Since I arrived back on Symi nearly two weeks ago I have been setting out for walks at midday in order to get myself acclimatised to walking in the heat ready for longer treks when noon temperatures would be difficult to avoid. On Wednesday, only 3 days before the summer solstice when the sun would be at its highest, I set out an hour earlier than usual to walk to the cliff-top chapel of Agios Vasilios and the descent to Lapathos Beach, a classic and long-time favourite. I felt stronger walking than I had for a while, so much so that before I reached the ridge I had already decided to tackle a challenge I have been shirking for a few years: to return from the beach up the bed of the Vasilios Gorge.
I get easily bored with beaches and frequently amble off and climb something. A number of years ago I had walked a short distance from Lapathos beach up the gorge and then climbed a waterfall into a side-gulley to regain the path and return to my kit under a tree on the beach. This time the intention was to get to the hamlet of Ksissos at the top of the gorge.
I didn’t know if it would be possible, I remembered following the bed of a gorge at Olymbos on Karpathos and coming across a waterfall which I would have struggled to climb even with rock boots, a rope and a climbing partner.
Having learned a long time ago to assess risk, I reckoned that the worst that would happen would be that I would have to accept defeat, retrace my steps to the beach, and return via the path.
The outward trek was enjoyable as always, first on a good kalderimi to the burgeoning hamlet of Ksissos on the ridge and then on a great path high above the floor of the gorge with occasional glimpses of the dry riverbed which I would soon be following far below. Closer to the coast the cliffs dropping into the gorge become more and more dramatic with natural ‘bonzai’ cypress trees clinging to fissures in the rock. The moment when the beach first comes into view still causes an intake of breath. The final steep descent on near vertical rock is usually the most interesting part of the walk but this time it was just a warm-up.
I had the beach to myself so no need for modesty. I lazed around for a while enjoying the swimming, drying off in the sun, and the frisson of excitement knowing this time I was going really off-piste. Then, what I had been looking forward to, with full rucksack of kit I set out up the gorge.
The gorge is dramatic right from the outset, reaching the beach in towering cliffs which close-in rapidly. The cypress trees in the dry riverbed look like pot plants from the top of the cliff but many are 15 metres or more high. The riverbed itself is made up of angular rather than rounded pebbles, showing that while the gorge was cut by river action in the past now most of the material which reaches the bottom has fallen from the cliffs.
As I get deeper into the gorge, goats panic and rush upwards sending a shower of rocks crashing down, a reminder to stay away from the sides where possible. Much of the gorge walls are solid limestone but in places are sections of loose, unconsolidated conglomerate with much evidence of recent substantial rock falls.
The trek was stunning. There was no evidence that anyone had been up the gorge in recent times (decades ????). The bed varied in width, in places barely a metre wide between vertical rock walls.
Avoiding the possibility of further rock falls took second place by a large margin to the satisfaction, the fun, of climbing the now-dry waterfalls. Much of the climbing would be classed as Grades 1-3 rock scrambling but now and again rock climbing skills were helpful: under-clings, hand–jambs, pinch-grips, chimneying …… . As elsewhere on Symi some of the limestone was razor sharp, giving very good friction for sandaled feet but sometimes painful handholds.
One side of the gorge was in deep shade, the other in midsummer sun. The stark contrast made photography very difficult, the processor on the SLR coping with it much better than the compact. As always I carried the compact in a hard case with the wrist strip looped over my hand so that when I needed both hands for climbing I could let it slide up my arm. Occasionally I put that in the rucksack too. Now and again the rucksack was a problem and I regretted not having a cord to pull it up behind me so had to wear it all the time.
I was tired when I reached the ridge, the 1½ litre bottle of water drained, but from there it was downhill on a good path all the way back to Horio. Would I do it again? Very definitely!
We descended the gorge about ten years ago.
A better trip is the descent of the gorge down to Nanu.
Head down a track just before the army check point on the road over the island, and when it crosses a dried up stream bed head down (to the right).
The first section runs under the dump and is boring, but the stream bed leads to a well defined gorge which has three or four short pitches and a lot of scrambling.
A brilliant day out.
The two gorges leading to St Georges Bay can also be descended but require abseils. There are bolt and peg belays placed to enable them to be descended with 60m ropes.
Both of these gorges have been climbed. The one on the right (with your back to the sea) is climbed in 7 pitches and the one on the left, which is harder, is climbed in 10 pitches.
I’ve been down the path to Nanou from the church on the tarmac below Agios Stavros Polemou (Strateri ??) but that’s not at all exciting, just a loose path through trees.
Those routes are good to know about. I assume the army check point you mean is the one below Vigla ? Do the pitches you refer to require abseils? I haven’t yet taken a climbing rope over to Symi so anything requiring abseils is out for me at the moment. But I’ll bear the routes in mind and maybe tackle the Nanou Gorge from the bottom up in September.
I ought to think about taking a rope. But then I want to take my sea canoe as well. Maybe hire a container one of these days.
The army check point is the one along the road from Ag. Konstantinos. The stream bed is joined from the track that leads to Ag. Ionnnis Tsagrias and Kokkimidis.
We have always done the descent of the gorge without ropes unless we were taking non climbers.
It would be easier to ascend the gorge but then you don’t get a cool beer at the end.
Ironically we first discovered the gorge when we were trying to find a path down to Nanou. It was in 1994, on our first visit to Symi. The top of the path had been destroyed when the dirt road down to Panormitis was built.
We found the correct path on our next trip two years later. We always include a descent of the gorge on our trips to Symi, although we have not been since 2005.
You won’t be disapointed.
Thanks for that Andy
Recent roadworks have made the top of the path difficult to find again and it puts off all but serious walkers. It’s not the most enjoyable path on Symi even though the prospect of a swim and a beer at the end are enticing.
Another good scramble is up the slab out of St. George’s Bay.
From the top you head westwards to eventually join a goats track which leads to the walled compound near the path from Aghia Manna and Panagia Hamon.
It’s always a balance between waiting for the way up being in the shade and getting to Aghia Marina before dark.
We did look for a scramble out the other side of St. George’s bay on our last trip but were turned back by a section of loose stones on a sloping ledge.
I take it that’s the gulley on the right hand side as you face the cliff. I’ve often thought about that but not committed to it in case it didn’t ‘go’ and I got stuck on the beach for a day. Couldn’t face that prospect.