Friday, 1 August 2014

The Routes up Mount Psiloritis

There are a number of different routes up to the peak of Mount Psiloritis, depending on how far you want to walk and the amount of ascent you can manage in a day.  They are all quite different and unique.  If you tackle them on your own without a guide you must have mountain experience, be reasonably fit, take the appropriate equipment with you and enough water and snacks. There are some water points on some of the routes but they are not always easy to find so you should have with you at least a couple of litres of water for the shorter ascents and more for the longer ascents. You should have good equipment and know the weather forecast as well. In the summer there can be 35 degrees on the coast but on the summit with wind and cloud it can be freezing with little visibility.  Be warned and take care.

Below I will outline some of the different routes and in all cases you return by the same way you came.  If you have someone to help you and to pick you up from a different point then you can combine some of the different routes, or if you want you can spend a few days walking the routes and camping.  The terrain underfoot is loose rock in the main and is not easy walking.  I advise you to always walk with walking poles to give yourself extra stability and security, especially when descending, and always to inform others of your route and expected arrival times.

a) Mygero Refuge Hut to the summit (2.5 hours)

This is the quickest and shortest ascent.  You start at 1550m altitude and  ascend to 2456m.  It takes two and a half hours to reach the summit and involves 1000m of ascent and 5km of walking.

It is possible to sleep the night in the Mygero refuge hut as it is left open all year round.  There are sleeping mats on raised platforms around the room and a sink and fireplace. Outside there is a toilet which sometimes works.

The path for half of the ascent is paved with stone which is useful on the way up but can be difficult on the way down as small stones on its surface make it very slippery.  The path is easy to follow and goes off in a south east direction until you reach a col where you take a right turn heading for the summit.  You can just make out the small church of Timios Stavros at its peak.

b) Nida Plateau to the summit (3.5 hours)

This route is 7.5km to the summit and starts at an altitude of 1350m near the Ideaon Andron cave. The path begins on one of the bends on the dirt track that takes you to the cave. It involves a total ascent of just over 1200m and I would allow a good 3 and a half hours to reach the peak.

The route follows the E4 path and is well marked with yellow and black markings.  After about an hour the path forks and you can either follow the route left or right. They join up again at a height of 2200m after a couple of hours walking.

c) Fourfouras via Toumbotos Prinos to the summit (5.5 hours)

The village of Fourfouras is in the Amari valley, at an altitude of about 480m.  The E4 path to the summit starts 200 - 300m from the southern edge of the village near a small church.  The first stage of the walk is 6km and goes up through the forest of Pardi, one of the last holly-oak forests left on Crete, to the refuge hut of Toumbotos Prinos, at 1500m, and takes about 3 hours.

The lower section of the path follows dirt tracks and is not well marked so it is possible to take the wrong turn here.  Generally you want to get to the bottom of the steeper ascent you can see above you on the edge of the mountain.  The tracks are fenced off at three or four points so you need to open and close them carefully, but you can get through.

You leave the dirt track behind you after passing through a last gate and follow the E4 posts marking the way up a fairly steep slope.  Pick out the E4 markers and head for them and don't get side tracked too far to the left and into a gorge too early.  The path is not easy to follow and unless you know roughly in which direction it goes it is difficult.  As you gain altitude the path takes you steeply up a gorge, looking for a way through the cliff of rocks that lies ahead. 

Eventually, after a lot of effort you reach an upland plateau and from here it is a 20 minute walk in an easterly direction to the refuge hut.  This is closed and there is no water, but there is a covered balcony where you can rest or spend the night if necessary.

From the hut the E4 path is better marked and easier to follow.  It takes another 2 and a half hours to reach the summit.

d)  Kamares via Kamares cave and the Nida Plateau to the summit (8 hours)

Kamares village is in the Amari valley at an altitude of 600m.  The caves take their name from the village and the Kamares ware, Minoan pottery, was named after finds in the cave sanctuary at Kamares on Mt. Ida in 1890.

The path starts at the southern edge of the village and you follow the E4 posts steeply upwards and into woodland for 2.5 hours until you reach the caves at 1700m. In places it is easy to follow but you must be careful to always follow the E4 markings and not get drawn off to the left which is a path that follows another shorter route to the summit round the left side of Mavri. There is a water point in the woods at perdikonero at 1400m if you can find it.

The Kamares cave is not visible until you are looking into it from its lip and is not very impressive to look at.  However, it has a fantastic view down over the Mesara plain and has great archaeological significance.

From the cave follow the path down to the left, descending 250m, following the red dots which mark the way. The path goes down steeply before heading over a small ridge. The path follows the side of the Mavri until you reach a dirt track and the Nida plateau. Then walk towards the Ideaon Andron cave and the start of the route to the summit. This is about 5.5km and takes 2 hours from the Kamares cave.

e)  Zaros lake via the Rouvas Gorge and the Nida Plateau to the Summit (8 hours)

Starting at the lake of Zaros at an altitude of 430m you follow the E4 path up past the church of St. Nicholas into the gorge.  It is an impressive steep-sided narrow gorge with picturesque wooden bridges. Until now the path is easy to follow but as you exit the gorge and into Rouvas forest you must be more careful to keep following the correct path.  If you go wrong you must head for the church of the Archangel and St. Efrosini which at some points you can see on a hill to the north west. From the church you keep following the E4 path in a northerly direction ascending a very steep slope. This takes you up into a gorge and you follow the path to the left to the area called Amoudhara at an altitude of 1450m. From Zaros to this point is 7km and it takes about 2.5 hours.

From here you follow the dirt track for 8km to the Idaeon Andron cave on the Nida plateau.  It is generally flat walking and with a good pace it takes about one and a half hours.  Then if you wish you take the E4 path to the summit.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Tulipa doerfleri

During April in Crete, at the Yious Kambos near Gerakari, tulips and orchids flower in profusion. One of the most impressive is the endemic tulip, Tulipa doerfleri.

On a beautiful day with a picnic you can wander for hours and nearly every field offers you a new suprise.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Orchids in Crete

In spring a multitude of herbaceous plants flower amidst the phryanga, and predominant among them are the orchids. Above is a beautiful example of Orchis lactea which at this time of year is commonly seen in the area of Gious Kampos, an upland plateau located between the villages of Spili and Gerakari in Rethymno. Below is a selection of orchids that you can now see in Crete.

 Ophrys phryganae.
Wasp ophrys (Wasp ophrys, sawfly orchid)
 Ophrys mammosa (Breasted ophrys)
 Orchis papilioncea (Butterfly orchid)
 A field of Orchis italica
 Orchis italica
 Ophrys heldreichii (Heldreich's ophrys)

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Psiloritis in Winter

Crete has a lot of high mountains and Mount Psiloritis is its highest at 2456m.  From late October through to May there is usually snow on the peaks and it is possible to go skiing or do other winter sports. This is the place where Zeus was raised, a refuge for rebels throughout numerous battles and wars, and the natural home of shepherds and wildlife. A walking route right at the heart of the Cretan countryside which is very interesting in terms of flora and geological features. It is of no coincidence that Mount Psiloritis is within the European Network of Geoparks.  Psiloritis offers an amazing experience to those who try to know it better by walking its many paths and peaks, and there you can see some of the most impressive wild landscapes of Crete - large caves, deep gorges, small plateaus, pine and oak woods and bare alpine zones. 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Rethymno Carnival 2014

Rethymno celebrated its 100th carnival with great success as thankfully the rains held off, unlike in most of the rest of the country. For days before the big Sunday parade Rethymno was alive with colour and life as people started to wear carnival costumes. Wandering through the old town at night was to meet lots of garish wigs, painted faces and cross-dressing. On Sunday 2nd, the day of the big parade, the town seemed full to capacity. Car parking was limited and people were having to walk the whole length of the coast road from the east to get to the to the town centre. The police were out in force determined to make it a safe carnival for all. The parade started at 2pm and the music blared out from speakers lining the route. There were 46 groups taking part with some groups having over 600 members. Many thousands took part, showing a huge amount of energy. Dancing, shouting and singing. The bars were overflowing, the streets buzzing and the tavernas full. As the word carnival means 'putting the meat away' I could see everyone doing just that. The smell of souvlakia roasting on coals was everywhere. The next day, Monday, is Clean Monday, and although not many people continue to observe 40 days of fasting, there are quite a few Greeks who will not eat meat for the whole period. Sunday is their last day to gorge themselves.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Winter walking in Crete

'Out in the dark blue sea there lies a land called Crete, a rich and lovely land, washed by the waves on every side, Densely peopled and boasting ninety cities. Each of the several races of the island has its own language. First there are the Achaeans, then the native Cretans, proud of their native stock; next the Kydonians…'
Homer, the Odyssey 

Crete is a well known holiday destination in the summer, but how many of you have any idea of its majestic mountain scenery in winter.  I know I didn't before I moved to live here.  I had heard of the Samaria Gorge, but other than that, it was just another Greek island with fabulous beaches and azure blue seas.  Great in itself but only a small part of the overall whole.

I love the natural environment and have done a fair amount of walking, but I'd never really had the chance to walk in mountains in the snow.  I grew up in Derbyshire and have great memories of a few winters being cut off by deep snow, and of course I've done a little skiing.  But that is so different from winter walking with crampons and an ice axe.  Skiing for the novice generally involves lots of noise and people, jostling for space on the piste.  I never did do any cross country skiing which sounds and looks much better.  But up in the mountains, walking on a clear winter's day is something else.  Especially in Crete as you can see the beaches in the distance below.

So, as soon as the first summer was over and the first snows had arrived, I headed up into the mountains with the mountaineering club of Rethymno.  We went to stay overnight in a small mountain refuge so that on the following day we could more easily climb to the summit.  We drove up the dirt track as far as we could before having to leave the vehicles to walk through the snow.  The first thing I learned was that in deep snow it was essential to walk in the footprints of the person in front. We all took a turn in forging a path and it was indeed hard work. Apart from our breathing silence descended with that strange muffled quality that snow gives. After about an hour and a half we at last made out the silhouette of the refuge hut and gratefully climbed the last few meters to its door.  Surrounded in deep snow the front door opened without too much difficulty, but the toilet was another matter as we had to dig to find it.

No electricity!  Great. Just lanterns and a wood-burning stove.  Soon the hut was toasty warm and someone had cooked up some spaghetti and all was well.  Outside the sky had cleared and it was icy cold.  Below, the lights of Chania and above the moon dimly lighting our way tomorrow.  Before going to sleep our guide gave us a talk on mountain safety and showed us how to fit our crampons correctly so that in the morning we could leave quickly after breakfast.

The route from the hut was immediately very steep the next morning and through deep snow.  Soon we had to put on our crampons which very quickly became compacted with snow so that every few steps we had to hit them with our ice-axe.  The only sound to be heard.  The conditions were good apart from a fairly strong wind so we reached the peak without much difficulty.  We were above the clouds and the sun was reflecting off the snow.  Magical.