RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 41 Number 3 Article 4
December 2004

Crete 2004

Who's missing for dinner?

Them that went: Richard Bendal, Dennis Bushell, Jim Stevenson, Eileen Stevenson, Robert 'Dalek' Bialek, Mick Hodgkinson, Phil Parker, Hillary Parker, Roy Button, Nadia Button

Dalek exploded into Terminal 2 in a state of panic and a flurry of sweat from his freshly shaved head. Beetroot and coleslaw juice dripped on the polished floor from his ruptured lunch-pack. A trail of red and white blotches led back to Terminal 1 where he had been anxiously waiting for the last two hours, puzzled why no-one else was showing up.

"Dalek, I did tell you Terminal 2" Richard insisted.

We were all together now at check-in with a frightening amount of excess weight to negotiate. Amazingly, after suggesting cavers are entitled to the same allowance as divers, the check-in girl made a phone call and before we knew the gear went through! We were on our way.

Our arrival at Omalos was heralded with bad news - there had been a period of continual torrential rain on the plateau the previous week. Strong winds and black cloud still indicated a certain amount of prevailing meteorological unreliability.

But it doesn't rain in Crete from April to October! Well it bloody well did and Tzani Cave was sealed at the lake. As soon as we arrived at our hotel it was a quick change and underground to check the water situation. Feeling really despondent we spent a few hours searching the passage upstream of the lake for the elusive bypass. No such luck - oh well, time to hit the beer, then Richard decided raki was more pertaining to the situation. Bad idea.

Next day (groan) Eileen, Hillary and Dennis set off up Gingolos in thick cloud with rope for a future descent of the well known shaft, while the rest of us set out to look into holes found on the 2002 trip. Nothing of any significance was found.

Then the rain came again. We all set off to the south coast at Sougia where the sun still beamed down. A boat was hired to drop us off at Tripiti mouth. We left water and raki here for our proposed Tripiti descent later in the week then walked the spectacular 8km coastal track back to Sougia. Back at Omalos the rain was still bouncing down - as it did for a continuous 24 hours.

It was now Tuesday morning and very little had been accomplished, it was still raining. Dalek set off down Samaria Gorge and re-appeared that night with legs going off in opposite directions after walking back up it again - quite a feat! Meanwhile a party revisited Tzani to observe the hydrological impact with all the rain. Nothing had happened - the expected torrent from George's Passage didn't exist - if anything the lake level had fallen. The high roof just upstream of George's passage was looked at closer, it was just possible a lead could exist at the threshold of illumination.

Back along the passage an inconspicuous red flowstone ramp angled up to a height that would give a better view. This was scaled to its safe limit and it was decided from what we could now see, a return with the drilling gear would be worth while.

Day 5 dawned. Eileen and Hillary set off for Irini Gorge; Dalek, Dennis and Mick went to the shaft on Gingolos. This was descended by the Dynamic Duo with Mick guarding against passing walkers who all seemed to be hell-bent on tossing boulders into it.

Dalek reports...

"The shaft was about 200ft deep in total with various re-belays from ledges and jammed boulders. At the surface the 10ft diameter hole belled into a fluted shaft, similar in style to Gaping Gill, 80 to 100ft across at the bottom. On the sloping debris and slab floor huge stalagmites, some as high as 50ft, decorated the chamber. Up-slope led to a corner with an awkward rough and narrow descent to a closure. Another possibility went over the side of the stals but this also closed in. Down-slope on the floor also closed in but may be worth a pokey around at a future date."

Meanwhile back in Tzani Cave, Richard, Phil and Jim pushed a successful ascent from the top of the flowstone up to a high level passage about 90 feet above floor level. It was draped in beautiful pinkish-orange flowstone and stal. At this stage it appeared to be trending towards the lake. A very impressive 40 feet high and 6 feet wide to start then opened into large chambers with no formation except for a few large heaps of bat guano. Unfortunately after 120m it all closed down and ended. Nevertheless it was a very impressive piece of cave and something to add to the survey.

The following day a return was made to survey, photograph and make a thorough search for any other leads we may have missed. It was christened 'Pink Lady Passage'.

Pink Lady Passage

Pink Lady Passage

Pink Lady Passage

Dennis squeezed into a hole in the roof at the very end and reported roosting bats and exposed roots (odd!) in the ceiling along a tight bedding-plane. Everything had been covered. (When the survey was drawn up by Richard and Phil, we were surprised to learn the passage swung south nearly coming out the hillside. This accounts for the display of roots in the bedding roof.)

On our last full day at Omalos we all split to do our own thing. Richard and Mick went searching north of our hotel and found a significant sink in the middle of a small field complete with dry stream bed. Hillary, Phil and Dennis set off down Samaria and were brought back by Roy and Nadia sunning it at Sougia. Dalek to Irini Gorge. Eileen and Jim ascended Psilari - the peak to the right of Gingolos saddle. Later that afternoon J&E made an assault on Richard in his room. Eileen sat on him while Jim, using his taxidermy skills removed the five stitches in Richard's chin - an injury received down Notts 2 prior to departure.

The proposed Tripiti Gorge descent fell flat after talking to a mountain guide who convinced us it was suicide to attempt it if you didn't know the route - and after last year's epic we were easily talked out of it.

It was then round to Annopolis, making a beer halt on the Askifou plain.

When the accommodation at Eva's Taverna was settled into, we went along to Aradena for a beer at the Kiosk. Some descended the track into the gorge; a car went to Agia Ionnais where the shepherds road up to Kroussia begins - this is the access route for Dracolaki Cave. Good news, the dirt road was drivable in an ordinary car this year, saving a two hour walk.

The morning welcomed us with the weather returning to normal Cretan standards. Hillary and Eileen set off down Aradena Gorge with plans to follow the coastal path to Louttra then ferry to Hora Sfakia and hitch a lift back.

Dennis, Dalek, Richard, Mick, Phil, Jim and Roy drove round to Ag. Ionnais and met with SPOK - the Heraklion Caving Club - to exchange pleasantries, then up to Kroussia followed by the hour walk round to Dracolaki.

Once inside the cave we quickly reached our limit of last year - only this time SPOK had left a rope for us to ascend - 25ft. This was scaled and a ladder put in place. The Lair came next, a large chamber with a 50ft rope hanging centrally from its dome. Dennis scuttled up the dubiously thin rope and put something a bit more substantial in place for the rest of us.



This brought us up to the start of 'Urtin Urchin'. A change in limestone gave an unpleasant change in cave passage. From nice clean washed whitish stream-way we were suddenly thrutching through narrow jagged rifts, a vertical maze in jet-black rock.

This was where it all went pear-shaped! Due to confusion of what was the way on Dennis and Dalek zoomed off leaving everyone else unsure of where they went. That was the last we saw of them until midnight.

We floundered about a bit, then decided to head out. After an hour of sunning at the entrance the decision was made to head back down the track to Annopoli. The girls were back from the gorge so after a beer or three we forgot about the Dynamic Duo and ordered the meal and the wine. Long after dark it was suggested maybe someone should drive back up to Kroussia and flash headlights for them to home in on, just in case they got lost on the way back - this daft idea was soon forgotten when another carafe of wine arrived.

Round about midnight Dalek burst through the door burbling like a pan of hot shit then demanding 100 Euros to pay a taxi or something. After calming down and Richard paying the 12 Euro fare the story unfolded...

The Dynamic Duo exited the cave late twilight with one light between them. Seeing how dark it was becoming they took off through the woods, hell for leather, concerned about the hour walk back with the possibility of loosing their way. Dennis in front with the light and Dalek stumbling along behind, they shot past their parked car and continued down a wooded valley for two hours. They eventually spotted lights in the distance and headed that way. It was Ag. Ionnais, the starting point - but they didn't know that. They banged on the first door with a car parked beside it and offered anything for a lift to Annopoli - except they couldn't remember the name of the village - only the name of the taverna owner. Nevertheless, an excellent trip was had with most of the known cave being explored until Dalek's light started failing.

The next outing was to be a prospecting recce into the high desert. The target area was the region between Pachnes (the massif's highest peak) and Zaranokefala, the craggy mountain that overlooks Kroussia. In preparation, a car was taken up the track to Kroussia and left to facilitate the return journey. 4WD transport was organised to take us up the 18 km track to Roussies - a shepherd's water cistern at the start of the high desert en-route to Pachnes.

With the pick-up truck pulling away Roy and Nadia waved an envious farewell as their week with us had come to an end.

Paying our driver then shouldering the day-bags the route was followed over black pocked limestone for the first twenty minutes, then it was sharp left when the col was reached on the Pachnes track. Straight on continued down valley on the E4 trail to Katsiveli and eventually into the Potomas valley and on to Omalos.

We arrived in dribs and drabs on the summit of Pachnes 2453m, adding our names in turn to the 'Visitors' Book'. About 5km across the desert Zaranokefala 2140m, stood out against the sky-line, its distinctive double cairn alleviated any confusion for where we were heading. The terrain between, from this altitude although trackless, looked reasonable. A few ups and down with huge areas of bare, pocked limestone. Descending the southern flank of Pachnes we spread into a long line keeping visual (when possible) and radio contact. The GPS was working overtime recording the big holes to return to with equipment. We were well spread at this point.

Pachnes Summit

Jim, Eileen and Hillary were in a central position keeping a vantage point for our target. Richard and Phil were to the west a few hundred feet down on the bedded limestone investigating 'very impressive shafts'. Dennis was looking at a series of shakes and depressions to our east and Dalek had his sights set on a large 'water swallower' down hill ahead of us.

Jim explains the next wee bit... "On the slope we were descending, a limestone ridge about 8m high stood proud of the hillside. Following this spine offered good, all round views of direction and everyone's position. A quick glance told me Hillary was following the spine a bit behind me and Eileen cut left keeping low on the hillside. The ridge began to descend steeply to remerge with the hill down towards where Dalek was. When descending this point I could hear Eileen shouting for Hillary, then whistling her. Eileen shouted if I had Hillary in view. The ridge above was empty. We both shouted. Climbing back onto the ridge I looked over and saw her lying on the rocks about 20ft below - she had tumbled over the vertical side!"

Hillary was in a state of semi-consciousness with cuts and blood indicating surface injuries - she had landed on sharp stepped limestone. Eventually she began responding to communication attempts (meanwhile Phil was still busy logging hole locations about 50 metres away wondering why everyone was shouting for him). We established to the best of our ability there were no major limb bones or head damage, but a large lump protruding from below her neck was a cause of concern. As for anything else, internal or otherwise any assessment was guesswork Hillary was in a state of semi-consciousness with cuts and blood indicating surface injuries - she had landed on sharp stepped limestone. Eventually she began responding to communication attempts (meanwhile Phil was still busy logging hole locations about 50 metres away wondering why everyone was shouting for him). We established to the best of our ability there were no major limb bones or head damage, but a large lump protruding from below her neck was a cause of concern. As for anything else, internal or otherwise any assessment was guesswork

Resources were merged and distributed. The fittest and fastest, i.e. Richard and Dennis were going to make for the car at Kroussia then attempt to raise some sort of mountain rescue team, if any existed. The rest would stay on the hill and do whatever they could with Hillary. Armed with a roughly sketched route map, a bottle of water and a body-full of adrenalin they streaked off towards Zaranokefala - there was a spring en-route for water once they were back on the mule-track again.

Back on the hillside the hot afternoon sun beat down so we took it in turn shading Hillary. As the sun westered more and Hillary's responses sharpened a decision was made to try and move her to a more comfortable site - the other side of the ridge she fell from. Propping and lifting her upright, she kept lapsing into faint. A path was constructed up and round the ridge then Phil and Dalek piggy-backed Hillary up and round.

We reckoned next day before anything positive would happen from Richard and Dennis; so preparations were made for nightfall. At 6000ft with a sky as clear as a Bombay Sapphire & tonic, it was going to be cold. A couple of hours were spent building an 'enclosure' against the crag. We were above the tree-line so there was no wood for a fire; the only fuel was frazzled scrubby thistly things with lethal thorns. The next couple of hours before dark were spent combing the hillside collecting thorny scrub hopefully for a heat source in the chill of the night.

As the sun fell below the surrounding peaks the temperature drop was instant and prickly heat gave way to goose bumps. It was dark soon-after, in a moonless sky.

Mick seemed to get the best sleep. His snoring, snuffling and grogging kept everyone else awake or soon woke them. By 22:00 everyone had slept as much as they could - the cold was really starting to bite - and our comfort candle had long burned out. By popular demand the fire was lit so this added a bit of solace. The Milky Way was incredible in the high unpolluted atmosphere, but our situation sort of wasted its impact. With the fire being constantly fed, Hillary was re-adjusted every now and again in an attempt to sustain a level of comfort.

Everyone jumped when a gunshot went off just over our ridge sometime after midnight. This was followed by shouting. Dalek and Jim leapt up and onto the spine to be greeted by Richard and Dennis plus a team of locals from Annopoli. There were Firemen, Police-men, a Mountain Guide and someone who wore a black IRA-type balaclava (we never did see his face!). They had a stretcher and blanket so Hillary at least was off the rocks with a decent cover; no attempt was going to be made for evacuation until daylight.

With that we caught up on the news, Dennis and Richards high speed journey in record time down to the car, meeting hunters who phoned ahead to Annopolis to set the mission in motion. Then their return up the hill to find we weren't where they left us, which caused a bit of friction with the rescue team. Not to forget the doctor who set out and said after 10 minutes walking "Bugger this I'm off home!" in Greek of course. Saturated with sweat all the rescue team took off their damp clothes, crowded round the fire and proceeded to burn all our fuel drying their smalls. The locals eventually fell asleep in the warmth of the fire but every now and again they would awake in unison and start squabbling and fighting, then settle to sleep again - strange. It was intensely cold; a blend of low temperature and grossly under-equipped for spending the night on the hill. We felt obligated to keep our saviours warm, so we did - for us it was actually warmer collecting fuel than it was burning it!

The Milky Way moved across the sky excruciatingly slow, but eventually the stars faded and the sky lightened. We learned a helicopter was scheduled to depart Heraklion at 08:00hrs, so Hillary was stretchered a few hundred metres to a flat area suitable for landing. At that we were told we may as well head down; we were all glad to be on the move. We departed to the noise of gunshots as the team played target practice with their firearms. The sun was soon on us and before long it was uncomfortably hot.

After being strung out along the route we all rendezvoused under a large cypress tree at Kroussia at about 11:30. At this point the helicopter appeared circling over Zaranokefala then descending out of view - it was well overdue.

High Desert - Awaiting Rescue

Back at Eva's Taverna in Annopolis we downed a few beers then retreated down to the beach for a sleep in the warm sun.

That evening we were all sat round the table waiting for our meal and discussing the events of the last 30 hours. Dalek arrived - last as usual - and cast his eyes around the company. Looked into his untouched beer that was waiting for him - looked around again.

"Who's missing for dinner?" he frowned. We all creased up.

Next day Phil had to head for Heraklion and sort out the administration. A party went up to Dracolaki to de-rig and retrieve all the caving gear that was left up there - Mick succeeded in getting stung by an angry hornet thing at the entrance. Someone suggested it came out his wallet, then it was pointed out it would have died of suffocation with the amount of times his wallet had been opened over the last two weeks.

Hillary was released from hospital with minimum treatment as her injuries were not life-threatening. Back in UK further medical examination revealed a broken breast bone and plenty torn muscle and ligaments. She is still recovering and only recently achieved driving ability and un-assisted walking, with one leg still twice the size of the other.

Already discussions are underway for a 'planned encampment' on the high desert in the shaft riddled area between Pachnes and Zaranokefala. Names to Richard Bendal…!

Jim Stevenson

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