RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 41 Number 1 Article 5
February 2004

A Treat in Tripiti

Party: Jim & Eileen Stevenson, Richard Bendall, Robert 'Dalek' Bialek, Roy Button, Mark & Annabel O'Hanlon

Everyone shot forward in their seat all hoping the aircraft would run out of velocity before it ran out of runway. It did, and all breathed a sigh of relief somewhat mesmerised by the standard of landing.

It was back to Heraklion, Crete's capital. Five of us breezed in from Manchester and another two were coming in from Gatwick. We all met up at the car-hire place, took possession of our vehicles and went for coffee to combat the effects of the in-flight gin and tonics. It was 03:00 local time on Saturday 11 October.

This all came about by default really. Back in June at the end of our trecking holiday we happened across a deep shaft on the south side of Gingolos plus a notion for a trip down the Tripiti Gorge; commented on it to a few people and before we realised it a trip was organised for October. By then the objectives had swollen with the bodies, 9 at one point - but two dropped out at the 11th hour, (shame on you Hodgkinson's).

The Objectives were:
1) Descend the shaft on south-side of Gingolos
2) Descend the infamous Tripiti Gorge (and come out alive!) then follow the coast back to civilisation.
3) Locate and investigate the elusive Dracolaki Cave above Anapolis on the south coast.
4) A jolly into Omalos Cave, if time permitted.

A busy week by the looks of it.

Gingolos was stark and grey as we left the cars on arrival at Xysloscala. Dawn was in its infancy but stringers of wispy mist were visible fingering across the treetops far below us down the Samaria Gorge. The peaks of the high desert were shrouded in cloud and it was friggin' cold for Crete as well! We shuffled into the little Taverna for a coffee to put in some time as we waited for the Exari Hotel to open along at Omalos - our base camp for the next few days.

A breakfast, a couple of hours shut-eye, pack up the caving gear and we were off on the track up Gingolos. It was comfortably warm as we left Xysloscala about midday and the breeze increased to a wind as we gained altitude. After the overnight flight it's always hard to get motivated on the first day, but if something was achieved it would certainly progress things for the days to follow. Even reaching the Linesol springs, roughly the half way mark, to deposit the gear would advance matters tremendously.

We duly arrived at the watering-hole in dribs and drabs, reconsolidated and decided to make our way to Gingolos saddle, another hour on zig-zags up a well sorted scree slope. Once on the saddle Richard, Dalek and myself decided to go on to the shaft, (another half-hour) while Eileen, Roy and Mark made their way down.

The wind was strong and icy, but around the south side in the lee, where the shaft is, it was very pleasant in the afternoon sun. A few rocks were lobbed down, it still sounded very deep. The perimeter and walls were searched for signs of previous caving activity but no spits or rub marks were evident. Dalek clambered into it and announced a rubble ledge about 30 feet down, but that was the limit of his vision. It was now about 15:30 so we headed down, being unsure of when darkness fell - we reckoned about 17:00ish. We all followed separate routes to the saddle where our rendez-vous point was, then followed the main track down. Richard found a couple of other significant holes worth investiga-tion during his scan on the south face. It was back to base camp for food, drink and sleep.

Day 2

After breakfast it was a car ride to the supermarket in Lakki for supplies then back up to the hills.

We dumped more gear off on the saddle in preparation for Tripiti then continued to the shaft. Dalek and Richard strode out to reach Gingolos summit as the oldies plodded up a good way behind. Dalek observed very little of his surrounding as he was too intent with measuring progress, heart-rate, breaths-per-minute, drops-of-sweat-per-second and the amount of boulders he could carry to the cairn on top.

Eileen and I reached the shaft as Richard and Dalek came down from the summit. Dalek decided a brew was in order and pulled out his 4Euro stove he purchased earlier at Lakki. The tea never came but the cursing did as the stove was booted round the hillside, - well what does one expect for two quid!

The shaft was being rigged as Roy and Mark arrived, they were heading for the summit and Eileen was going with them.

Richard insisted I go into the hole first since I found it, so in I went. Dalek's first observation was accurate. At thirty feet down I landed on a rock-jam across the hole.

It was an L-shaped rift. The longer axis pointed south and the other trended east; the rock-jam was in the east pointing section. Richard and Dalek started down to the ledge. The rope was re-belayed to a chock-stone and the next part was assaulted. This time you had to ease round the corner into the south axis and descend following the widest part under the belay into the corner of the 'L', another 30´ drop to a ledge, then another 10´ descent, still in the corner to a sloping rubble choke. The way on from here was down the south axis rift. Waiting for Dalek and Richard to arrive I busied myself clearing loose material and searching for another re-hang; I found a good one - but not what I was wanting to see - a rusty spit was in the wall above the drop. This really pissed me off; in fact it spiked the barrel of enthusiasm for everyone. My bottomless chasm had been previously bottomed!

Dalek took the lead at this point and descended 60´ to a choked floor in an ever-narrowing slot. Although some rocks could be pulled up to reveal continuation of the rift, its dimensions for permitting access were questionable. At this point we decided to withdraw and investigate the sites Richard had logged yesterday. As we surfaced, the rest of the gang were arriving from their jaunt to the summit. The rope had been marked to measure the overall depth - it turned out to be only 36 metres - oh well, so much for 'Stevenson's Bottomless Chasm'. Acoustics are not what they sound!

Site 2 lay a couple of hundred feet below Site 1 and turned out to be a space between large slabs of limestone and bore no evidence of water action.

Site 3, 50 metres south-east looked very promising. It lay in a shallow valley with a scalloped chute channelling any rainwater into the open mouth of an obvious pot. This was hastily rigged and Richard descended; sadly this bell-shaped pothole measured only 21 feet deep and choked with water-washed shingle.

Site 4 again lay south-east approximately 40 metres from the previous place. This was of rift style again and estimated at 60-70 feet. As Dalek and Richard were sorting the rope out, my eye caught site of a foreign object jammed in a crevasse across the rift. I leaned across and retrieved it. It was a metal plaque, it read "Yugoslavian Caving Expedition 1988" We'd just discovered the culprits of the spit in the first hole and decided that there was a good chance that Gingolos south flank area had been well prospected.

Day 3

We sort of decided the night before that a day away from slogging up to Gingolos saddle for the third consecutive day would be welcome. The Tripiti trip was put back a day and alternative plans were formulated. Eileen, Mark and Annabel were going to Sougia and suss out the coastal track that comes round from Tripiti. Roy was going to the supermarket with Dalek's knackered stove and kick up hell. Dalek, Richard and myself were going into Omalos Cave. The problem with this was, all my SRT and other bits and pieces were up on Gingolos, so I was limited to going as far as the head of the big pitch in shorts t-shirt and old boiler-suit. After which I would head out, meet up with Roy and head to Sougia, while Richard gave Dalek a guided tour of the cave.

Although we had a rope for the big pitch, we had no ropes for the first part, but the cave beyond remained rigged from last year. Our ropes were on Gingolos! We decided it could be free climbed with some care with only one particularly nasty bit being a potential problem.

We headed down with the rope for the big pitch hoping the dinghies were where we tied them last year. Each drop was descended then re-climbed to ensure we could get out, except for the nasty traverse-descent, as no-one fancied doing it twice; it had been done in the past.

The first blow came, no dinghies, the rope was frayed through probably by continual buffeting by the winter stream. We headed down to the lakeside thinking that it may be shallow enough to wade as there had been no rain since April, but to our relief all the rubber tubes were in the water at the shore. From past experience the tide line was unusually high for the time of year and after setting sail this was soon proved to be the case. There was only 6 inches airspace at the low bit so it was out the tube, sprackle through the duck trying to drag the tubing and not lose any tackle bags like last year! Emerging at the other side we came face to face staring into the empty eye sockets of a long-dead water-logged sheep.

"Behave yourself Dalek, leave her alone!" said Richard noticing his long gaze at the carcass.

I always marvel the way this cave changes once across the lake. It goes from gloom and squalor to pristine, water-washed white marble, descending in a series of steps with blue pools to the large balcony at the Big Pitch. At the pitch, Dalek and Richard started rigging as I made my escape, keen to be moving as the cold was starting to bite. The return across the lake was an experience I could have done without but apart from that it was a straight forward climb to daylight.

Meanwhile the Dynamic Duo success-fully followed their way down the pre-rigged pitches (reporting frayed belay points that require renewal) to the T-junction. At this point they split with Richard going down left and Dalek slogging up the steep sand slope to the Great Chamber. He followed down the pitch that leaves the chamber on the opposite side and reached the 80 foot pitch (un-rigged) via two small lakes and a couple of climbs.

Simultaneously, Richard continued down his route until reaching the point where it was choked last year and had to be dug through. It was a straight run through this year with no sign of a blockage, to a point where you find yourself in unstable boulders. It was now time for Richard to about turn and rendezvous with Dalek. They met up at the T-junction and headed out - also experiencing the nasty non-return rock formation in the lake!

During this, Roy and I headed down to Sougia and located the E4 coastal trail. Mark and Annabel were going to deposit water along here sometime in the next day or two so we would have supplies for when we emerged from Tripiti.

That evening in the Exari we met Anna. She approached our table with a jug of raki - and was instantly made welcome - bad idea. The jugs of raki kept coming until the wee small hours. Anna was a mountain guide in the area and gave us some words of wisdom about tackling Tripiti. 'Follow the left hand side, locate the mitato then follow the spine down into the gorge' - all made good sense while guzzling our fourth jug of space-shuttle fuel.

Day ?? (who the hell cares!)

We did not bad considering our state of rakification. We were all on the saddle for midday. Mark shuttled us to Xyloscala, the oldies in the first phase then Richard and Dalek. They overtook us just above Linesol springs with Dalek announcing he had knocked 4 minutes 18 seconds off his last ascent to the springs - he was pleased about this.

We brewed up at the saddle using the new replacement stove Roy had received from Maria in the supermarket, then it was down into the 2nd objective.

Good progress was made over the trackless terrain as we descended at a shallow angle down the left flank of the upper valley. In one of the two parallel dry valleys steeply down to our right there was a cistern and animal-trough, so at this point all eyes were straining for the shepherds mitato. Richard homed in on it first; it was on top of a ridge directly ahead of us that ran down to the right parallel with the valleys.

At the mitato a very steep thorny hillside descended south while the ridge spine descended east down into a feeder gully for the gorge. We started off down the spine. About an hour later we were all in the dry streambed having lost Dalek for about 40 minutes, heading south again towards the Libyan Ocean. Lunch was had at the point where another gully intersected our one.

Soon it was rope out and the small abseils began to become longer and more messy. Often there was no belay and we would cut away from the water-route and come down the flanks to rejoin it again.

An excellent 70 footer down clean washed limestone - spirits were high and all were having a thoroughly good time. Our last view up to Gingolos revealed gathering clouds high in the catchment area about 2500´ above us.

"I could never get back up there in a million years!" Roy remarked casually.

"Ach - you probably could if you really had to." I replied casually. On we plodded not realising the implications of the statement.

The next pitch, 20´, had a tree jammed in it which was utilised to climb down; but by now it was starting to get dark so we would be setting camp for the night soon. It was a quick look round the next bend and see if there's somewhere nice to stay.

An uncharacteristic silence was suddenly heard. Everyone shuffled for a better view. In the fading light a horrendous drop fell before us with another straight after. With a single rope of 150´ (when stretched) and one at 25´ we had a problem.

"Looks like we're camped here for the night." someone said, but I can't remember who. We were all suddenly numbed by the seriousness of our situation, it was a Lowes Gully predicament, only we didn't have the resources of the British and Malaysian Army to bail us out. Our forlorn party plodded back to the tree pitch and set up camp in the shingle at the foot of it.

A fire was kindled; this drove away the darkness and lifted our spirits, but not a lot. An escape route was established in the event of a flash flood coming down the gully. It would get us 50´ up the wall anyway, clear of any water. The sky overhead was clear but the gathering clouds at Gingolos, now out of sight, were a concern.

The decision for the moment was to do nothing, wait until dawn, then re-assess the whole situation after sleep, rest and food. It probably wasn't nearly as bad as it appeared at this particular instant.

No-one was really hungry (except Dalek), appetites had faded with the setting sun, but nevertheless we had to pick at something purely for the energy. In the 34 years I've known Roy, this was the first time I'd seen him voluntarily miss a meal. Eileen crawled into her sleeping bag and I produced a small bottle of ouzo from my rucksack. After a few dirty songs from Roy and Dalek, Roy skulked of to his sack.

The three remaining sat sipping ouzo and discussing our options of how to escape from Tripiti. In the end we decided to stick to the plan and leave it until daylight and make no decisions tonight.

Daylight came after a troubled sleep, and we all went down to the edge to see what horrors we had to confront. It wasn't as bad as it appeared last night - it was worse! The downward route was instantly ruled out. We had to either climb out the way we came in or scale the east or west wall. Neither was very appealing. Well, at least it didn't rain!

From our camp Roy set out on a reccy up the west wall and Richard climbed the tree pitch and followed a line up the east wall. The rest waited. Roy returned about 20 minutes later reporting a possible route to follow but his confidence was undermined by the heights involved in getting there. I followed his track and reached his likely route but it wedged out into great vertical height above and below. Richard and I were in radio contact across the ravine at similar heights; he could see that I was going to go nowhere and I could see he was on a hiding to nothing. It looked as if Richard was heading into a worse situation if he followed this route, but for the time being it was the only positive lead. Tier after tier of cliff with steep tree covered slopes separating them. "I'm continuing up - I think you should all follow. It could go." Richard transmitted. From my vantage point I really had my doubts about Richard's route.

We backtracked up the tree pitch anyway and followed in line up the steep slope, at least it kept us all together. The layer of large, dried, pine needles were like cocktail sticks and behaved as small rollers under foot so everything and anything were used as hand-holds. Section by section we picked our way up. As the angle of ascent steepened the rope was brought out and a belay system set up for anyone who required it. After four rope run outs of 140 feet the angle broke and we could manage without again. Strange how the Gryphon Vultures were continually overhead all the time we were in the gully. The radio crackled into life - Richard had reached the top with Dalek. Meanwhile the oldies were still popping and wheezing half an hour behind. A short time passed and another transmission told us there were favourable indications of a way to somewhere.

The top was a ridge, which went straight down the other side, into something like we had just came out. Right ran south going downhill leaving north hopefully, as our escape route. Water was now starting to become a major consideration; all this extra uphill exertion was taking its toll on our supplies. Dalek decided to go on a reccy down-ridge and verify a route into the gorge; by now we were thinking, is this the ridge Anna Raki was talking about?

We left a radio and note on Dalek's rucksack and followed the treed ridge north. He soon caught us up but there was more sweat pouring from Dalek than what we had water to drink - and he was out of water.

Where the ridge blended into the hillside we stopped for a break and to plan. The plan was keep heading north and we should see Gingolos and the saddle as we come out the tree-line, as the hill we were on is possibly the one with the mitato on top. Richard and Dalek would push on at their own pace and we would straggle along at ours. A whip round for their taxi to Sougia was had. They would then get Mark to come in the car for us. Radio contact would be frequent for progress updates, hazards or problems. We all contributed water to Dalek; and Richard issued instruction of how much he could drink and when!

The hillside we were on seemed endless, it was fraught with thorny monsters that were out to get you - the radio burst into life - "We're at the mitato, Gingolos saddle is in view. All's well, no problems." There was a twang of relief in Richard's voice.

From here on it was just a long slog, we still had a few hours daylight left so we should be off the hill OK. We were mentally prepared for a waterless night on the hill. Climbing onto the ridge where the mitato is, the radio went informing us they were on the saddle and heading down to Xyloscala, then take a taxi to Sougia. This was now a dead spot for the radio as the line of sight was broken until we reached the saddle. We arrived on the saddle as the two below us had just organised a lift.

We reached the taverna at Xyloscala as darkness came which was quite convenient, as Eileen's clothes were in tatters, with the backsides being ripped out both her shorts and longs. The shorts were worn back to front on top of her trousers. We were just finishing our second beer when Richard appeared in the car. Change of plan - back to our base camp at Omalos. Mark had taken ill and decided it better to leave the hot south coast and return to the cooler mountains. Strange how things work out - had we been successful in Tripiti our journey along the hot south coast would have been interesting without the expected water supplies that Mark had arranged to deposit. Oh well, another night on the raki, but this time it was well earned!

Day 6

A later than normal start today. The ropes were stashed in Omalos Cave for the next round and off we headed to Anopolis; a scenic two hour drive round and through the White Mountains. A beer stop was made at a taverna that overlooks the Askifou Plain, another feature like Omalos, with strong rumours starting to filter through about large cave discoveries in the surrounding hills.

We ricocheted off Hora Sfakian and up the hill to Anopolis to do some ground work and meet our contact, to assist in the search for Dracolaki. With our accommodation organised we set out to Agia Eaonnis, a small village at the end of the trail. After much faffing about we met Antonios, obtained directions, drawn a sketch map then found our departure point into the hills.

Last Day

A slow start again, but we eventually forced movement. Mark was still unwell and held his room for the day while the keenies set off to find the 3rd objective.

The shepherd's road that we could drive up was un-passable for our vehicles, so it was a 2 hour walk we hadn't calculated for. The road zig-zagged upward until it brought us into a wide valley with shepherd's hut and wells that still had water in them. Roy found a snake here with a dark red diamond pattern. Dalek jumped about excited taking photos from all angles. We followed stone markers through the trees as directed until they fizzled out. Dalek and Richard headed up into a huge gorge-like feature and Roy headed off clutching his GPS. We stayed put to maintain a central rendezvous point.

The gorge team returned finding nothing, Roy returned saying he'd picked up the stone markers again. We had been on the hill for nearly 5 hours and our cut-off point was approaching. There was a flight to catch! The stone's suddenly veered up left into a small amphitheatre - just like the description. We were expecting something big but this was only the size of the old slate quarry on Ingleton's waterfall walk.

We'd found Dracy-baby at long last. Caving gear on, we sped in. A dry, steep slope down, then easy walking in a large passage; eventually leading through nice stalls and clear pools. After a couple of hundred metres we reached the first pitch, the 1981 limit of exploration. Better had mention it's an up-the-way pitch, so scaling stuff is required.

It was back to Annopolis, a beer or two at the taverna that has the Dracolaki survey on their wall, then on to Heraklion, with a stop at Bali en-route for a final meal.

Dracolaki, with still 3 km of passage outstanding and good leads that have never been pushed (SUSS Journal) it may be worth a return, now that all the donkey work is behind us.

So that was the Red Rose in Crete for 2003 (or a Glasgow SS re-union trip).

Jim Stevenson

Wildlife observed:
Mountain Hare, Snake, Praying Mantis, Bats, Frog, Gryphon Vulture, Rock Partridge, selection of various sized tits, (especially on the coast at Sougia!!!!)

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