Entering the hut I am gazed at by four pairs of eyes. Three guys and a girl sit there, around my age, a little older, a big gas can on a table with food cooking, a bright light from a gas lamp, a map spread half across the table, a whole kitchen set up with dishes, spices and especially: water! I greet them, say my name, and they respond with Costa, Maria and two other names that I forgot already. They ask me instantly if I had known that the hut would be open, before I started in the morning, and after me saying no they shake their heads, laugh a little and just say that I am one of the luckiest persons they know. They explain, that usually the cabin is closed and you have to ask at the Cretan mountaineering club for a key and a guide to take you there. After that they ask me where I came from, what route I took to Katsiveli. I explain my “I have no idea just straight after the riverbed” – plan and tell them about the last two hours in the dark and the up-down field of hell that I was through and they again shake their heads, but do not laugh anymore. They tell me that this area that I passed is usually avoided even in daylight, because of the danger of cave ins and because its just to hard to get through. They had already eaten but have some pasta and sauce left over and some bread and they give me as much as I can eat. After feasting I ask about water, to refill my bottles, and I am lucky because the cabin has a 500 liter water tank that is filled over the winter and during raining seasons.
Sated we talk about mountaineering, about Crete and its people, the tourists and the nice places in the mountains. They show me a very detailed map with different routes for me to continue and show me another place in the mountains that has a little water reservoir. The direct way to the peak is not recommended they say, there are no signs and I have to head with a compass or with my GPS but they show me another way that is very indirect. I ask them if I can pay something for the owners of the cabin, because I am used to that from the Austrian mountains, there is most of the time a box where you put 5 EUR or something. But they say no, they do not want me to pay. They say, people with the kind of luck I have need to be supported, because they are so rare. It flatters me and I thank them very deeply for their support. We look at the stars having a cigarette and decide to go to bed, because the next day we have to get up early. I like that thought, because I have some distance to cover and I would like to be at the sea the next day.
The next morning they present me a special tea from herbs that grow only in the mountain regions of Crete and then we split ways. Since I am not careful and do not need a protected path I decide to take the direct route to the peak, to Pachnes. The area is easier to walk, no more steep climbs or big cavities, just white, dry and crystal rich limestone. The sheep are already bleating their morning-blah and the sun laughs at the endless white hills that surround me. I meet two mountain bikers that push their bikes along the path with flat tires. they pushed them all the way up, because the cacti pierced their tires every five minutes so they decided to only ride the way down which is well-trodden. As I step of the path I am completely alone. No birds, no sheep anymore, no people, no butterfly’s, not even grass or cacti anymore, just white rock with fist-sized quartz crystals, most in white or with a light rose touch. I leave all of them. I usually take a small stone from the mountains that I climb as souvenir but I do not want to steal from this area, its to ghostly, I fear I would break my luck if I took something.
The last ascent to the peak is a little steeper and exhausting. This lets me drift away in my mind, only step for step to the top. I feel good, like really good. I am completely happy. On the top I sit down and rest. I look around, its bizarre. Mountain sized white dunes as far as I can see, behind them the vision of a blue ocean. The bigger structures fascinate me, there is for example a stripe of darkness in the mountains. Over five kilometers long where on the right side the stone is plain white and on the other its grey – a sharp straight line through nearly the whole mountains.
I find a summit register and start to go through it, check out who else was there and at what time. I enter myself, nothing emotional, just where I came from and where I will head, just in case someone starts looking for me if I don’t make it. Also I had no signal for my phone since I entered the mountains and could not send my messages home that I am alright. I hope they are not worried. No matter what, I send a SMS hoping that during the day I might grab a signal somewhere accidentally. Suddenly three people appear on the path that leads to the peak from the other side. We talk a little and they tell me they came by car and had only 2 hours of walking, they say they are nor from the crazy-folks brigade like me. Also they want me to share their food with them and so I eat 2 sandwiches, get four cereal bars with honey and they also have coffee with them which they share with me. I am very pleased. Even more as they say I can have one liter of their water if I need it.
After they left I have a hard time to decide what path I will take down to the sea. I can try to go the same way as them, down to the street and along the street to the next village or I can continue as before and just go through the nothing, the plains, the danger and the new. Also the second part looks shorter, so I decide to head to the next gorge, the Elighias Gorge, try to climb down to the bottom of the gorge and continue – hopefully some parts in the shadow – the gorge to the sea. My map tells me that through the gorge there is a canyoning trail so I expect some decent climbing, via ferrata style or maybe some wooden bridges over high ground. Still, at first I have to get there. It took a while until I realized that I had to climb down 2453 meters if I wanted to arrive at the sea the same day, it took until me feet were heavy, my joints loose and myself tired from not drinking much. But first the decent into the gorge.
It looks like I have either a real bunch of luck or a very good feeling for mountains because after the first 30 minutes down from the peak i found the first marker of a path, a cairn. I expected it to be a hunters path to get fast and easy trough the mountains so I continued on it. The area I came through the next hour is not describable, not by words or by pictures, but I will try to give my best to outline it. Think of a coral reef lifted out of the sea million of years ago. The volcanic activity surrounding that process created a plain full of endlessly deep holes and craters, vastly huge house-sized boulder sitting enthroned in between. The ground changes from former white limestone rocks in the size of gravel to black. Black continuous rock with tiny black splinters, together with the heat of the sun it felt like heading through a recently burned city, burned to the ground. My walking sticks made strange sounds when hitting the rock under the splinter, sometimes like glass hit by metal, sometimes sounds that made me think of room sized caves with a centimeter thick top on which I am walking and my boots cracking the small stone chips sounded like someone scratching over a blackboard.
The cairns that indicated the path through that desert were the source of my trust in the path like wooden poles in a swamp. After about the half of the diameter of this field came a deeper ditch and out of nothing after that ditch the color of the stone changed again, on a straight line, back to white. The structure was the same, cavities, huge rocks and sinkholes. Again I saw two bearded vultures, usually they are scavenger but the closer they come to you the more you doubt that. But they didn’t care for me, nothing took away their majesty. After the change of the color of the terrain it felt more like being on a moon like landscape. and soon I got a clear look down to the gorge. I created a small roof with putting my backpack over a big rock and rested trying to guess where I was. The people at Katsiveli had told me of a path leading along the gorge, but up here so I looked out for it but couldn’t find anything. I built myself a little toilet seat out of stones and relaxed for some time.
I decided to continue the straightest path down the gorge that seemed possible, looking like a former riverbed, at least like that path the water takes after the snow melts up there. Small “soft” parts of gravel (“Schotterritsche”) in my mothers tongue) invited to go faster and after the stones got bigger I continued the same way I have been living my life until then: jumping from stone to stone. The most interesting part there were the several three to five meter high drops that form mighty waterfalls in the thawing period. Sometimes I dropped my sticks down and even thought of dropping my backpack down before climbing it, but with the uncomfortable thought, that I might not be able to climb down but my backpack lying down there I saw only the way to climb with my backpack on. Also, if I drop down, my backpack will save my spine in case of a crack.
Mastering this 4th grade climbing I arrived at the base of the gorge and I knew that the most dangerous part of this trip was done. I thought, well, I am down from the mountain. I also thought, that I would have only a little further to the sea. It was 2 pm and my GPS said: still at least 1000 meters to descend, meaning I just had half the way. This calmed me down a bit. Climbing down the mountain took a lot of water, climbing and jumping down rocks requires strength, and strength requires heavy breathing through the mouth and in this heat every breath through the mouth felt like spitting a zip of water. There I was with 2.5 liters left, half a liter I drank anticipating to get enough sweet water at the sweet water beach that “might” me there where I get out. So I quit thinking and started to jump, stone by stone through an endless canyon. I had had a good feeling for my way down, because soon the walls left and right grew over 50 meters high, I would not have had the slightest chance to get down into the gorge there. Always when the gorge opened a little I hoped to stand in front of the sea, but sea took its time.
I passed old caves that were made by people that tried to live in this area, back in the old days my mum and my dad used to be somewhere around here for half a year or so and I thought of them meeting in this kind of area, what might they have spoken of? How did the hippies live in this area? In one cave I found bones from dead goats, in another old trousers. Last but not least I arrived at the beach. Still in the gorge there was a tent set up, and many footsteps, but I kept quiet because I did not want to disturb anybody. Besides the tent the beach was empty, as far as I could see. And my water reserves had shrunk down to a last single liter. Inspecting the beach I found a small cave with alcohol bottles and some leftovers inside. Didn’t take anything.
Since I was a little brain dead I decided to cool down, undressed and jumped into the sea. It was a little rough, so I just swam for a minute trying not to get to close to the rocks where the water bashed into. And wasps. the whole beach was full of wasps. I have no clue why, also they didn’t do me anything, but is was full of it. After realizing that I will not get anything from standing around I grabbed my stuff and headed to the 2 km distant lying Agia Roumeli, the exit of the famous Samaria Gorge. There I will look for food, drinks and a place to rest my head for the night.
Elevation total ~ 719m, Distance total ~16.9km
Path is an average recreated on Google Earth, not a real time tracked path!