Volume 41 Number 1 Article 6
(An Alternative Account)
An early start was planned. It was to be a 2-day trip, intention being to reach the bottom end of the gorge and bivvi a night out. Still, it was mid-day before the Saddle was reached. Here, Jim went up further for his forgotten Sunglasses. A brew was made and then off on the line of sight to the start of the tree-tops. The territory was ridden with thorny bushes, thistles and grasses. I took a lower route while everyone else took the ridge route to find a mitato (shepherds hut), relaying this info to me by walkie-talkie type of radio up to 2 km away. From a high point there were magnificent views of forested hills with the gorge cutting down to our right, a long way down!
Now it was said by Anna, an English speaking guide, back at the Hotel that we should be taking the left hand side route from here and should (at some point) reach an arête with drops on either side! Yet it seemed at the last moment that all reason had blown away to the wind and everyone (lemming-like) opted to take a right-hand route down. It had been suggested that a broad track of sorts was visible through the scrub and was "well-worn" and therefore must have been "well-used". So I, being light-of-foot, scrambled down first until an exposed descent on angled slabs on slippery pine cones/needles forced me to stop.
Realising that Jim and the others weren't coming this way I relayed this info over the radio. They had reached the river-bed. About half an hour later I'd gotten down a side ravine to join the main gorge at about 3:30pm, being in radio contact all the time. All of us now had a brew up and I'd a packet of soup.
We had two ropes, a 25' and a 45m (140') to begin a descent of the gorge. At one drop a walk on a pine covered ledge/soil got Richard down, rest of us belayed to a small tree. I borrowed Richard's harness/Stop. Some drops were free climbable for me. It must have been my hi-tech Nike-Air boots for the grip they provided. One large pitch and another immediately after were bypassed by a scramble up a slope of soil/pine needles, this being followed by a much longer slope down. A tree belay requiring the rope to "run out" at gradual slope near the bottom. Slippery all the way. The pitches generally got bigger and were interspersed with smaller ones. One was a seventy footer rigged to a small moveable log jammed in the rock. A short walk and a final descent for today from a loose slope and a jammed tree in a narrow gully of 20' or so got us down to our final spot. A short scramble to an 80'+ drop with what looked like an even more impressive one after! It was now after 7pm and quickly getting dark. A short hand-line back up a small one, and Jim and I knew that this was it for today.
We were forced to stay in a clearing just below the jammed tree and so got a camp-fire going. All the dead wood was easy kindling due to there being no rain water since April. We levelled off enough ground for five air-mats. I'd a Tuna-Pasta Bake and Jim n'Lil had soup. Later as our spirits flagged Jim brought out his own spirit; two small bottles of Ouzo well diluted with available water. I tried to sing verses from B.P.C.'s A-Z song with a little help from Roy who seemed to remember less. Lil was not impressed at all. We retired to sleep at about 11:30 pm. Earplugs were the order of the day in a shocking revelation from Jim! "You see Roy snores very loudly and you just might want these" offered Jim! "Sorry", I declined, "but I do have my own".
So it was, the one who slept the soundest was Roy, snoring his head off as loud as ever, as one can!! I was quite wide awake until the later hours thinking out the possibilities of escape plans from this natural enclave. Up valley nbg, unable to free-climb it; down valley possible if several assumptions were to prove correct: would four out of the five of us stay put at the top of each succeeding pitch in order for one of the team to go on ahead amd provide rescue! Assuming there are no more pitches greater than half the rope length, i.e. 70'. Highly unlikely. And what if that person himself got lost on the footpath to Sougia, being five hours long and varied terrain! Then what about the rescue itself? I was hoping that the Rescue Service on the island could provide air transport away from here! Failing that then a team could drive round the island to the start of our walk and mount one the following day at best. I'd not considered there could be no such team to ask upon such a service. Then what of the time delay? We'd all brought enough water to last us a full day, about 3 to 4 litres each. There was no such water down here! Climbing out of the gorge sides seemed impracticable since they were very steep and loose and even sheer in places. I became aware of the full moon. It was moving slowly across the starlit sky as its eerie glow bathed us to see everything close by. I must have got off as I became aware of the others stirring. It was 07:15.
A brew and a lump of sweaty Edam cheese on Richards provided bread gave me succour for the next six hours. I and Jim went down the small pitch to assess the situation. Richard began a climb on the same side by the fallen/jammed tree. Roy and Jim began a climb on the other side starting by our camp. Told it sloped at first and then got too steep. It was the wrong escape side anyhow! Richard now gone for some time and was growing ever fainter. I decided to check his route out. Jim gave me a radio. Easy at first and then it became almost sheer in comparison. Now it was ~10:00. The others began to follow. Of course there were the usual things like slippery ground, loose soil, pine cones and needles. The narrow holds on the loose rock, overhanging trees gave some respite and to some a belay for the odd roped assisted climb here and there. Also not to mention the very exposed nature of this climb. If you took a tumble it could be your last. Much of it necessitated using elbows and knees to gain a more tentative hold at times and so being prickled (cut-up) quite badly as Roy was to justify.
Jim kept cutting in on the radio just as I was on a crucial move, wanting info. He was far below offering Eileen much needed roped assistance. I shouted to Richard who by now was indecipherable if at all audible! At the end of the near vertical horror the slope now graduated to one of a loose scramble over thorns and cactus like grass, unable to use your hands if at all! Roy was spotted below and to one side. He'd had just about enough of this malarkey and settled down for a well earned sandwich.
"Oh, Lordy". Following the contours of the cliff I spotted an orange bivvy bag atop a large gnarled tree on the summit. Richards, I mused. I made my way up but no sign of him. About 11:00. Along the ridge in return direction I met Richard. He'd left his sack 20 mins away and reccied the route back. Back at the summit he'd agree to wait for the others and I would reccy the next section for a future return trip. Time about 11:35. I said I'd be back in half an hour.
We'd climbed ~1000 to 1500' in our reckoning and from the views glimpsed below I think we'd reckoned too little! I found the going tough but since I hadn't to carry my huge rucksack I felt all the more fleet footed and could now "really move". There were exposed climbs on good rock, scree, soil slopes, in woody meadows and a hair-raising traverse along an arête (as Anna said). It just kept egging me on, the highlight of this trip. Now I turned back at this fenced-off tree. I'd climbed over it but I'd been gone over half an hour so I was well over-due! Again it was hot going back, especially so now it was the hottest part of the day.
Reaching the summit there was a message from Richard to pick up and turn radio on. They were only five mins ahead. We were all now nearly out of water as you guessed! So stopping at 1pm at edge of tree line and start of the dusty looking slope we had our lunch. I'd my last mouthful of water from my Camel-back! Jim and Richard thought it fit to give me some of their water. We'd stopped for a half hour brew. I finished the carton of opened and now spilt milk I'd used yesterday on the Tuna Pasta Bake. The plan was for Richard and I to get ahead as far as possible, get round the island and get cars over to pick up the others once we'd found Annabel and Mark at their Hotel where we'd all be staying. That was the plan. Again the going was abysmal. Horribly prickly, steep, exposed to the sun and thorny trees always tugging at our rucksacks.
Reached our vantage point of yesterday at 2 pm. Found another mitato hut fuve mins later. Drink and radio chat with Jim. Along a track and again to the white rock level, it winding its way up as if undecided which way it wanted to go. Richard had the radio and talked to Jim. I pressed on ahead and reached the saddle at 2:36 pm! My last mouthful of their water but now it didn't matter because I'd be down at the water pipe in 11.5 mins! Filled my Camel and Richard's Platypus Hydration packs, eat a Snicker and whizzed on down to road with Richard by 4:05. No phone boxes available so to the Samaria Gorge Box Office. A native vaguely understood and made us an offer. Either a free phone call to our previous Hotel, The Exari, or 40 Euros (£30) for a taxi to Soujia. Radio link confirmed they wanted us to go to Soujia. So two burly Cretins in a black Toyota pickup took us there. Richard was on the inside squashed in between them. I was in the back on the draughty side for the hours journey.
5:20 pm. Found the cars, no people. Richard searched all the bars so I came up with this idea. Just what if they are on the beach sunning themselves beyond a copse of trees just visible. I was to prove my point. They'd not booked in because Mark was unwell. Told 'em to drive off, get the others and rebook in Hotel Exari. Richard got me a lemonade in a bar, then drove the white car back in 45 mins to drop me off on the main Omalos road.
6:45 pm. I walking back to see the others go past some time later. Mark came back for me. 7:10 pm. We now had until 7:30 to get showered and be at the diner for our meal. More Greek Salad, Tsaziki sauce, sausages and pork and chips all washed down with beer and red wine and Raki. An excellent meal to round off our stay at The Exari! By the way Georgio (Proprietor) said he saw us in pickup and would've given us a lift in his minibus!