Kardamili: The Viros Gorge, knowing the limits

Two tasks for Thursday.  First was to find the monastery of Likaki, shown on the map to be,like Agios Sotiris, close to the bed of the Viros Gorge.  Second was to walk up the gorge beyond where I had been previously with the possibility of then finding a path leading up to the taverna on the rim of the gorge which I visited yesterday.

I had tried to find the Likaki monastery a couple to times previously but failed to find the path.  Photos of the church I had seen on the internet were taken a few years ago and reports said it was seriously dilapidated.  A couple of times I had tried to follow paths which were completely obliterated by vegetation and I thought that this might be the same again.  Not only are footpaths marked on the map but they are colour coded on the map and on the ground, making route-finding much easier ….. if you are following a set path. Where paths diverge, there are also signs pointing to the places they lead, even on the bed of the gorge.  It’s crazy but the only sign I have found pointing to Lakaki is a hand-made wooden finger post high up the flank of the mountain on the very well signed path up to Agia Sofia.  Given that Lakaki is in the gorge that seemed a little odd.  It also seemed a little odd that the path which it pointed to isn’t shown on the map and yet is much clearer and better defined in reality than some which are on the map.

Enough of this rambling.  The conclusion is that while the map and signing on the ground are far better around Kardamili than anywhere else I have been to in Greece, except possibly Amorgos, the map cannot be entirely trusted, a key factor in judging how far to commit oneself, as will be amplified later.

I followed the unmarked and unmapped path down to the bed of the gorge to a point I had passed a number of times.  I was determined not to leave until I had tracked down the monastery even if it meant hacking a way through impenetrable jungle. (yes! I know if jungle is impenetrable you can’t hack through it.  I’m just using  a cliché).  Perseverance paid off.  Once found, at a slightly higher level and behind scrubby vegetation, the path to the monastery is very clear and not at all overgrown. The only limits pushed so far were those of credibility.  I wouldn’t accept that there was no way to Lakaki.

The monastery itself does raise serious issues of limits.  It is badly decaying and damaged with great cracks not only over the door but showing in the roof/ceiling.  The door is pretty new and has a brand new lock, but it was open.  Timbers have been inserted inside to try to stabilize the roof but they have obviously got wet and rotted where they nib into the walls.  It’s a great shame because the inside is completely covered in frescoes, probably 18th Century, including the roof, the arches and the dome.  Some are extraordinarily well preserved, others less so.

First sight of Lakaki church

Round the other side the severe cracks become evident

The iconastis, grey and ageing carved wood and frescoes: the stonework behind panels which have been removed on either side

Some of the frescoes are still very vivid

Some hidden on the back side of pillars

As yet the dome remains intact but the roof is in danger

But what can be done about it?  It’s easy to say that some government body, the equivalent of CADW or English Heritage, should repair and restore it.  But what about funding?  At a time when Greece is on the economic rocks there are understandably higher priorities.  I know of instances of people whose pensions or salary has been cut by 50% recently. Would they support repairs to a tiny church in the Viros Gorge?  It wouldn’t be simple even if a funding  source could be found.  There is no road access anywhere near to get materials in. It’s an hour from Kardamili on foot.  I have seen no evidence of donkeys used for transporting building materials as on some of the islands (Symi, Hydra, Amorgos ….).  No other way in other than lowering from a helicopter …. in a steep sided gorge.  It is more remote than many areas in Britain.  What techniques would be needed to repair it?  Substantial underpinning?  Infilling?  Steel reinforcement? Much as I would like to see it restored my guess is that in 21st century Greece it is beyond the limits of possibility.

I commented last year about Angela Merkel’s suggestion that Greece should sell off some of its islands and archaeological/historical treasures to meet its debt commitments.  An extraordinarily insensitive suggestion in face of the pillaging which apparently went on in WW2.  But it looks as if someone has been removing frescoes from Lakaki.  Some of the smaller panels have gone entirely as if they were removed whole, leaving the bare stonework behind.  That may be why churches round here are all locked and may explain why the  substantial new door to Lakaki was open.

I continued on up the gorge from there, and this is where finding limits personally comes in.  As is often the case it was very hot in the gorge.  The canyoned sections which are in shade all day set up a microclimate, the air is cooler so the pressure is higher and a gentle breeze blows from there to the sections of the gorge in the sun.  Very pleasant.  But much of the gorge has no breeze at all and the heat is  amplified by reflection from the walls and the white river bed.  I passed the limit of where I had been before with paths coming in on both sides and found a small mound of stones built across the river bed and a large red X painted on a rock just above it.  It clearly said “don’t go any further” .

Of course I did.  The going got more difficult as I got further up the gorge.  Every step had to be watched, the stability of rocks calculated before trusting them.  Small waterfalls were encountered which had to be surmounted (no water at this time of year, just the rocks).  It was the classic river profile, I was going into the ‘youth’ stage or ‘upper level’  upstream where the bed gets steeper with larger boulders.  A long way to go yet because it begins at Profitis Ilias which is a day’s walk away.

When I reached a 20 foot high waterfall at about 15.00, 250 metres above the village, I decided that this was far enough.  I could climb up the waterfall but if the path I wanted to find wasn’t there or was blocked I would have to retrace my steps and down-climbing is always more difficult.   So I had a banana, swig of water and retraced my steps.  A bit disappointing but then walking on my own with a map which is pretty good but not 100% reliable it was the sensible thing to do particularly as I knew I was tiring.  I’m still not heat-fit yet.

I’ve said before I don’t tell people where I’m going, partly because I may change my mind and go off exploring.  It’s important to take responsibility for your own actions in life and with solo walking in the mountains it’s essential.  I always push the limits but know when enough is enough.

Climbable …. but I called a halt to upward progress here

The importance of this approach is demonstrated by the fact that there are posters all round the area, in town and on finger posts up in the mountains, because an English guy went missing in March while taking part in the Taygetus Challenge, a 36 km mountain marathon.  That’s an organised event with a set course.  Search parties have so far failed to locate him.

I eased my tired muscles back down to Kardamili, sorry I hadn’t progressed further up the gorge but at least satisfied that I had made the right decision on the day.

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