Scrambling down the Samaria Gorge

By Linda Bell
This item appears on page 13 of the March 2022 issue.
This trailhead sign depicts one of the feral Cretan goats, known as <i>kri-kri</i>, that inhabit the Samaria Gorge. (We did not see any.) Photo by Colleen McClure

Three of us — Doris (75), Colleen (61) and I (79) — were enjoying a visit to the Greek island of Crete in October 2021. After seeing the Palace of Knossos and the excellent Heraklion Archaeological Museum, we decided a hike would be a wonderful outdoor experience.

Searching online, Doris saw that a hike in the Gorge of Samaria National Park, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, was a not-to-be-missed adventure in Crete, so we decided to do it.

We purchased tickets for a guided hike ($52.30 each) at a small travel agency near the Sofia Hotel (Stadiou 57) in Heraklion: Diamond Travel (62 Ikarou Ave.; [Greek only]).

While purchasing tickets, we were cautioned by the booking agent that we needed to be prepared because, while doable, the hike was going to be a bit strenuous. Well, Doris is an avid hiker, I am in relatively good shape from dancing, and Colleen is also a dancer and younger! None of this had been preplanned, so we didn’t have hiking boots or trekking poles.

A bus took group members from the city to a drop-off point at the top of the gorge, then would pick us up again after we took a ferry ride from the trail’s end. About two hours and 17 hairpin curves into the 3½-hour bus trip, I was shocked when the tour guide came to me on the bus and strongly suggested that we not make the hike. We were already en route, so the three of us decided to go for it.

The guide gave us permission to go all the way down the gorge IF we could safely make the first checkpoint, down on steep slippery rocks, within two hours. This part of the hike was basically descending stair steps.

Doris was afraid she wouldn’t be able to make the checkpoint in time, so she power-walked this part. Colleen and I took it a little slower. We made it just in time, but other hikers in the group had falls, and some decided it was too difficult and turned back.

<i>l. to r.</i> Doris, Colleen and Linda on Samaria Gorge trail.

We caught up with Doris at a beautiful stream, where we decided to stop and eat our lunch. A man came through leading a mule. As it turned out, there was mule service available to carry people out to safety if necessary.

We were feeling confident with our pace, but we only had six hours to complete the trip and board the last ferry out. It was slow going in some places. No dillydallying allowed!

The gorge length we had to traverse was supposed to be 13 kilometers (8 miles), but I don’t think that took into consideration all the cross-backs we had to do crossing the stream. There had been bridges across the wide parts of the river, but several of them had been washed away in a recent flood.

We had to cross the fast-flowing stream by balancing on slippery rocks, all the while wishing we had hiking poles. We were lucky that many younger hikers were willing to help us and were very supportive of our efforts, complimenting us on how well we were doing.

But as it grew later, we had trouble finding the trail easily because there were few markers left since the flood. We were the last of our group still on the trail, and the guide who had been trailing behind to monitor group members’ pace and safety passed us, because she had to get to the village to purchase our ferry tickets. She told us that when we got to the trail’s end, we could take a shuttle the rest of the way to the ferry.

The guide was concerned for Doris, who had really slowed down and was struggling, since powering down the first part of the hike had fatigued her legs so much. We still had over an hour left to hike, the trail seemed to get longer, and we were growing tired as well. I went ahead and found the trail, while Colleen assisted Doris to be sure she was OK.

At one point, we thought we had reached the trail’s end only to find we still had more ground to cover. Luckily, we were past the stream, and it was level and not so rocky. This was truly the never-ending hike!

Gorge of Samaria National Park. Photo by Colleen McClure

As we came close to the trail’s end, I saw two trucks parked beside the road. One was leaving, so I quickly stopped the driver and asked about the shuttle. It was another kilometer down the road. There was no way we were going to make it without help. As it turned out, this nice young man was on his way to feed his sheep, and he was willing to give us a lift in the back of his truck to the shuttle departure point.

We caught the last shuttle into the village, where, with only minutes to spare, the guide met us at the ferry with our three tickets. We had been told that if we missed it, we would have to find overnight accommodations or sleep on the beach!

The Samaria Gorge was beautiful. We really enjoyed the scenery. However, if we had had more time or been better prepared, it would have been much more enjoyable. Because of the time limitation, we felt we had to rush throughout the hike.

I’m proud of our accomplishment in completing a trek of this difficulty. Even the guide complimented us. However, I would only recommend this hike for the young and hardy. It took us three days to be able to walk properly again.

Little Rock, AR