Like Sting, “I never made promises lightly,” but with apologies to readers of April’s “Explore”, this month’s article moves some distance from Paleochora to climb Psiloritis, at 2456m the highest mountain in Crete. Unlike Pachnes, only 3m lower, and centrally situated in the White Mountains massif, Psiloritis stands alone almost in the middle of the island, and from the summit there is only one way to go – down again.
We made the ascent in early July, after snowdrifts blocking the route had cleared, and before the summer heat made the climb inadvisable. A long drive took us below Chania and Rethymno, then to Anogia, the highest village in Crete, where we found comfortable rooms at the Hotel Aris. Breakfast was arranged for 7am, later amended to 7.30am by the lovely Evangelia – “You must have fresh bread, but the bakery only opens at 7am.”
After breakfast (mountain tea, fresh orange juice, fresh eggs and of course fresh bread,) we drove 22km up the shepherds’ road, now surfaced, to the Nida plateau. And began the ascent soon after 9am, the route well way-marked, and part of the E4 long-distance path.
Although never steep, it’s relentless and rocky underfoot, views limited as the path climbs one gully, then loses height to enter an even longer one. A slope of soft snow was unavoidable but easily climbed, another higher on the mountain crossed on rocks above it with more difficulty.
Eventually the summit came into view, still an hour away along a sharp ridge, with views now to both sides of the island.
And five hours after setting off, we had made it, resting in a cool breeze outside the church of Timeos Stavros, incongruously built right on the summit.
Views were disappointing, especially after the effort it had taken us to reach the summit. Both coasts of course, with the islands of Dia and Paximadia to the north and south respectively, and the Amari valley far below us. But the White Mountains were only hazily distant, despite Pachnes being only 70 km to our west. In clearer conditions, both Santorini and Rhodes are reputedly visible, although mathematician friends dispute the latter, which is c. 300 km away.
After an hour’s rest we left separately (yes, I know, mountain safety and all that), myself reversing the route to the Nida taverna and the car, whilst Michelle and Karin opted to continue on the E4 to Fourfouras, a steep 5-hour, 2000m descent on a rocky, often ill-defined loose path they both vowed never to repeat.
Back in Anogia, having ascertained that my two friends were safely off the mountain, I wandered into the village platea as dusk fell. Children played “chase”, women sat chatting outside their weaving and embroidery shops, men sat drinking “ouzo” and “tsikoudia” whilst playing “tavli”, all seemingly oblivious to the current Greek economic situation. Anogia has a long history, and has endured and survived far greater crises than this.
Next day we met up in Rethymno at midday, Michelle and Karin having taken the 7.30am (and only) bus into the town, whilst I drove there leisurely, and very warily through Zoniana, knowing the recent history and its reputation as the most lawless village in Crete