The LegendCronus sired several children by Rhea: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon, but swallowed them all as soon as they were born, since he had learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own son as he had overthrown his own father- an oracle that Zeus was to hear and avert. But when Zeus was about to be born, Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save him, so that Cronus would get his retribution for his acts against Uranus and his own children. Rhea gave birth to Zeus in Crete, handing Cronus a rock wrapped in swaddling clothes, which he promptly swallowed. Rhea hid Zeus in a cave on Mount Ida in Crete. (from wikipedia.com)
Today Mount Ida is called Psiloritis, the highest mountain of the Oros Idi / Ορος Ιδη, the Ida Range and also the highest mountain of the island of Crete.
Quite naturally when you visit an island - especially if it is as mountainous as Crete - you wish to climb its highest mountain. Even more so if that mountain is shrouded in myth, like mighty Psiloritis. As a young boy or girl you were fascinated by stories and legend about the Greek and Roman Gods and at some time or other you heard about Zeus' youth, which he spent in a cave on one of the mountain ranges on Crete. Most often, the Ida Range with Psiloritis is named but some sources - and especially locals - claim the cave lies in the Dikti Range some 50km to the east.
As legends go - there will never be an agreement on the actual size but here, on the eastern slopes of Psiloritis a cave lies hidden, Ideon Andron, in which ancient artefacts were found. The cave could be visited for quite some time until scientists started sifting the ground for even smaller leftovers from the age of the Gods. It is here that the ascent to Crete's highest mountain starts.
It was quite a surprise to me when - a few days into our Cretan vacation - Judith proposed to climb Psiloritis. Generally she isn't too much into summiting and rather enjoys a panoramic hike (even if it gets to be of epic proportions). However, though there are quite a number of mountains on Crete, most of them are not accessible during a day tour and our options where reduced to about six or seven. For me Psiloritis ranged at the bottom of them because access time from our base at Vamos would be about three hours one way - and I know who's the one who has to drive the car.
But I'm a bit of a coward when it comes to oppose my beloved one - any anyway, there's worse things than climbing a mountain. It promised to be an epic - which it turned out to be, but differently than we had thought
Getting ThereI managed to convince Judith to get up an hour early so 5 a.m. saw us at the kitchen table somehow listlessly drinking our tea and munching our bread. As always I was restless - trying to get as early a start as possible - but somehow we took half an hour until we managed to move into the car. And again - my haste resulted in losing the way - at the first possible opportunity. We crept back and forth through Vrysses until we finally managed to get onto the motorway to Heraklion. Vrysses is a very small town but we got lost four times there during our stay on Crete.
Half an hour to the next large town Rethymno - I was delighted. Maybe we didn't have to drive three hours. Judith had dropped asleep but by a swift manoeuvre rushing out from the motorway onto a bumpy country road I regained her whole attention. She directed me cross country and did it well - we didn't have one of our usual quarrels. Until we reached Anogia.
Anogia is the last town before you reach the top of the Ida range. It is already high up in the range,, a mountain town with very narrow streets. Just like Vrysses - apart from the fact that the latter town lies at sea level. Judith wanted me to watch out for a road to the right - I took one - and soon was lost in a narrow side street. No turning around so I put the reverse gear in and crept back to the main road. Along which a bus was heading towards us - and nowhere to go. I put our car (almost) into the window of a local shop and with a bit of heavily advanced magic the bus driver swept by us without touching anything. We got disentangled from the goods display and carefully headed along the main road.
What does this stupid road do? In a wide curve it turns back to exactly the same place where I thought I had got lost myself some minutes before making me (or us both) feel extremely stupid.
However, Anogia finally came to an end and we headed up to the Analipsis Plain, which stands at some 1400m. At the end of the road, which is very wide for a mountain road we ended up at Analipsis, the leftovers of a hotel and ski resort. Sad to see like all contemporary ruins.
Arum Ideaum, Arum Creticum
We decided to forego the Ideon Andron Cave and concentrate on the climb of the mountain. We could always try to look it up if there was time left at the end of the hike. So we set out to climb the east slopes of Psiloritis or rather the west slopes of the Analipsis Plain. A couple of switchbacks along the road to Ideon Andron took us to a chapel, another to the footpath which would lead summitwise. At the Chapel a first glimpse of what would accompany us for the next 500m awaited us - beautiful yellow Cretan Arum flowers, an endymic species of the island. Higher up they would cede to the white Ida Arum, which only occurs in the mountain range and in a few spots of the neighbouring Levka Ori. To complete the picture - in the lower ranges of Crete, especiallyin the many gorges you find the giant Dracunculus Vulgaris, another Arum Relative which can reach 6 feet in height.
Our trip now took us along a traverse which was scarcely marked and which we got lost in several times. A few switchbacks higher the path suddenly turned right into a high valley which we followed to a crest in the distance. This crest turned out to be a saddle which led to the Kollita Alp, a mountain pasture at about 1800m. In the saddle the fury of Aeolus, God of Winds hit us - and it would increase all the way to the summit.
SnowfieldsWhen vacationing on an island as close to the North African coast as Crete you are not really prepared to have to cross snowfields but this is exactly what we had to do. At sea level the noon sun already had been scarcely bearable and up here, with a fierce north-eastern wind blowing, temperatures soon fell below the comfort-line. The wide valley of the Kollita Alp didn't offer much protection as we descended it and our ascent route led directly into the oncoming gale.
The ascent route follows a shallow valley, which separates Angathias from Vouloumenou two summits of the Psiloritis Massif. Angathias is not much more than a side summit of Psiloritis while thanks to a saddle Vouloumenou can be considered separate. The route through our valley led right through the bottom part, where in several locations, snowfields barred the direct route. We scrambled along on the lower Angathias eastern slopes to circumvent the wet snow patches then turned to the other slope, only to arrive at a doline close to the Vouloumenou summit. The doline, a large depression where underground structures must have collapsed, barred the way and we circled it to the east. Finally, after a few scrambling steps we reached the saddle - only to be exposed to a full load of Aeolus' ever increasing rage - right in our faces.
A Bag of WindsFrom Homeros' Odyssey:
"We reached the splendid palace in the city,
and for one whole month he entertained me,
always asking questions about everything-
Troy, Argive ships, how Achaeans made it home-
and I told him all from start to finish.
When, for my part, I asked to take my leave
and told him he should send me on my way,
he denied me nothing and helped me go.
He gave me a bag made out of ox-hide,
flayed from a creature nine years old,
and tied up in it all the winds that blow
from every quarter, for Cronos' son
has made Aeolus keeper of the winds,
and he could calm or rouse them, as he wished.
With a shining silver cord he lashed that bag
inside my hollow ship, so as to stop
even the smallest breath from getting out.
He also got a West Wind breeze to blow
to carry ships and men on their way home.
But that's not how things happened to turn out-
we ruined everything with our own folly.
"As they talked like this,
my companions' greedy thoughts prevailed.
They untied the bag. All the winds rushed out-
storms winds seized them, swept them out to sea,
in tears, away from their own native land.
At that point I woke up. Deep in my heart
I was of two minds-I could jump overboard
and drown at sea or just keep going in silence,
remain among the living. I stayed there
and suffered on. Covering up my head,
I lay down on the deck, while our ships,
loaded with my whimpering companions,
were driven by those wicked blasts of wind
all the way back to Aeolus' island.
The Traverse To The Summit
Still in shorts and t-shirt I started the traverse of the Angathias northern slopes with that furious wind hitting me from the right. I decided that I wouldn't need any additional clothing, provided I would keep moving - and moving fast. Consequently I soon left Judith behind. We were exposed to the wind but had a slope to our side which offered at least some protection. As we reached higher the slope got lower and the wind hit us at full force. I barely managed to get to the saddle which separates Angathias from Psiloritis and here I decided to at least pull on a sweater. Judith caught up and dressed in full attire - fleece, windstopper and all. Dressing in this wind proved to be a major challenge but finally we managed.
Setting out for the remaining ridge traverse to the summit we distinguished other people huddling in the protection of the summit chapel of Psiloritis. Yes, the mountain hhas a chapel on top and - reluctant as I am to praise such a thing on a mountain - I sure was happy it was there. The final ascent had drained the last bit of warmth out of my body and I was only too glad to find a place protected from the wind, at the same time fully exposed to the beneficial rays of the Cretan noon sun. I finally dressed up myself - and gradually regained working temperature.
The parties on top consisted of two French couples and a solitary German, all huddling close together. The French party was about to leave so they explored the summit - a wide plateau - and the chapel. The latter was filled up to the brim with snow - a sign that weather had only turned better a couple of weeks before. After the usual lunch-munching I set out to do the same - explore the summit and take some pictures. I tried to get a 360 panorama but midway through it the batteries of my camera gave up and I had to go back to the sheltering chapel to get my spare ones. Taking photos in a wind like that proved to be all but impossible. No Camera stabilizer will be able to correct for the gusts of winds which kept pushing me around. Moreover a minute exposed to the wind my fingers started to freeze and I had to get back to the shelter. Nevertheless I managed to take a couple of good picts to the west and north - but the 360 panorama never materialized. I mean I have twelve consecutive shots - but it is simply not possible to stitch them into a decent pano.
Clearly, It Can Be WorseThe lone German guy also left us - but first rang both of the bells of the chapel. From up close one of them produced a booming sound but at 10m distance already all sound had been carried away by Aeolus' deputies. We prepared for the descent as well - and rang the bell - then set out toward Angathias. One step away from the shelter the wind hit us directly in the face. Ten steps and we were already drained of all warmth again. 100 steps and our cheeks were hurting furiously. Thanks goodness we were going down so that we could easily hurry. One tricky section followed - not noticed during the ascent - where we had to traverse a small but rather steep snowfield. We managed to get to the other side and hurried onwards.
After an endless traverse of the Angathias north face we found ourselves in the saddle towards Vouloumenou again and a few steps down the slope to the right gave us some shelter and some room to breathe. I shot a last photo of the summit chapel - but it was blown by the wind. Slowly we turn to the doline - circle it, then head down the valley towards Kollita Alp. This time we use the snowfields to glissade downwards. Also, now we take time to look at the beautiful crocuses which grow on the edges of the snow patches, everywhere they can suck up a bit of moisture.
Some more steps took us to the Alp, above which the twin summits of Mavri rise. We stumbled across the plain on the other side of which we saw the four French guys ascending to the rim, the last 200m of ascent for the day. We took a break before following them. Luckily there were poles which guide the way and soon we were in our last saddle. Huddling behind a big rock cairn we took out the remainder of our supplies and prepared for the last part of the trip. Suddenly - from a completely unlooked for direction - our French friends appeared. They had got themselves lost in the stone desert of the Kollita Alp. Violently discussing who was to blame they walked on by and headed down towards the Analipsis Plain. From where some trekkers with heavy backpacks could be seen heading up towards us - again French as it turned out.
We got up and handed over our shelter to them, then also started our descent to Analipsis. During the ascent the path didn't appear to be so rocky as it now turned out to be and our feet started to hurt big time. We caught up with the French couples right as we stepped out of the valley, before starting the long traverse back to the parking lot. A beautiful view of the plain awaited us. Thousands of cattle and sheep were grazing in the plain but from up here they didn't look like more than ants. Unfotunately the traverse was still as parsely marked as during the ascent so we got ourselves onto some rather tricky terrain. After we overtook the French things turned even more difficult but the general direction was laid out before us. Eventually we couldn't go wrong. Then the road - the chapel - and finally the parking lot with a car and soft seats waiting for us. We didn't even think about visiting Ideon Andron anymore, the cave in which Zeus grew up.
The return trip to Vamos was still waiting for us - but apart from being lengthy no major problems occurred. We didn't even get lost this time.