Rodovani over to Sougia

After several relatively easy ‘Explore!’ walks this summer, the time has come (the walrus said) to talk of harder things. The walk from Rodovani to Sougia, though only around five hours, requires a good fitness level, mountain walking experience, route finding skills, and sure-footedness on a steep and stony descent, and should not be attempted on any other than a clear day with good visibility.

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First you have to get to Rodovani, 23km from Paleohora, on the early morning (Omalos) bus, or by car or taxi. Alternatively, Rodovani is 10km from Sougia on the road to Chania. We arrived there recently by driving (an hour) to Sougia, then taking the midday bus (Sundays only) back up to the village. Rodovani, high above the Kamaria valley (see ‘Explore’ April 2011) is an intriguing village which has seen better times. Seemingly almost deserted, there are several basic ‘cafeneons’, and a couple of even more basic mini-markets, but the bakery, post office, health centre and ‘periptero’ have all closed in recent years. The centre of a wine producing area – Maza wine especially has a high reputation – it also distils a fierce local ‘raki’ during the late autumn months at a still on the main street. Water in the platea spring is the last until Sougia.

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Leave Rodovani west on the road to Maza, passing the ‘raki’ still (be careful, if production is in progress …) and take the road left, signed ‘Kamaria 4’. Follow this pleasantly towards the valley until the first houses are reached, then turn right, and soon left – both signed to ‘Ay. Panagia’. The road now becomes a track, crossing the usually dry riverbed, and heading east on the south side of what will later become the Kamariano Gorge. The latest edition (2011) of the Anavasi map to Samaria/Sougia (Topo25 11.13) shows a footpath leaving the valley and climbing steeply south. Finding the start of it can be a problem ! An hour at most from Rodovani, look out for a small cairn below the pine trees just above the track, and should you reach the church of Ay. Panagia, turn back approx. 100m and search again.

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The path, an old mule trail between Kamaria and Prodromi, is as attractive as any in SW Crete, a real “hidden gem”, and although not waymarked, once actually on the path upwards it’s not difficult to follow. Climbing steadily, views unfold over the deep-cut Agia Irini Gorge (‘Explore’ May 2010) to the White Mountains summits of Psilafi, Gingilos and Volakias. Use the map to identify the villages of Maza, Rodovani, Epanohori, Koustoyerako and others, with Kamaria far below you. After some 20 minutes the path passes below a huge cliff, then becomes more open, through two types of ‘wild strawberry’ shrub, Arbutus unedo & andrachne, the fruits edible & inedible respectively – be careful! Crossing a subsidiary ridge, the trail contours round the hillside before a final climb to the main ridge at the Seladha col, 650m a.s.l. And a stunning sea view! This is a cross-roads of sorts ; the mule trail continues ahead (SW) towards Prodromi, while a short scramble right gains a track skirting below Armos summit and leads to the small chapel below Irtakina (‘Explore’ February 2011).

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We turn left, the faint path passing a rocky outcrop to reach the highest point on the ridge, at c.680m (2230 ft). And stop here you must, for lunch, to enjoy the magnificent view of mountains, sea and islands (Gavdos/Gavdopoula), and to survey the next (and hardest) part of the walk. From here the route is clearly waymarked (red paint) into the valley some 300m below, but first you need to find the start. Look carefully for a large red-paint marker on a prominent rock. There is no obvious path through thyme and spurge, and the marking is easier to follow on an ascent. If you have a compass, the bearing is 120 deg, into a distinctive shallow gully. In the far distance, two conspicuous trees on a bare hillside indicate the direction you should aim for.

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Once in the small gully, the waymarking is more frequent along a narrow path which contours the hillside, crossing two small dry streambeds (re-entrants), before swinging south onto a broad ridge and becoming steeper. If you lose the red markings, retrace to re-locate them, which lead directly down the ridge into the tree-filled gorge via a “sting in the tail” of a 3m rock wall (with good hand/footholds).

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From here all is straightforward and thoroughly enjoyable, descending the upper reaches of the gorge where few people venture. A marked path (an alternative way to Sougia, see ‘Explore’ March 2010) climbs east out of the gorge after some 20 minutes, and later comes the E4 route over to Lissos (‘Explore’ October 2012). An hour or so after entering it, we reached the gorge exit at Sougia’s picturesque harbour, and in less than ten minutes were cooling off in the Libyan Sea.

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Our canyoning expedition down the River Kakodikianos from Mahia to Vlithias (see ‘Explore! – August 2012) was a memorable adventure, and one I think not too often repeated, but we never found the waterfall.

I’d known of the existence of a waterfall in the valley, with a deep pool below it, for many years, and intermittently tried to locate it. Supposed “friends” told me it was a secret and special place, and I suspect, possibly unkindly, that the directions they gave me were purposely incorrect. Only one thing for it – to continue following the river downstream from where we left off last time, and hope to discover it, rather like Livingstone and Victoria Falls.

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Leaving a car (with dry clothes) at Kalamos, 6km north of Paleochora, we drove the short distance into Vlithias, just off the main road, and parked in the platea. Michelle joined the previous team of Rick, Phil, Laura and myself, thus making a “Famous Five”, if you were a childhood fan of Enid Blyton’s adventure stories, as I was. Walking out of the village on the road towards Mahia, we took the first turning left, passing a tiny church/shrine on a winding track through olive groves. This reaches a point overlooking the valley, then leads down to the concrete bridge where we had left the river on our first expedition.

Being gentlemen, we insisted on “ladies first”, both to ascertain the depth of water, and to check for any reptilian presences in the river, or python-esque creatures dangling from the branches overhead.

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Petite Michelle disappeared at intervals, resurfacing with a loud and accurate translation of her native French “merde” ; squeals of delight from Laura indicated that a water-chute, deep pool, or maybe waterfall lay ahead, and that having temporarily dried off in the summer heat, we would very soon be wet through again.

On we went, through thickets of bamboo, below canopies of overhanging plane trees, the water fast-flowing then calm, shallow then deep, with Michelle ahead disturbing crabs, eels and an occasional bird. As one particularly placid section stretched ahead of us, I wondered idly if the poet Tennyson had explored here. “ A land of streams ! ” he wrote, “and some thro’ wavering lights and shadows broke.” Like his lotos-eaters of old, and being modern-day ones, we “saw the gleaming river seaward flow from the inner land …. ”

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Eventually, an hour or so after setting off, an exceptionally loud shriek from Laura told us of a new discovery ahead. The river drops nearly 200m from our ingress above Vlithias to below Kalamos, and 4 metres of it was here, a vertical plunge from a rocky ledge into a pool of indeterminate depth below.

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….And there was Laura, threatening to leap off into it. “Courage !” cried the lotos-eaters. “Don’t jump !! ” cried we, less poetically, and scrambled down the steep-sided (west) bank to the shingle shore below. And there we enjoyed “an hour of glorious life,” not as Edward Whymper did on the summit of the Matterhorn after the first ascent, but swimming up to and under the waterfall, drying out in the sun, and relaxing with a picnic lunch which had remarkably stayed dry.

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The river below the waterfall was inevitably an anti-climax ; we reached a concrete bridge from where we could have climbed back to Vlithias, but continued downstream.

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As the gradient eased the water became more shallow and overgrown, progress more difficult and with less interest. At a small and precarious-looking wooden footbridge we left the river, and in the late afternoon sunshine meandered up on a widening track to Kalamos.

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At a guess, we had covered only 3km in over four hours, slip-sliding our way down the river. If you follow the route of “Famous Five discover a Waterfall”, do be aware of the dangers – water levels and temperatures can change, the valley is very steep-sided and escape from the river is difficult or impossible, and evacuation in the event of an accident would be a serious problem. To quote Whymper again : “ Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end. ”

[important]explore cover 2 transRemember, you can get a digital copy of the Explore! book detailing ten amazing walks within striking distance of Paleochora. Get your copy here [/important]

 

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