A real thru-hiker!

Hiya Luca.  I’ve just got back from Crete.  I really enjoyed my thru-hike of the Cretan Way and was surprised how varied the landscape was.  It’s a tough hike and in my opinion it’s equal to the GR20 in Cosica in both toughness and beauty.  I found there were more opportunities for grabbing a bite to eat and buying food enroute on the western half of the hike… the eastern half the villages seemed to be smaller and very quiet.  It took me 11 days starting at Kato Zakros.  I camped in olive groves, on the side of hills either side of The Whites, and on the sandy beach at Paleochora.  So, I overnighted at Christopigi, Prina, Agios Geogios, Archanes, Zaros, Fourfouras, Agios Ionnis, Askfendou, 1 hour short of the Kallergi Refuge, and Paleochora.  The highlights for me were the stretch between Zakros and Ziros, the vineyards in the Archanes area, listening to a practice session from an eight-piece traditional greek band in Archanes early on a Friday evening, listening to hundreds of sheep and goat bells clanging and tinkling after sundown at Asfendou, snow in The Whites, seeing the blue blue sea appear on the horizon on the approach to Sougia, and eating like a king in a taverna in Paleochora.  All in all it is a top top hike and I will cherish the memories.

I generally hike between 11 and 13 hours a day non-stop.  I don’t sit down and admire the views but I do look around a lot and just keep moving.  30 mile day’s are fairly standard for me.  I hiked the GR20 with alpine variants in 8 days and then hiked back on the standard GR20 in 6 days. In the USA I solo thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 14 weeks, the Pacific Crest Trail in 15 weeks and the Continental Divide Trail in 15 weeks so I’m well conditioned to big hikes and long days. It’s not a race… it’s just what I like to do.  I’m usually on the trail between 6:00 and 6:30am and make the most of the early morning coolness.  The intense heat begins at around 9:00am and stays until around 7:00pm.  I like to set-up tent at least an hour before sundown so that I can kick back and read for a while… but no earlier in case I’m found hiding in the olive groves by the farmer!  I’m a light weight hiker.  I wear Salomon Spreedcross 3 trail runners, carry a one-man tent and leave the stove at home.  Only carry what you’ll be needing on a daily basis.  I no longer use hiking sticks as I keep better posture and balance without them and because they have given me over-use injuries in the past.  I train before hiking by carrying a fully loaded rucksack on day hikes (7 – 15 miles) on the weekends and running between 4 and 8 miles every other day for a month or so as warm up.  Essential items are odour proof socks and t-shirts, a light weight cap, sun glasses to protect against glare in snowy conditions, and a small tube of sunscreen, packets of kleenex and baby wipes.  Some people use vasoline to help with chaffing!  I used a Samsung Galaxy S4 for storing the Anavasi maps and the GPX/KTM files and for storing photos.  I took along 2 x Ankar Astro battery packs which store enough charge to charge the S4 4 times between them.  I also took along a 4 port USB wall charger.

Thank you so much for putting together the guide book and providing the GPX files.  I also downloaded the 3 Avanasi maps for Crete onto my smartphone.  I had to convert the GPX files to KTM so that they were compatible with the Anavasi maps.  The GPS came in very handy on some of the shortcuts, where the route was sometimes a little overgrown or not so obvious, and especially in The Whites.  It is sometimes a little difficult to differentiate a footpath from a farm accessway on the ground and the weldmesh fences make it difficult to hike cross country to regain the trail after having made a navigational error… so I was a bit twitchy at times and probably used the GPS more than was necessary at times!

May was very hot… probably up around 27°C, however the wild flowers were at their best and it was clear blue skies for most of the trip.  Crete had heavy snow back in January and so there was still a lot of snow up in the mountains.  I spent 8 hours traversing steep snowy slopes up in The Whites and there were no other footprints up there which was nice.  Water was scarce in The Whites. Towards the end of The Whites I did walk through a snowy plain (flat bottomed valley) which had a great number of pits/pools full of ice cold water/snow run off which I was grateful for. I saw a bit of wildlife… a badger and golden orioles, squacco heron, purple heron, hoopoe, chukar partridge, common cuckoo, common linnet, black cap, grey shrike, alpine chough, stonechat, white wagtail, crag martin and a raptor of sorts carrying a snake.

Anyway, thanks again Luca for your help and I wish you success with the guide book.  It may benefit some hikers to know what facilities are in the villages the trail pass through eg super markets, small village shops, tavernas etc with opening times as it would help some in planning ahead.


Nick Burley

Nick Burley at the Golden Step

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