Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Gingilos, White Mountains, Crete

North Face of Gingilos
Gingilos and the Linoseli col from the Samaria Gorge

Gingilos, White Mountains, Crete
Sunday 27 September 2015

Ascent: 840 metres,
Distance: 9 kilometres
Time: 3 hours 55mins
Linoseli Col 1700m 1hr 32mins
Gingilos. 1940m 2hrs 9mins

After 4 days and two of them rainy, I was impatient to head for the White Mountains and the Omalos Plateau. It is the starting point for the famous Samaria Gorge that had been closed since our arrival because of the rains. It is also the starting point for Gingilos, the most inspiring peak in Crete with a vertical north face that looks like Buchaille Etive Mor on steroids.  Our rep had reinforced what all the guidebooks said - that Gingilos was a magnificent and awesome mass of limestone giving a tough but satisfying climb through exposed rock with stunning views over the White Mountains and to the north and south coastlines of this rough-hewn island.

There was a 70-kilometre drive to the starting point, half of which was on the long winding road to the Omalus plateau. Much of the road had been constructed through the European Union funding and it confirmed the perception of some Greek journalists that the governance of Greece had been driven by the civil engineers since Greece entered the European Community in 1981. The drive took an hour and a half including a couple of stops for photos on the quite staggering highway into the mountains. Only through the villages did the road narrow and deteriorate; on the winding ascent, it was a remarkable feat of engineering. The Samaria gorge was closed so the car park was relatively empty.

A path began from the car and coach park at Xyloskala passing a cafe at a higher car park and then continuing as a steep marked path that zigzags up the first 280 metres to the start of the traverse. The path runs alongside a steep gorge that was fenced off to avoid accidents to walkers. Although it was almost noon, there was some shade from the sun on this section and I made good progress to the start of the traverse where the path levels and then descends for about 90 metres through rock-strewn slopes littered with Cypress trees before it cuts under some pinnacles and an arch. It is the easiest and most scenic section of the climb, although quite exposed at times, with views back over the White Mountains and towards the vast screes descending from the col above. The path drops to the Linoseli spring where the water is cool and plentiful. I stopped to hydrate as the next section was exposed to the sun and looked like a tough pull.

It is a 300-metre climb up the steep loose scree slopes to the Linoseli col. There is no respite although a well-trod route has created firmer ground as it snakes up the scree. I missed the path at the foot of the scree and had to negotiate some very loose scree before securing the stability of the path, I was finding the heat a bit much in the early afternoon and climbed within myself rather than hammering all the way up. At the col I rested, slightly disappointed that the views to the south over the Libyan sea were non-existent owing to a bank of cloud.

The compensation was the view eastwards over the entire range of the White Mountains. They sparkled and had a desert-like appearance with the total absence of any vegetation, just gigantic cones of weather shattered limestone. Below to the south-east was the start of the Samaria Gorge, a slash of dark green trees fingering their way down the gorge to the Libyan sea. To the north the Aegean sea and a number of peninsulas that create the jigsaw-like profile of the north Cretan coast. And best of all the circular Omalos plateau, a flat fertile circle of land in the midst of the White Mountains that provide grazing for goats and sheep as well as producing fruit crops. A German couple were sitting nearby and they began the climb up the final slopes whilst I topped up with some food and water and took photos.

The final section is a 250-metre ascent, a long scramble through rock bands. The route is well marked by yellow arrows. There is a 150-metre deep shaft into a cave where two walkers fell to their death. I missed seeing it as I chatted with the German woman who had given up as the scrambling began to steepen and told me she was returning to the col to contemplate and enjoy the view. There was a large party of thirty or so well equipped walkers descending from the summit,  they had intended to walk down the Samaria gorge but had been thwarted by its closure. I reached the summit shortly after the German walker and we shared our enthusiasm for what was a very good climb. I ate a peach and was joined by a small mountain bird that was obviously practised in enticing walkers to provide some of their food. 

The guidebook had warned that the descent was steep and challenging but the rock was solid and shortly after beginning the descent I was privileged to see a Lammergeier gliding along just below the summit, it had the wingspan of a microlight. The descent to the col was fairly quick and I continued down the screes where I met two Greek women sweating their way up in the mid-afternoon heat. I tried to reassure them that it was well worth it. They were pleased with my enthusiasm but I needn't have bothered as they lived in Chania and regarded Gingilos as the best mountain on Crete and their regular weekend jaunt.

I topped up with water from the Linoseli spring and then enjoyed the wonderful trek along the traverse, relaxed and happy as I absorbed the views of the White Mountains shimmering in the afternoon sun. I had enjoyed the very best of walks and it took no time to descend the last 300 metres to the car park. Gingilos is high on my list of top walks.

Good paths
Linoseli Col at top of the screes
Threading the Pinnacles
Through the arch
Climbing through the screes to the Linoseli col

Vegetation at the Linoseli Col

The last leg to the summit 
Looking down on the ascent route
Looking East from the summit to the Central White Mountains
Omalos Plateau from the summit

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