Pachnes is the highest summit of the White Mountains. At 2453m it is only 3m lower than Timios Stavros or Psiloritis, the highest summit of Crete in the Ida mountain range.
Pachnes has long been relatively inaccessible because of its fairly central location in the White Mountains. Getting to it would take a long time necessitating an overnight stay (and therefore the need to carry camping gear and food).
The shepherds road that was built from Anopolis almost all the way to Roussies, ending at an altitude of 1950m, makes it possible to go there as an easy day trip and get a taste of one of the most striking landscapes you are ever likely to come across.
The summit of Pachnes is near the southern edge of a complex range of summits (over 30 of them higher than 2000m) in a limestone landscape that is geologically unique on earth. Although it can be classified as a high desert it is also one of the wettest places in Europe (yearly rainfall is not accurately known but it is definitely above 2000mm, mainly in the form of snow).
This combination of high rainfall, enormous amounts of snow in winter, wind and frost erode the limestone at a very fast rate, creating this unique landscape with a unique flora.
Views - The views from the summit of Pachnes are stunning. Beyond the many peaks of the White Mountains you can also see Psiloritis, the bay of Messara, Frangokastello as well as the islands of Gavdos and Gavdopoula. To the North you can see the peninsulas of Gramvoussa and Rodopou. On a very clear day (usually in winter) you may also see the mountains of the southern Peloponese. If you walk a couple of hundred meters to the west of the true summit you can get good views into the gorge of Samaria and even see the village of Paleochora far below to the Southwest.
Follow this link to see a large panorama picture of the view from the summit of Pachnes
Wilderness - despite being only a few km from busy tourist resorts (as the crow flies you are 27km from Platanias, 25km from Chania, 12km from Loutro) this is a high desert where you may not see anyone for the whole day. Only a handful of shepherds graze their sheep up there between late May and October. You won't see many animals either (apart from domestic goats and sheep). The only mammals living up there are hare and very occasionally Cretan wild goats will venture in the area.
There are plenty of ravens and partridges (partridges are a little lower down though, not right up on the summits) and you might see the occasional large raptors: griffon vultures and much less often bearded vultures, golden eagles and Bonelli's eagles.
Plant life and flowers - Like most deserts, at first you think that nothing grows there but when you start paying attention there is quite a bit of plant life. In fact, out of the roughly 190 Cretan endemic flowers around 30 of them grow exclusively in the White Mountains.
And of course, the short spring of the high mountains (with abundant snow melt water) generates quite a lot of plant growth long after vegetation has dried lower down which is why shepherds bring their sheep to the mountains in the early summer.
Follow this link to see some flowers of the White Mountains.
You can also download an excellent free Field guide to the wildflowers of Anopolis - Pachnes Footpath in PDF format.
The only way to climb Pachnes as a day trip (unless you are a runner) is to use the track that comes from Anopolis and use a car to get up. Any other route will involve spending at least one night in the mountains.
You can probably get someone from Anopolis to drive you up the road in a pickup. If you expect them to wait for you and bring you back down this will not be cheap. Ask in one of the two cafés in the village.
Please bear a few things in mind if you decide to drive up there by your own means:
What level of fitness is required?
The walk up to the summit takes no more than 2 hours (3 hours if you are very slow) from the end of the road. The terrain is not particularly difficult for someone who has some walking experience but you will need to step carefully on some short stretches on the way down.
What do you need to take with you?
Going via other routes
You can walk to Pachnes from Anopolis (there is a good path that is more direct than the shepherds road) or from Omalos, Volikas or Askyfou but all these routes will take you quite a while and require you to stay overnight somewhere. For more information on routes in the White Mountains Loraine Wilson's book is your best source of information.
The nearest place where you can sleep in a bed are Anopolis, Omalos and the Kallergi mountain hut
There is also a mountain hut at Katsiveli but this is locked. There is another small shelter at Katsiveli that is open (and has a few bunk beds - cleanliness is marginal at best) but water is not always available (although there is a spring up on Svourichti, about 45 minutes walk up the mountain but you will need to know where it is located).
Otherwise you can camp anywhere and in mid-summer you won't need a tent as it almost never rains. A logical place to camp if you are walking to Pachnes is Roussies (as there is good water) but bear in mind that it is often windy and can be quite cold at night.
The road is generally closed by snow from December to May or early June. Of course you can still walk to Pachnes even if you have to leave your car some way away from the end of the road but bear in mind that in May and June you will probably have to traverse slopes covered in snow. If the snow is a little frozen this can be quite dangerous without ice axe and possibly even crampons.
In summer the walk is easy and has recently (2012) been clearly sign posted.
In winter you will require mountaineering experience in using crampons and ice axe. There is no place that is steep enough to warrant the use of ropes.
Do not go to Pachnes if there is a risk of thunderstorm or fog.
The best time to visit if you want to see some of the rare flowers that grow there is in June and July.
Warning! Some find it boring - Pachnes and most of the Cretan mountains are not terribly exciting in terms of mountain climbing. On the whole they are more like big hills. If additionally you don't like deserts then maybe it's best if you stay by the sea.
Maps to use - Currently the best maps to use are made by Anavasi. See the maps page for more information
Water - There are only very few water places in the White Mountains and even fewer that you can find easily so bear this in mind if you go into the mountains. If you are only going to Pachnes using the shepherds road you will find water on the way at Roussies. It's a cistern fed by a spring (to my knowldge it is the highest spring in Crete) and is good drinking water.
Click on images to enlarge. Use the ► and ◄ to move forward or back or click again to close