Gingilos from the Omalos Plateau

Gingilos from the Omalos Plateau

Of the thousands of walkers who gaze across at the north face of Gingilos from Xyloscala, before setting off down the Samaria Gorge, few would imagine that the summit of this magnificent mountain can be reached in less than three hours.  If you don’t drive, the early morning bus (6.15am) from Paleochora arrives at Xyloscala around 8am, but there’s a problem here – the only means of getting back is by a pre-arranged taxi, or a long bus journey via Chania.

The solution is to stay overnight at Omalos village, and walk down Samaria Gorge next day, setting off early morning before the crowds arrive, then taking the ferry from Agia Roumeli.

The climb begins from the terrace overlooking Samaria.  Pass right of the alpine-style Restaurant Xyloscala, where you can enjoy a well-earned drink or meal later, and head upward on the first of many zig-zags the path will take as it gains height.  After 45 mins there is some respite, and a resting place looking down to the Omalos Plateau, already 400m below.  Rising above Samaria Gorge are the high peaks of the White Mountains  – Melindaou (2133m), Pachnes (2453m) and Zaranokefala (2140m).

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Now the path levels, then descends slightly to pass through a rock arch, and traverses below towering limestone pinnacles to climb to the Linoseli spring, where cold refreshing water flows throughout the year, even in high summer.

Through the rock arch

Through the rock arch

The route to the Linoseli col, left of the vast scree slope, looks more daunting than it proves.  As you gain height, look for griffon vultures which nest on Gingilos, lammergeiers with their enormous wingspan and conspicuous diamond-shaped tails, eagles, ravens, and the more common alpine choughs.  At the col you can take a rest, look down the Tripiti Gorge, and decide whether or not to continue to the summit.  At almost 1700m it can be cold and windy here, even in summer, and if it is, will be even more so higher up.

Linoseli in winter

Linoseli in winter

Linoseli in summer

Linoseli in summer

The path stops at the col, but the route ahead is clearly marked with yellow paint and stone cairns.  This is now more than a walk, with a “head for heights” and the occasional use of hands necessary as you scramble over the rocks, always following the waymarking.  Towards the summit the angle eases, and soon a huge cairn marking the top is reached, at 1964m.  On a clear day the view is superb, to both north and south coasts, with Chania town far below, Gavdos island out to sea, and of course many peaks of the Levka Ori, with Pachnes superior to all.  Paleochora is visible to the south-west, 24km distant, and nearly 2000m below you.
To the NE is a subsidiary summit with the remains of a metal cross, which looks higher but isn’t. The traverse across to it is over difficult rocky terrain, and the views not appreciably different.
Return with caution to the Linoseli col, and from there by the same route as ascent back to Xyloscala.  Omalos is 3km away, but if you’ve arranged to stay with the Drakoulakis family at the Hotel Neos Omalos (www.neos-omalos.gr) a quick phone call can result in a five-minute transfer there by mini-bus.

I’d not climbed Gingilos for several years, Laura never,  so a warm clear day in mid-April provided the perfect opportunity for an ascent.  Driving the 55km from Paleochora, we were ready to set off at 10am.  Samaria was closed, and only a couple of cars were at Xyloscala ; in May and June it will be much different.  Across the gorge, Pachnes was still snow-covered, but only a few patches remained on Gingilos after a mild winter, with none on the route to Linoseli.  Our time to the summit, as described above, was a little under three hours, with frequent stops for photographs and to enjoy the views.  En route, as we rested and re-filled water at Linoseli spring, two young men joined us, from –  of all places  – Romania, Laura’s home country.  “We have some traditional food to share with you on the summit,” they said, pushing ahead.

Lunch at the summit

Lunch at the summit

Low clouds drifted around the Linoseli col, obscuring views to the south, and similarly at the summit, giving us just occasional glimpses of nearby Volakias, 2118m, to Pachnes and beyond.  But an unplanned snack of sliced onions, bread and ‘szalona’, a smoked pork/bacon, complemented our rather mundane cheese & egg sandwiches.  Only four persons on the summit, three conversing in Hungarian and Romanian, occasionally switching to English for my benefit.

Only the top 100m were cloudy, and we soon descended into the sunshine, reaching the Xyloscala restaurant, with its spectacular balcony overlooking Samaria, in a little under two hours. And there we enjoyed cups of ‘tsai vouno’ (mountain tea) before the journey home.

The view from the terrace

The view from the terrace

A final highlight was pausing on the Omalos plateau to see and photograph the fields of tulips  – ‘tulipa bakeri’ – another beautiful species endemic to Crete.

Cretan Tulips

Cretan Tulips

 

Bob has revised and reprinted his first book “10 Walks Around Paleochora”. It is on sale exclusively at the Delphini Bookstore in Paleochora. It contains 7 walks not included in the “Explore” ebook available online.

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Ag Ioannis & White Mts

 

During the many years Lynne and I were exploring the Selinou area of SW Crete, we worked on the premise that all villages and small hamlets were, or once had been, connected and inter-linked by a network of footpaths and donkey/mule trails.  The best-known locally are the paths between Spaniakos and Azogires, and especially the popular route from there to Anidri.  A recently re-discovered path links Asfendiles with Anidri, whilst the most spectacular I know in this area is from Prodromi to Kamaria, more of which below.

Here’s a circular walk of around 16km (which can be reduced to 10 km), linking three villages in the Kamaria valley  –  Papadiana, Mertes and Kamaria itself.  You’ll need a car to drive through Anidri, on to Prodromi and a steady climb further along the road towards Temenia, to park at the pretty blue and white roadside church of Agios Ioannis, almost 800m above sea level, and 18km from Paleochora.

Start of the walk

Start of the walk

From the church, walk on along the Temenia road, with the former Dorian stronghold of Yrtakina above (see ‘Explore’ February 2011), and views into the Kamaria valley below. After 1.5k turn right on the road to Maza, but at the first bend take the track left to (another) Ag. Ioannis church, enjoy views of the White Mountains (see image at the top of this article), then drop down to re-join the road, and take the side turning into Papadiana.  Keep right at a junction, and walk down to a water cistern, containing golden carp fish, maybe turtles, and overhung by that “loveliest of trees”, a cherry which fruits in late May.

Papadiana sign
Initially leading downhill, the track soon begins to contour around the head of the valley, and with Mertes, the next village, in view below.

The view to Mertes

The view to Mertes

Dating from Minoan times, Mertes always appears uninhabited now, but several well-fed cats indicate otherwise.  A surfaced road leads on to Zimbrou and Maza, but instead, follow the rough track eastwards down the valley, below the pine forests.  In spring and summer look out for the attractive Cretan ebony (Ebenus cretica), one of over 150 plant species endemic to the island.

Cretan ebony

Cretan ebony

Just over 1km later, and after passing a rather spectacular dry-stone wall, the track meets another at a spring of fresh water.  Go left here, to reach the surfaced road down from Rodovani, and turning right, follow it pleasantly into Kamaria.  Or, to shorten the walk, turn right at the spring, see below.

Dry stone wall

Dry stone wall

It’s good to see some recently renovated houses in Kamaria, although the village still doesn’t have a kafeneio, which would be welcome.  Continue along the road (which eventually leads to Moni, 5 km north of Sougia), but after some ten minutes, take a track right, steeply down to cross the dry riverbed.  This is the upper part of the Kamariano Gorge, about the descent of which later this year.  Keep close to the river for 250m, then take the (first) track right, which climbs steadily via several bends before levelling out at a large concrete water cistern.  Now comes a delightful 1 km walk through the pine forest, with views to Kamaria across the valley, and taking you to the church of Ag. Panagia.

Ag Panagia

Ag Panagia

Beyond here the track continues to the spring passed earlier, from where you could reverse the route through Mertes to Papadiana. Alternatively, just 150m past the church, look left for a small cairn of stones, which marks the start of a path climbing 300m (nearly 1,000 ft for UK walkers!) to the col at Seladha.

We’ve been this way before, on the walk from Rodovani to Sougia (see ‘Explore’ Sept. 2013). The ascent is gradual, once enabling mules to transport loads between villages, including, so I’m told, salt collected from the Anidri beaches and taken to Kamaria, Maza, Rodovani and beyond, in exchange for fruit and vegetables, mainly potatoes and apples grown locally.

The varied scenery on this walk hasn’t yet included a sea view, but is rectified on reaching the ridge, where the Libyan Sea stretches out far below.  This is a ‘cross-roads’ of sorts, the path to Sougia turning east, the mule-trail to Prodromi contouring around the hillside ahead, and we scramble up right, to quickly meet a wide track, and a 3km walk, high above the villages walked through earlier, back to Ag Ioannis.

All this walk, for which you should allow 5/6 hours for the full route, is covered by the Anavasi 1:25 000 Samaria/Sougia map.  It’s worth noting that in summer, the 6.15am Paleochora bus to Omalos & Samaria Gorge would drop you at the turn to Papadiana, from where you could meander down the valley to Moni, on to Sougia, and return to Paleohora by ferry.

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