It’s not that I’m obsessed with full moons, but they do provide the opportunity for planning something out of the ordinary, for instance our ‘Blue Moon Walk’ (ref. Explore ! August 2015) and ‘Night on a Bare Mountain’ (Sept. 2020) A “blue moon” is the second full moon in a calendar month, and occurs reasonably infrequently ; the next one will not be until August 30th 2023, and so hence the expression “once in a blue moon.”
We thought to spend the night of the most recent Blue Moon, on October 311st last year, at the Kallergi Refuge, high above the Omalos plateau and overlooking the Samaria Gorge. And to reach it not by the path/track from Xyloscala, but by a recently waymarked route beginning from Omalos village, a climb of 630m to the Refuge at 1,680m. Christoforos, the warden at Kallergi, advised us, when we booked the room, that the climb would take maybe four hours and that route-finding would be easier in ascent than descent.
After lunch at Exari Hotel, and leaving the car there, we set off, heavy rucksacks containing sufficient items for two days in high mountains. A sign – ‘Kallergi Refuge via Koukoule 4h’ – confirmed the route, and a rocky path headed off uphill …. and then more, and even more uphill!
It was relentless ; when not steep, and it often was, the trail skirted around deep “sink holes”, and occasionally easy rock ‘scrambling’ was necessary. A couple of times we lost, but soon regained the waymarking.
From the summit of Koukoule, 1631m, Kallergi was in sight, and we walked into the refuge after 3.5 hrs immensely pleased with ourselves. To quote Holmes :
“ To be seventy years young is sometimes far more hopeful than to be forty years old. ”
Since I first stayed at Kallergi in 1997, little has changed ; simple sleeping accommodation, a log fire in the main room, power by generator (which goes off at 10pm, bedtime), meals available – a substantial dinner (meat/vegetarian) and a more than adequate breakfast.
Stunning views both from inside, and from the terrace, to Pachnes and other high White Mountains peaks, and over the Samaria Gorge to Gingilos and Volakias. And a spectacular Blue Moon, although it was far too cold to be outside and appreciate it for too long ….
Next morning, with a mixed forecast, dry and clear but clouds later, we thought to climb Melindaou, 2133m ( just 2ft short of 7,000 ft), by the shepherds’ road east, then steeply to join the ridge from Psari and Mavri.
Frustratingly, the track loses nearly 200m from Kallergi to the saddle at Poria, then regains height to where the path, with E4 waymarking and poles, branches off right. Flocks of sheep we passed would soon be taken down to over-winter on
After our exertions the previous day, this was hard going, and it took a further hour to reach the saddle, at 1900m, between Mavri and Melindaou. There was still a steep climb of 233m to the summit, and clouds were rolling in ominously above the Samaria Gorge, far below us.
Calculating that it would take a minimum of 2.5 hrs to reach the summit and back, and a similar time to return to Kallergi, a decision was quickly made: a mountain lesson I learned many years ago was knowing when to turn back.
Arriving back at Kallergi in the late afternoon, we re-energised with large mugs of ‘malatiro’ – tea with mountain herbs and honey. Then, our ‘expedition’ over, we meandered down the long and winding (but easy) vehicle road to Omalos, and back to Exari, where we stayed an extra night with old friends, enjoying – as always – home-cooking with local produce, a warm fire, and traditional Cretan hospitality.
A final thought from one of my favourite travel writers, Dervla Murphy :
“ 21st century humans need to escape at intervals from an alien world. We need
to be close to, and always respectful of the physical realities of the planet we live on. We need to receive its pure silences and attend to its winds – not all the time, but often enough …..”