The E4 path via Linoseli col

“Season of mists,” wrote John Keats, referring to the English autumn, but November is generally a good month here in Paleochora. It’s cooler, and we can walk all day, the sea is still warm, and the summer crowds have gone. The ‘down-side’ is that ferry and ‘bus schedules are reduced, as are daylight hours, so of course it’s dark far earlier.

Autumn is also a time for making plans for next year, which in my case include (D.V.) another trip to Nepal, with more trekking in the Himalaya, and walking further sections of the E4 long-distance path, especially in central and eastern Crete. I’ll be helped immensely in this respect by the recently published guidebook (2016, Anavasi) “The Cretan Way”, written by Luca Gianotti, an Italian walking tour guide who I met at the ‘Third Eye’ in Paleochora last year. The book describes a 28-day walk (480 km) from Kato Zakros to Chrisoskalitisa Monastery, taking in both Psiloritis and the White Mountains, but suggesting alternative lower-level routes to by-pass these.

For the most part, the E4 follows a single line from east to west, but between Chora Sfakion and Sougia there are several variations, to avoid the difficult coastal path beyond Agia Roumeli (see ‘Explore’ – June ’17), and strenuous high-level 2-day routes through the Lefka Ori. So the easiest way from Sfakia to Sougia is via Loutro to Agia Roumeli, then UP the Samaria Gorge to Omalos, and down Agia Irini Gorge back to sea-level. A more challenging route from Omalos is via Linoseli over to the mountain village of Koustoyerako, of which Loraine Wilson writes * :

“This section of the E4 which crosses the huge cliff below the summit of Strifomadi
(1921m) is a shepherds or hunters route, which may suit experienced mountain walkers
with a good head for heights ; it is not suitable for those who suffer from vertigo
or who are encumbered with heavy packs.”

* The High Mountains of Crete (Cicerone)

 

Path to Linoseli

And that’s what we did earlier this summer. With an early start essential, we stayed overnight at the excellent Exari Hotel in Omalos, who provided breakfast and a lift up to Xyloscala before 8.30am. I’ve described the path up to Linoseli (and Gingilos) before – ‘Explore,’ April ’14 – so suffice to say that via the “rock arch” and ice-cold water of Linoseli spring, we reached the col in a little under two hours.

Linoseli springs

From the col/saddle, at 1700m, it’s left (to Gingilos) or right along the E4, very definitely not ahead ; a sign warns against any attempt to descend into the Tripiti or Klados gorges, where many have come to grief.

Linoseli warning

 

At Linoseli

The E4 beyond doesn’t look easy, and it’s not ; waymarking is adequate, though constant looking ahead for paint on rocks, and an occasional pole, is essential. The ‘trail’ climbs, dips, then traverses, mostly on loose and dubious rocks . One awkward section was assisted by a fixed wire “handrail”, damaged and now unconnected to the rock after winter snow and ice. One similar soon after was in place, thankfully, but the hardest part, maybe 10m across with a frightening abyss below, was unprotected.

 

Bob concentrating hard

 

2nd wire traverse

Eventually we reached the ridge beyond, all difficulties were over, and we could relax. But still a long way to go, we weren’t even half-way. A long open valley came next, at the head of which was a spring/trough of fresh water, primarily for animals, but in an emergency could be a life-saver.

Lifesaver

The valley narrows, the path running above a deep, dramatic ravine, a branch of Tripiti, then climbs over a ridge to the Achlada ‘mitata’ (cheese huts). On my last visit the concrete huts were open, and after a fire outside, we spent a cold October night indoors ; now they are firmly padlocked when not in use by summer shepherds.

Achlada

Here, on 15th November 1943, took place the “Battle of Achlada” when Cretan partisans, led by New Zealander Dudley Perkins, ambushed a German patrol intent on stealing sheep in the area. More than seventy years after “an incident still vivid in the memories of the men who took part ..” all was peaceful and the ‘mitata’ deserted, but these hills could tell some stories.

E4 via ferrata

From Achlada to Koustoyerako took us three hours, descending steadily along the riverbed below pine and kermes oak trees. At 1000m a.s.l (at Olisma) we joined the path from Ag. Theodori (see ‘Explore’ July ’14), where the E4 turns south to reach Ag Ekaterini chapel. And so down into Koustoyerako, and into the recently opened cafenion there. After a strenuous eight-hours from Xyloscala (“Panagia mou !” said Maria) we appreciated water, lemonade, cold coffee … and a rest.

Koustoyerako cafe

I suggested taking the footpath down to Livadas, and from there on to Sougia, maybe two hours away. “Or,” countered Michelle, “I could call my friend Giorgos, and his taxi will take us there in twenty minutes.” A much better idea, which of course we took ……

Footnotes

Read about the Battle of Achlada in “Vasili – The Lion of Crete” – Murray Elliott pp. 152/160
and in “Crete – The Battle and the Resistance” – Antony Beevor pp.296/297

Giorgos Falagaris – Sougia Taxi – +30 28230 51485 Mobile +30 6972370480

Of course, don’t attempt this route …. “if the weather is unsettled, that is, if there is likely to be thick mist, rain or strong winds.” (The High Mountains of Crete)

 

 

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The Prases/Askidia Gorge

If I live to be a hundred (and I fully intend to, at least …) there will always be places to discover and ‘Explore’ in Western Crete. It’s far easier these days, with several informative websites about Crete, the excellent large-scale Anavasi maps, and of course Google Earth. And that’s how we came to “discover” the Prases, or Askidia gorge. The excellent www.cretanbeaches.com website (look under ‘Nature’) lists no less than 46 gorges in the ‘Chania’ area, with far more under the Rethymnon, Heraklion and Lassithi regions.

Some are well known, eg. Samaria, Agia Irini, Imbros, and others – Maganistra, Chosti, Boriana and Kydoni – I had never heard of. Several, eg. Laggos, Tromarissa and Pigaidakia, are “canyons” requiring abseiling expertise and equipment, and interestingly three – Prines, Kambanos and Kamariano, described and descended in “Explore”, are not mentioned at all (ref Archives – Sept. ’12, March ’13 and May ’14.)

Park & Start here

So, in mid-July, we left the heat of Paleochora far below and drove up into the mountains, taking the route to Omalos through Rodovani and Agia Irini, turning right at Petra Seli, and parking 3km further on, where a rough track leads north, downhill, towards the Prases gorge. It’s high here, at 1,098m, and was cool, and so, with several (‘just in case’) contingency items and several litres of water, we set off down to Platanos, at the head of the gorge – “an enchanting area with ferns and plane trees with water springs” informs the website.

Gorge start

On the way, to our right and slightly above us, we identified a ‘kalderimi’ path contouring around the hillside. It’s clearly marked on the current Anavasi Topo 25 (Crete 11.13) map, and would, if it continued to the north-east, enable us to make a ’round-trip’ walk (as so it later proved.)

Access to the head of the gorge was easy, the little water flowing in the riverbed disappearing almost immediately. Then all was straightforward ; I’ve used this before, so – as the King advised Alice (in Wonderland), “begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end, then stop.” The end, in our case, was a bridge on the minor road from Askidia to Prases, which we reached in 1.5 hours.

Mid-gorge

No real difficulties en route, although the gorge drops 323m (over 1000 English ft) in only 2 km, and in several places “scrambling” – the use of hands and feet to climb down – was necessary. More from the website : “the deciduous trees of the riverbed (maples and sycamore), form wonderful scenery, especially in autumn.” A huge boulder, left balanced by rockfall and not glacial, was of special interest – “une roche perche” insisted Michelle.

Roche perche

On the bridge, decision time, with four options ; we could return up the gorge, reach the car by possible tracks to the west, walk into Prases and hope for a taxi or hitch a lift, or try to locate the ‘kalderimi’ high above Askidia. And of course we chose the latter. Regaining lost height, we walked up into Askidia, refilled water bottles from a tap near the church, then more steeply up the track above. And from it, through binoculars, we picked out the ‘kalderimi’, crossing open ground before entering the forest, and heading exactly where we hoped it would.

This was confirmed by a shepherd, milking his goats in a pen at the track’s end, and who was totally astonished to see two strangers appearing in the early evening, calling to him in less than perfect Greek with English and French accents. I know places (in the UK especially) where farmers and landowners would be far less receptive to walkers, but he indicated where to find “gates” in the fence, pointed out a ‘goat path’ upwards, and waved us on our way.

Kalderimi

We reached the ‘kalderimi’ 100m higher – a stone-built, paved, mule trail, still in excellent
condition, built centuries ago presumably to link villages to the north of Omalos with those to the west. It’s an absolute gem, and deserves to be better known and more frequently walked – I suspect we were the first in years, apart from shepherds. Holding close to the 850m contour, with just a few dips and rises, we followed the trail easily for 2km, high above the gorge we had walked through earlier.

Kalderimi

Only in the final 200m does the path become less discernible, by which time the end – the road and our car – was in sight above. A short drive later we were “checking in” at the Exari Hotel in Omalos, where – in mid-July – it was too cold to have dinner outdoors, and blankets were needed overnight.

Gorge end

Next morning we drove the short distance to Lakkoi, where we hoped to locate the Vrissi and Melisitis gorges. And we found both, but that’s another story, and you’ll have to wait until next year for more details ……

Exari Hotel

For fit, experienced, and adventurous “off the beaten track” walkers, the circular route described above, taking around five hours, is highly recommended. Rain and snow-melt in winter and spring would preclude access, so choose (as we did) a cooling afternoon and summer’s evening, or a mellow day in autumn, and enjoy …..

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