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!