Octogenarian Gordon Davis wasn't daunted by the challenges of the tough Samaria Gorge. Preparation and attention to basics were key, as was an experienced guide.
One of the reasons why I selected ‘A Week in Crete’ for a Ramblers’ holiday was my cherished ambition to walk the Samaria Gorge, a distance of 13 km and arguably the longest gorge in Europe.
Our leader Katerina took us to the coach stop at 6am and we were welcomed aboard by Tomas, our trip advisor. Tomas was Austrian, had been a guide in the Samaria Gorge for 26 years, he looked a pretty useful person to have around in difficult situations.
Tomas told us he would be honest with us and in return he expected us to be honest with ourselves; the only way was forward and everyone had to be responsible for their own requirements. This was uncharted territory for us all and walking the steep descent of the gorge was a definite NO for persons suffering from heart problems, high blood pressure, asthma, dodgy knee or ankle joints.
Did we have a good crepe bandage in our rucksacks for such problems, he asked? Walking poles were available on the coach. Also, did we have a bottle of water which could be topped up from good, pure water as we descended? Were we carrying some high energy cereal bars or trail mix? Being a regular walker with my group I was able to honestly tick all the boxes, but strangely Tomas didn’t mention any upper age limit. Being an optimist and also being an octogenarian I was fairly confident of my abilities. Fortune certainly favoured the brave, I didn't have any such problems, nor did I have any aches or pains the next day.
It was time to go back to basics. Were we carrying spare boot laces and spare pair of socks? Did the soles of our boots have a good tread? Were our boots correctly laced and were they laced to the correct tension? Had we trimmed our toe nails? Failing to grasp any of these elementary precautions could have led to all sorts of complications.
It was reassuring to hear Tomas say he would be departing from the start point at 1,230m thirty minutes after everyone else had left and would certainly find us. The other important point from Tomas was that we wouldn’t be sorry to have made an early start at 7.45am, as in the summer, there could be up to 1,000 people walking the gorge. There were three checkpoints en route, one after 4.5km which we should leave by 9.30am, the second one after 7.5km to leave by 11.30am and the third one after 11km to leave by 1.30pm. At two of these rest areas were tethered ponies to be used for transporting any injured persons incapable of walking themselves.
On the fairly steep descent one had to constantly avoid protruding tree roots, to look for firm boulders on which to tread and to use any support rails. Some of the lesser bridges did not have grab rails and the horizontal stepping boards were uneven and very basic. But the scenery and the high sides of the gorge were breathtaking. The biggest natural danger was from falling rocks.
After completing the walk it was sheer joy to indulge in a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. We then had a further 3km to walk to the boat harboured at a seaside village on the Libyan Sea for a 50-minute boat ride to where our coach was waiting. We arrived back at our hotel at 8.15pm, where Katerina delighted in telling us we had 10 minutes in which to wash and change before our walk to the taverna for the evening meal. Quite a day!