground but still clinging to the Earth, she steadily works her way towards her triumph. And triumphant she is, going for that last grip. Muscles pumped, Jen ‘clips the chains’ (climb completed) on Gaia and summons up a shout of relief.

“... I decided I'd commit to projecting it in 2020 and I got close to sending it really quickly but it turned into a bit of a mental battle in the end...”

And now, a few moments to enjoy the beautiful backdrop of Telendos, the neighbouring island, separated by 800m, a volcanic eruption and the following 1500 years of history, before lowering back down.

Jen happily hangs suspended on her rope 'post-send' with the sun and Telendos behind her.

For her mother, Jill, the moment needed celebrating: a reward for the efforts, something fitting. And Idioma’s 2020 collection held just the thing: the Gaia hooded sweatshirt.

Not named after the climb, but rather the Goddess of Mother Earth that inspired it, the hoody added an extra element. Such synergy couldn’t just be ignored. So Jill wrote to us, highlighted her daughter’s highs, and gave us a small but satisfying part in the story.

Unexpected and coming at an uncertain time, this was the perfect piece of pure escapism Idioma needed. With quotes and colour from Jen, authenticity and grounding guaranteed, we imagined ourselves in the action and told her tale.

Speaking with Idioma about the climb, Jen elaborates on the effort involved and how Gaia tested her over a total of 10 days. Describing the end as “a big fight”, the draining drama of those last attempts comes through loud and clear. Before that, however, were 7 days of attempts and attacks, giving it everything to get from the ground to the last grip in one go. And prior to that, several days spent in dissection of the smallest sections, precision planning the execution. A story of passion and perseverance then, but yet, for Jen, it’s just one chapter.

Now, she turns her attention to the first round of the 2021 Boulder World Cup Series in Salt Lake City, Utah (USA) and then maybe some more climbs in sunny climes. Meanwhile, envious of her vocation and the exotic locations, the Idioma team will be following the next steps of Jen and her Gaia hoody with keen interest.

Proud of Jen’s success and our part - as a glorified footnote - in it, Idioma hopes to hear more stories of times when your lives and our designs have dovetailed...

Words by Clem Mulcahey Banks
Photos courtesy of Jen Wood

A sketchbook showing Idioma's Gaia design and their 6 natural elements.