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From Kámbi to Paleohora - a big trip

(bus CHANIA - KÁMBI) – VOLIKA (a refuge) – Mt. SPATHI – LÍVADA (a valley) – SIDEROPORTAS (a saddle) – slopes of Mt. KÁSTRO's massif – KAKÓ KÁSTELLI (an area) – NIÁTOS (a plain) – TRIKOUKIA (a plain) – above KALI LAKKI (a former village) – SKAFÍDHIA  (a spring) – MOURI (a former village) – CHÓRA SFAKIA (a town) – ANOPOLIS (a plain) – AGIOS DIMITRIOS (a village) – ARADHÉNA (a village and a gorge) – SELLOUDA (a place) – AGIOS PAVLOS (a beach) – AGIA ROUMELI (a village) – DOMATA (a beach) – SENDONI (a place) – TRIPITI (a gorge) – PIKILASSOS (ruins of a fortress) – AGIOS ANTONIOS (a chapel) – SOUGIA (a village) – LISSOS (a former ancient settlement) – GHIALISKARI (a beach) – (bus PALEOHORA – CHANIA)

For this year (2011), I had planned out quite long trip sometimes at the beginning of 2011, thus, quite long time before I really set out but almost all parts were along ways which had been already known for me before because I had walked there sometime in the past. This is also a reason why I don’t describe this trip now in such a way how I used to do, as a rule.
My start (at  27/05) was in the village of Kambi about 30 km south-eastward from Chania. I got there by bus which leaves the main bus station only once a day in the afternoon (at 14:00 or 14:30). To find this bus in the mess reigning at the station at every day afternoon is not easy work. Nevertheless, about 15:00 I was in the village beside a church and could set off. The weather wasn’t settled, a rain always impended and mountains from an altitude of about 900m (as I guessed) upwards were covered by clouds and mist almost permanently. The track is well marked, at first by road signs, later by older special wooden waymarks and as soon as one leaves the bitumen road (in a hamlet of  Geriprinos), there are also big yellow and white marks along which it is possible to get oneself even high above the Volika refuge at an altitude of about 1600 m.
In the beginning, the trek after branching from the tarmac road runs on a track through a wide and not deep valley with fences and animal's barns on the right, then a little bit through terrain to get on the dirt shepherd’s road and along it almost to its end. Not so far from the end (just before an openable part of the fence crossing the road), it is necessary to branch off right and upwards (yellow-white marks) along fences, then by the footpath through the terrain. The footpath ascents then on the right side slope of a gorge and then crosses it to continue for a certain distance on the opposite side to return back again later. In this time the permanent rain started and I decided to pitch my tent on the gorge bed because also lightning appeared. So, I spent my first night in the (not too heavy) rain and under thunders with lightning.
Next morning (28/05) was clear and sunny and the path upward was pleasant - well marked and quite easy. In a while, a first view on the orange building of the Volika refuge high uphill appeared. Next way as far as the Volika Refuge was easy to follow. Volika is a rather important spot even if it is locked because in its rear part there is an extension which isn’t locked and in which a large bunk bed plus a number of thick blankets are available. Very important is also the fact that not so far from the refuge (I guess approx. 300 – 400m to the left if you are standing back to the refuge with the approaching gorge behind you) there is also a spring working probably year-round. To take enough water here is advisable because the first next water source is in the Lívada Valley, and as I could see this year, not even this source (in Lívada) is rather reliable in each occasion due to the fact the water in the well wasn’t usable - this year, on the water level, there were floating one dead frog in state of considerable decay, one dead mouse in a little bit better state only and one alive frog plus some smaller rubbish; the colour of the water was grey. However, at an altitude above approx. 1900m remains of snow provided enough water (after its thawing) for drinking and cooking. To sleep at about 1900m in this season (I did it twice together) is pleasant provided that you have got either a three-season sleeping bag or the thin summer sleeping bag only but with sufficient numbers of warm underwear which you can put on for the night.
However, back to the trek. Next way was with stones underfoot, often rather rough and with sharp edges. To follow the yellow-white marks is possible only to the certain spot (at an altitude about 1600m) where there is a big yellow arrow on a stone pointing to the right with the notice “1 mile”. As I did know where these marks could head to and because the direction to the right wasn’t correct for getting more closely to Mt. Spathi (of pyramidal shape) I left it and followed E4 poles (yellow-black), sporadic small red patches and some cairns all leading upwards. I intended to get to a saddle northward from Spathi. An unclear path (sporadic cairns) runs on the western slope from the saddle heading to the next higher saddle westward or west-southward from the summit. There are some suitable sites for camping in a smaller doline where I reared my tent and overnight.
Next day (29/05) I climbed up the summit of Spathi light without the backpack. For the next way, it is proper some good orientation ability because the footpath doesn’t exist and the way through terrain is rarely marked by sporadic cairns only. Generally, the way from the "sleeping saddle" is heading for the range declining from the summit of Spathi southwards (a nice outlook into the lower country with Chania in the background), and then follows this flat range as far as an important dark angular rock above a shallow doline, where the way bends to the right and heads almost westward. This area is called on the ANAVASI map Ghourghoutha tou Spathiou. The route descents in easy gradient here as far as several rock plates and subsequent steeper ascent follows on the top of the hill. This ascent starts between two shallow dolines. From the top of the hill, Stavrou Seli – the saddle above Lívada Valley – appears in sight. The descent from the saddle down on Lívada Valley is through the rough terrain with loose stones underfoot. On Lívada, there are a number of goats' and sheep paths. Following them,  one can come to the spot with the (this year) unusable water source above mentioned (with dead animals) but also with a water trough containing partly usable waterLívada is one from three or four “big” mountain crossings of ways in Levka Ori because here the E4 route from the Katsiveli Refuge, the E4 route from the Niátos plain and Mt. Kástro, the way from the Volika Refuge and finally the unmarked trek from the end of the Therisso Road via an area of Kolokithas meet. (As next such big crossings could be considered the area of Katsiveli where ways from Lívada, from Kalerghi + Omalos and the way from Pachnes + Anopoli meet; also Pirou is such crossing - ways toward Katsiveli, toward Potamos and either to Mt. Zaranokefala + Anopoli or through Eligias Gorge to the southern shore, and towards Poria + Kalerghi + Omalos meet here. Last such crossing is maybe the Poria saddle with its ways toward Kalerghi + Omalos, towards the village of Lakki, also towards the Pighadaki mitato + the Therisso Road, and towards Pirou along the E4 route). I continued heading towards the Kástro massif. The way from the water source runs under a hillock with still well-kept ruins of the Lívada mitato. The path is quite well marked and it is rather easy to keep it, even if sometimes low rocks must be overcome. The next night I spent in the sandy doline almost on the path beside a light-blue carpet of spring squill.
So, next day (30/05), it was quite easy to get to the highest point of the trek – the saddle between Mt. Agio Pneuma and Mt. Grias Soros at the altitude of 2080m. A strong cold wind hits this spot and sometimes clouds come from the bottom, thus, from the northern coast. To follow the next section of E4, I had to come across a snowfield remained here. Next part of the route from the highest point traverses the slope of Mt. Grias Soros, to continue along the range called Sideroportas (= Iron Gate)(easy gradient) to the saddle under Mt. Askifiotiko Soros. Nevertheless, not so far from here, I met a pair of people and as it turned out they were fellow-countrymen from my country!! Only these persons I met during whole trip in the mountain (several days) and they were come from my country!! Both this part and the farther one are quite well marked. But lesser problems appeared when I came to the “last” E4 pole, which is standing on a lower spine running to the right and slightly down. I call its the "last" because there is no other pole in sight in this area. On both sides of this spine, there are dolines and only if you have got very, very good eyes or a binocular (or if you use zoom of your camera) you can see next pole across the rather quite deep valley on an opposite ridge. The right way is downhill the gully on the left where some yellow-black marks on stones appeared. The next direction from the pole standing on the opposite hill is well apparent: by poles and marks downhill on the bottom of the large depression under Kástro slopes. On the opposite side of this depression, the path is climbing up to Koutala Seli (the saddle). Now there are two possibilities how to get down to the Niátos plain: either to follow marks upward the northern range of the Kástro massif and descent along the range on Niátos or to leave marks in Koutala Seli and set out to the left, traversing and at the same time also descending lower northern flanks of the Kástro-Fanari massif and turning always slightly to the right to get on the small plain called Loutsoláki which is distinct deeply down. I chose the second possibility because I didn’t enough water, the day was declining and also the weather was not suitable for the upper way. I made this decision as I was convinced I would achieve Niátos (where water and a camp-site for overnight are) in this way till the dark come. However, I was mistaken because when I descended from Loutsoláki I took the wrong way (too steeply downhill) and I got in the very wild area called Kako Kastélli. This is indeed very wild area but on the other hand it is very nice and splendid, it is a territory of wild rocks, hollows, small and deep potholes, crevices and rocks, and very narrow crests, with sparse cover of mostly coniferous trees (junipers, cypresses) supplied by several types of leafy trees/bushes here and there. I knew well where Niátos would be but the problem was how to get there. Fortunately, I met some cairns later which marked firstly an unclear footpath (probably hunter's one) but later it turned in more and more apparent. In the end, I landed on a large and nice plain approximately westward Niátos where I pitched my tent. This plain doesn’t have a name on the ANAVASI map. Nevertheless, it was an area without water source as well so, I hopped, next day I could achieve Niátos, thus, also water.
And indeed, next day in the morning (31/05) I returned shortly along the path by which I had come the day before and turned a little bit to the left to climb the slope of Mt. Simalokorfí where I met quite a good goats' path which led me towards the water reservoir approx. 1.5 km from Niátos, called Katastromeno. The water was come from rain and maybe snow only, but despite it, the water was usable even without boiling. I continued to Niátos along the track passing the second water tank) near which the E4 route up to the Kástro summit starts. Not so fat from it the Niátos plain appeared and I went on along the dirt service road as far as the junction with a signpost. From here, hiked by quite easy way farther to the Trikoukia plain along the also well-marked footpath (large waymarks – about 10x10 cm blue square with wide white margins). This marked path continues beyond Trikoukia branching from the dirty shepherd's road down towards the valley as far as the southern coast, but to get yourself on the old mule-track, the old connection between Niátos and Anopoli plains, the better is to continue along this shepherd's road, on which a bigger cairn and very small red marks indicate the spot, where to leave the road to start hiking along the red marked mule-track. This trek is well preserved on places as far as an ancient terracing fields above the former village of Kali Lakki. The pathway from old fields went on downhill crossing the gorge bed (beginning of a side gorge of the main one - Sfakiano) to continue upwards along well-kept remains of the old mule-track to the saddle under Mt. Kéfala. Lower, not so far from the saddle (about 10 minutes of hiking downhill toward the place called Skarfídhia), I spent my next night, last one which could be considered to be the “mountain's” one.
In the morning (01/06), getting down on the Anopoli road lasted for 10 – 15 min, not more. The branch of this trek upwards from the road is marked by the quite big cairn with red marks and is just above the sharp turning of the road. Not so far from it just beside the road there is a rich spring working year-round. Walking in direction toward Anopoli plain is along the dirty road, thus, very comfortable in comparison with mountain terrain because the road runs up or down in easy gradient only and its surface is solid and steady. When the road comes to the T-junction, the way left down is the right one. After only several hundreds meters, there is a next crossroad close to a working station with some animal’s pens, barns and what is important – also with the water troughs. This station (Feeno kai Yannous) is to the right but I turned to the left and upward along the road leading to the former village of Mouri. It’s said, this village was used as a summer settlement of people from Sfakia on the coast formerly but recently there are only some remains of old houses and walls, one new barn made of concrete, a new water tank, and, of course, a renewed chapel. As the road makes big loops I used some - on the Google Earth found - shortcuts running between walls or – more often – between remains of these walls. Shortcuts were stony and rubbled, and the walk along them was not too pleasant. However, after a time of descending I got to the another summer village - Kavros - where (except two quite new houses) – also just remains of old walls and houses can be seen. A little bit far and lower from this former village there is an only one new building - the chapel under several big trees with yellow-orange washed walls and with quite large and by roof covered platform around its two sides. The platform is enclosed by walls with a grill fence on its top (against goats) and inside there are plain tables and several benches, so, this place is very suitable for bivouac. This was the last spot where the way was clear. Now it was necessary to go slightly down among remains of walls of old pens through a wide valley, and try to keep oneself on its left side. The old track is running there along the wall under a slope. As soon as the wall ends, the path turns slightly right following the line of telegraph poles. Here the footpath running through a forest is still quite clear and apparent and it is even here and there marked by lower cairns. But as soon as it comes to the open area, signs disappear but if one take the right direction along a forest edge these signs appear again. The way is always descending. For some time the path – now already with no marks – comes into the sparse cypress forest and there is a fork where one branch goes to the left and down to continue probably through a gully or gorge whereas the second one goes on straight. I chose the straight one and it is possible it wasn’t good decision because the path petered out soon and in short time, it came on the strange place where an underground water reservoir plus some troughs were. But what was very curious it was the fact that there was no approaching way anywhere around!! There were no animal’s pens, no barns, no buildings…far and near nothing. Why it was built here? And in which way? In which way the material (several quintals or maybe tons?? of concrete plus stones, supporting irons...) was carried hitherward? By mules? Poor animals…. Or by helicopter? I think, such way would have to be very expansive and such high costs can’t be profitable…. I don’t have any idea… However, I continued from this place already down, through the forest at first, along the gully through which occasional water stream can run. Some open areas appeared from time to time. But the slope underfoot was steep, stony and this was resulting in difficult progress because it was slippery. In this way I got on an open area declining into a small gorge. I crossed it and continued upward and slightly left along a goat’s path around a low rocks above the gorge. Finally, there was seen deeply down building of settlement which was Chóra Sfakia!! I descended on a shepherd’s road and along it (in serpentines) reached Sfakia on the coast. The city was surprisingly poorly filled with people – taverns on the seafront were empty at about 16 o’clock.
I did some shopping there and left civilization to overnight at my favourite spot in the Ilingias gorge. Continuation next day (02/06) was along the ancient connection between Sfakia and Anopoli plain running through a side gorge. On Anopoli, in a hamlet of Kámbia I had lunch and then passed (by the tarmac road) towards other hamlets - Anopoli and Agios Dimitrios (a distance of about 3 – 4km from Kámbia) where the way branched to the left coming on the old track (big blue spots and arrows). I got in this way (along the old footpath) on the tarmac main road again not so far from the Aradhéna bridge with the view of the Aradhéna chapel over the gorge. Now, several kilometers (about 3) by gloving bitumen road were waiting for me. The road was always slightly ascending and at an altitude of about 600m the dirt shepherd’s road branches from the main one to the left. This dirt road (marked by cairns and red spots) runs into the forest and beside two goat’s–sheep barns. Not so far behind the second one the dirt road is ending - there is a bar across the road which continues beyond it towards a mast. In a distance before its end the old path branches (obvious red marks) getting between two stony walls to get at a spot called Sellouda. Here, a very well preserved part of an old connecting line between the plain and the shore – even paved the mule track – starts. But the well preserved track is for only several tens meters, then it is damaged and it turned into narrow footpath crossing several times scree fields. This part of the way is very tiresome because it is necessary to descend for almost 500 m in many serpentines. I got deeply down on the shore, the Agios Pavlos beach, a short time before twilight. So, I pitched the tent on the spot above dunes, ate up something smaller and when I went down to the sea to bath and to wash my body, it was dark. It was my first meeting with the sea this year, and water was quite cool.
The next part of my trek (03/06) was rather routine – along the marked coastal E4 route to Agia Roumeli to stay here for two days/nights under pines, to rest here, to wash fetid underwear and socks, to do some shopping and to take new power taking sun-bath. And for the rest of my holiday, I hiked along this route only, at first (05/06) toward the Domata beach, where I overnight, next day (06/06) to the mouth of the Tripiti gorge, then through the gorge upward and after about 300 m to branch to the left and to climb upward to Pikilassos (an Dorian settlement and ruins of an old fortress above it). Here, I did a detour (without backpack) to the top of the nearby hill with the Agios Nikolaos chapel (the exclusive lookout!!), returned for my backpack and continued down besides the spring with good water under a huge oleander-shrub. Next detour was to the chapel of Agios Antonios standing just on the seafront, then back on the marked E4 route and continue as far as Sougia (staying here for three nights). After the stay here (09/06) walking along the coastal E4 route over remains of ancient settlement of Lissos, the plain of Koukoula and down along the nice footpath winding down as far as the sea level. My that day stage finished on the beach of Ghialiskari (spending one night here). The end of my walking (10/06) was in Paleohora, where I took a bus to Chania. In the city, I spent the afternoon by walking, taking photos of a tortoise exhibiting itself in the old Venetian harbour, shopping, drinking frappé etc. and at evening I left the city by the last bus to the airport where I overnight for the last time before the morning departure home (11/06).


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