Volakias and Gingilos seen through one of the notches in the route
The hike from Xyloskalo towards the Shepherds' Saddle, then across the summits of Psari and Mavri to Melindaou is one of the great daytours you can do in the Levka Ori Range of Crete. The approach to the Shepherds' Saddle is already very long and covers more than 600m in elevation gain so that the remaining 400m to Psari and the further 300m to Melindaou can be quite tiring. The first part - the approach can be done along a dirt road which serves the local shepherds to get to their flocks but it is long and tiring.
From the Shepherds' Saddle the route is a steep and slightly exposed scramble to the Psari summit, after which it turns into a rock-hopping ridge traverse across the Mavri summit to Melindaou. There are few routes on Crete which offer better vews that this one. If you burn out too early you can always turn around on the Psari or Mavri summits and forgo the main goal, Melindaou.
The Omalos Plain as seen from the trailhead at Xyloskalo
The trailhead is at Xyloscalo, the entrance point to the Samaria Gorge. See the main page for the information of how to reach it.
At Xyloscalo, at the eastern side of the parking lot, there is the starting point for a narrow mountain trail, which traverses a steep slope. It leads to the Kallergi Hut and cuts short the road ascent (which would descend in direction of Omalos, then ascend to the hut). It basically keeps the same height and joins the road to the hut further on eastwards. The road the ascends in long switchbacks to the hut.
Even if you don't plan to stay at the hut - take the extra efort to visit it. It is perched on a rock high above the Samaria Gorge, the only place where you actually can look down into the eyries of golden eagles. From the hut a path cuts short a long switchback in the road.This path heads down along the ridge towards the Samaria Gorge and again offers great views into the canyon below. You regain the road 200m beneath the hut and follow it for approximately 3 km. In another switchback you reach the Shepherd's Saddle, where another hut, this time a shepherds' one is perched above he abyss.
Volakias, Gingilos, Psilafi, Koujkoule as seen during the ascent to Psari
- Start altitude: 1300m
- Summit altitude: 2133m (1810m Psari)
- Prevailing exposure: S
- Type: 3h one way
- Protection: None
Effort: 1000m (600m) elevation gain
Power: 2 - Steep and tiring
Psyche: 2 - A bit exposed on the ascent to Psari
Orientation: 2 - Road approach easy, from the Shepherds' Saddle typical karst climb
The climb starts at the Shepherds' Saddle, where you can find a small farm building with goat and sheep pens. An unreadable sign leads into the direction of Psari to the right of the road. After some 200m - the first and only crux of the route - you have to negotiate a doline, where quite recently one of the caves underneath the karst has given way and formed a deep depression right where the ascent route used to go. Thorny bushes bar the way to the left and the right so that the only way is right throough the doline. At its upper end you have to scale a steep step through thorny underbrush which is sure to draw blood.
Now the route gains the north ridge of Psari, which it follows to the summit of the mountain, though a bit to the far side of the steep drops into the Samaria Gorge. Nevertheless you'll have some perfect views of Volakias and Gingilos, the mountains on the other side of the Samaria Gorge. You reach Psari to the east of its summit.
From here follow the rocky ridge into a col, then back up to the next summit, Mavri, a traverse which takes about 30 min from summit to summit. From Mavri follow the path to the south of a third (and higher) unnamed mountain to the saddle beneath Melindaou. where you join the cross Cretan (and European) long distance trekking trail E4. Follow it to the south side of Melindaou but be sure to find the right spot, where a narrow path turns off to the left, scaling the remaining 50m to the summit.
Essential GearHiking gear is sufficient. In the dry season bring lots of water. In any weather bring warm clothing. The Crete mountains are infamous for their high winds, be sure to have a windstopper with you.