Walking safely in Crete
Even if you are an experienced hiker don't
overlook the advice below as some of it applies to Crete specifically!
I have many years of experience leading groups and individuals on
all kinds of walks in West Crete. The advice below doesn't stem from
a book but is the result of my watching how people interact with
the Cretan landscape, the difficulties they may have and the mistakes
Crete is a wild island. This is what makes it so attractive
for walkers and hikers but a good number of those totally underestimate
how wild it can be and get themselves into situations which are potentially
dangerous. People need to get rescued every year, people get hurt
and some die. Most of the time none of this would need to happen
if some basic safety (or plain common sense) had been applied.
The advice below is a bit of a mixed bag, from the trivial and obvious
to some specific points to deal with certain
places and situations. Please read through it and try to remember
what might apply to what you are planning to do.
- Crete is a pretty rough and the ground is stony and uneven, the
footpaths are often very small and many time experienced walkers
who came to Crete for the first time couldn't believe their ears
when I said to them "this is a good, well-trodden path".
To them it was almost non-existent! You must also watch your step all
the time. If you want to look at the surrounding countryside
stop first then look. Not doing so is possibly the biggest factor
- Shoes: you need good walking shoes to be comfortable.
If you don't have walking shoes and prefer to walk in trainers
this is also OK on many walks but make sure that the soles have
a good profile. Sandals, even good walking sandals are not that
great because of the stony ground and the constant risk of bumping
- Sun protection is necessary even on sunny winter days.
poles: If you are used to them, take them with you.
- Water: in the summer you will need to drink a lot and
will also need to carry an emergency supply of water in case
you get delayed or lost. There are not that many water places on
many paths, you may also not find tiny springs or they might dry
out in summer.
- Never walk in a gorge when it is raining or
has just rained. The danger of flash floods is very minimal but
there is a high risk of stones falling from the brittle limestone
cliffs. If it starts raining whilst you are in a gorge get out
of it as quickly as you can. If there is no escape route minimize
the risk by avoiding walking right below the cliffs. Another
thing to look for in gorges, even when it doesn't rain, is goats.
Goats (and kri-kri but those are rare) tend to dislodge stones
when they move about in cliffs or on slopes and you should avoid
walking below goats. Keep an eye out for them.
- Don't walk on your
own unless you know for certain that the path is well-frequented.
Many places rarely see a soul for days on end and a small injury
(such as a sprained or broken ankle) could have dramatic consequences.
If you cannot find a walking companion, make sure that someone
knows where you are going and when you are expected back. A mobile
telephone (with a charged battery as well as the phone number
of someone local to call) is also a good idea. Almost every year,
some people "disappear" because they
didn't take these basic precautions.
- Mobile phones coverage
is excellent in Crete but not in gorges and not in the centre
of the White Mountains (unless you know on which ridge or summit
to climb in order to get a signal). Make sure that your batteries
are charged before setting off. If you go into the high mountains on a cold day
carry your phone close to your body. Batteries can discharge
really fast when it is cold.
- Carry a torch in case you get delayed.
It is not possible to walk at night on a Cretan path without
a torch unless you know it very well. If you know that you are
likely to be walking at night carry headlamp (and make sure that your batteries are charged).
- Choose the right time
of the year for the type of walk that you intend doing: July
and August is generally too hot for walks at sea level. You run
the risk of dehydration and sunstroke. This is the perfect time
of the year for mountain walks though.
Special conditions apply in the mountains
- Although the mountains in Crete are no higher than 2457m they
are remote, very wild and in most places totally devoid of any
human presence. An additional problem is that in the centre of
the White Mountains almost all the summits look the same so that
it is very easy to get lost unless you know the area extremely
well. Always have a compass with you (and know how to use it) in
case you loose the path or if visibility drops. Even with a compass,
the escape routes out of the mountains are limited to certain routes.
There is a lot of snow in the mountains in winter with a very real risk of
avalanches. Snow will stay in some areas until mid-summer (but of course
not so much that there is a risk of avalanches!).
Always take warm clothes with you if you go high up in the mountains, it
can get very cold even in mid-summer if there are clouds and wind.
To finish off, I have listed some of the mistakes I have seen people
do in the Cretan mountains
- No warm clothes: relying on perfect weather (no wind and no clouds)
in the summer is a mistake. If you get a cloud cover and wind the
temperature will feel close to freezing point even if the
temperature is above 30°C at sea level.
- No planned exit route in bad weather or fog: due to having no
compass and accurate map (or no GPS with marked route). If the
weather turns foggy you'll have to wait until the weather clears.
This could be hours...or days.
- No equipment for an emergency overnight stop (because people
rely on good weather conditions and will have a very bad night
if they have to spend it in summer clothes in the mountains).
- Thinking that you can find old paths easily: forget it! Apart
from some well marked routes (the E4 is in part sign posted) most
of the paths that you see on maps are hardly visible. Be prepared
to spend time looking for them (and plan your walking time accordingly).
- Relying on a mobile phone for emergencies but not knowing who
to call (this happens all the time!).
- Walking back to a village to get some help for an injured person
(because you don't have a mobile phone / a signal / working batteries
/ don't know who to call) and then not being able to find the injured
person again (yes it happens!)
- Calling for help on a phone and not knowing where you are (yes,
that happens too)
- Thinking that you can keep going straight out of fog or cloud
(with your compass) and you will end up somewhere eventually. That
one can lead to cliff faces.
- Assuming that what looks like a path on a map will be something
easily walked. Many of the old paths may be easy routes for Cretan
shepherds and hunters but not for foreigners unused to living in
the Cretan mountains.