The mountains got a fresh layer of snow overnight, and for our remaining hours in Crete, we were searching for sunshine and cover from the wind. Our first stop at Matala beach was violently windy, so we continued south to the beach at Kaloi Limenes. It was a long winding pass through the mountains, but but gave us the afternoon sheltered from the wind before heading north into the rain and to the airport.
After this preview of summery sunshine and a start to the hiking season, I am hoping winter will have ended by the time we land.
We woke to a stormy sky, but decided to stick to our coastal walk plan anyway. Somewhere during the 1.5 hour drive to Chora Sfakion the sky turned blue and most of the clouds seemed penned away from the coast by the mountains. We caught the morning ferry to Agia Roumeli, and after another 1.5 hour ride, we were ready to begin. It was nearly 1pm after we docked, picked up a bottle of water, and found ourselves headed the correct direction. Estimating 7 hours to make the roughly 20 kilometer trip from Agia Roumeli to Chora Sfakionime, it was time to get moving.
Unlike the other routes we explored in Crete, we did see another person on the walk...maybe even 2 or 3. Mostly we moved alone along stretches of sandy beach, up rocky trails, cliff side forests. Early on, we made a brief detour at a beachfront Byzantine chapel, later past the small white buildings of Loutro, and just before the finish the sweet water beaches near Chora Sfakion.
We were lucky that the clouds didn't make it over the mountain ridge until late in the day, bringing a comfortable breeze at the end of the hike. When we returned to Chora Sfakion, it was time for a big dinner, Greek salad, stuffed tomatoes, coffee, fruit, a round of raki, Derek had grilled fish and baklava, too. This hike was really a treat, constantly beautiful and changing.
This morning we drove to Preveli, and after dodging the morning shepherding, we descended the ~450 steps down to the palm forest and beach at the mouth of the Kourtaliotis gorge. We went for a short walk along the river gorge in the cool shade of the palms and settled into a small cove on the beach. Ah, some rest between long hiking days. We didn't last long in the still heat, but returned to Damnoni for another lunch and sprawl on Amoudi beach. (No, I'm not complaining that it was hot - hot is a welcome break from the extended French winter).
Today we ventured a bit westward to Crete's White Mountains (Lefka Ori) - not so white at the moment - more like a stone desert. We started in Ammoudari to make the ascent up to the plateau of Niatos on up the spine of Mount Kastro. The trail was well marked with painted lines on the rocks, as we switchbacked up a forested trail. After passing over the plateau, posts just close enough to see from one to the next, guided the way up the rocky terrain and provided points to pause and look out while working our way up the vertiginous spine.
Plateau of Niatos:
I'm usually pretty confident in the mountains, but something about the steep, rocky spine and narrow ledges took me a little while to gain comfortable footing, maybe just being early in the hiking season or the remoteness. After a few deep breaths, focussing on the trail instead of the tininess of everything below, the spine became fun as we mountain goated our way up and back down from rock to rock. Retracing the trail back to town, we hiked a strong 8 hours, finishing, as usual, just as we run out of daylight.
Today was a vacotiony-vacation day. We drove through a winding gorge to reach the quiet beaches at Damnoni and Amoudi. In the morning we walked along Damnoni, up a dirt road to a cave full of goats, and settled in to the beach front cafe for a long, slow lunch and afternoon frappe.
After giving up on finding an empty cove (they were overrun with nudists), we sprawled on a nearly-empty pebble beach at Amoudi for the next several hours to read, wade, headstand, and sift through the colorful pebbles.
Today we set out to hike Mount Ida. Starting from Fourfouras, we were happy to find the first trail marker, but it would be the only one we would see for the designated route. After a promising start, we wandered through some grazing area and eventually found ourselves plodding along goat tracks and scrambling up a funnel of fallen rock. We had read that trails were not well marked so it took a long time to concede that this actually was not a trail (maybe the skulls and partial goat carcasses should have been a warning). Eventually we decided to turn back, skidding back down the rocks and through the prickly low brush.
After that 3 hour detour, we discovered a well marked trail (although still not the E4 we were looking for), and with already tired feet, began another ascent. With the late start, we couldn't make Mount Ida and save enough daylight for the return trip so by 5 pm we started back down while enormous griffin vultures started circling overhead.
Mount Ida above us...would have been a few more hours up.