Canadian Rockies: snow, ice and steam

Again, first the festive stuff:  A belated New Year to all.


I’ve been doing more trekking than usual thanks to a bug which I picked up on the flight and which kept me hotel-bound for a while.  However, unable to just sit around, I went out each day for longer and longer walks on some of the many winter trails, increasingly strenuous as the effects of the bug receded.

A nice easy walk is along the Bow River to the Canoe Basin (deserted now the river is frozen over) and then upstream on Forty Mile Creek on the ‘Fenland Trail’. The Bow is frozen across its whole width at this point but the faster flowing Creek has thinner ice where the two merge, with evidence of at least three people being overconfident and having fallen through.

The Creek still has stretches of open water with many trees fallen across it.  It froze while the level was still high but now it has dropped there are sheets of ice suspended in the air and in the afternoon, when the temperature rises slightly, there are cracking sounds like rifle shots as another section succumbs to gravity under the weight of recent snowfall, followed by an unearthly shuddering sound as the remaining ice readjusts.


The Bow frozen across its width



Thinner ice at the confluence with Forty Mile Creek with holes where people fell through

Another day, with more energy, I followed Forty Mile Creek and used the footbridge to cross it and turn left to walk on the frozen Vermillion Lakes.  Shallow and with very little movement, the ice is always trustworthy on the lakes but following the unusually warm weather (temperatures up to minus 4) I was suspicious of it at first.

It turned out to be as reliable as usual.  Under cloudless blue sky the views across the flat expanse of white to the mountains were cliché breath-taking. As always, close to the edge of the lake it was important to watch out for open water, for two reasons.  First, near open water is where the ice is thinnest.  Second, because that is where some of the best photo opportunities are.

The open water is from thermal springs which emerge from the mountains and flow into the lake.  As they mix with the cold water their effect is diminished but close to the source they create a unique micro-habitat of both flora and fauna.  On the surrounding vegetation the water vapour freezes in microscopic ice crystals.

The largest area of open water is towards the furthest end of the Second Vermillion Lake.  I found it a number of years ago and at that time there was no sign of anyone having visited. Now there is evidence that a local tourist guide is driving visitors here along the Vermillion Lakes Scenic Drive and escorting them down to the photo opportunity.  Which is pretty dramatic.

Push through vegetation beyond the edge of the lake and there is a large open pond directly fed by a thermal spring.  Steam rises off the surface.  Again, this is a unique habitat and I have seen fish and bird life, though on this visit it was too shy to submit to being photographed.


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Christmas in the Canadian Rockies

First, lets do the festive stuff:  Happy Christmas to all.


Climate change is having weird effects.  There is no doubt that this is real winter but not as icy or snowy as in the previous eight years. In 2010 temperatures were below minus 20 for the month I was here for the first time.  Nasal hairs developed icicles as we crossed the car park.  Last year heavy snowfall meant deep deposits when we arrived, refreshed regularly.

This year there was heavy snowfall at the beginning of October followed by a partial thaw.  There is certainly nowhere near as much ice on the Bow River as normal.  A friend of ours was going ice-fishing and went through the ice into the water as soon as he stepped onto the river.  No snowshoeing up the river for a while yet.  The ice sheets have been broken up and piled up downstream. A grizzly bear was seen wandering around town in early December, long past its bedtime.

There is enough snow for very good skiing but it could do with refreshing and there is none in prospect.  Sunshine Coast, one of my favourite runs at Sunshine Village, has the tops of small trees poking through the snow.  I didn’t realise there were any trees there.

Walks are good but no need for snowshoes or even cleats.  Tunnel Mountain, Bow River Falls, Spray River Loop.  All very enjoyable

Not as much snow and ice as usual.  Still, who is complaining.

Below a melange of images from the first few days.  (Just showing I know some posh words).  A striking difference in colour from the previous blog post.


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All change

Back from Greece.  Very soon off to the Canadian Rockies.  But before I go, a sample of the brilliant autumn in the UK this year.

As a planner by temperament as well as former profession, about 15 years ago I started preparing for inevitable decrepit old age by planting the bottom end of the quarter-acre, 50-metre long back garden with maple trees.   Now it’s a woodland environment with bluebells and wild garlic in Spring .  But this Autumn it was stunningly colourful.

Here’s a sample.

Next blog post will be dominated by white – high mountains and snow.

Posted in Autumn, extreme gardening, Nature, Photography, Pontypool, Wales | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nisyros:  into the crater

I‘ve often said that Nisyros has some of the most spectacular walking routes that I know in Greece.  Treks around the caldera rim, including the one in the last Nisyros post on Barry’s Ramblings, offer views into the craters in the caldera a thousand feet below. But they are upstaged by getting up close and personal with the craters themselves.

The largest, Stephanos, is the most visited. Some years it is very dramatic with sulphur-encrusted fumaroles puffing out steam and gas as well as cauldrons of bubbling grey, gloopy mud at boiling point.  The crater floor is a crust of varying thinness and integrity.   Each year an area is roughly cordoned off with a single strand of rope to keep visitors away from the parts of the crater floor which it is judged may give way.  At times those brash enough to venture across the cordon have found to their pain and discomfort what the dangers of a semi-dormant/potentially active volcano can be.  One visit I stood too long to compose a photo of a bubbling mud-hole, only to suddenly find that, even though I was well inside the ‘safe‘ area around the perimeter, my sandalled feet were depressing the soft crust and boiling water was overlapping to marinate my toes.  I hopped quickly away.  Lessons learned?  Spend time coming to know what different surface textures mean practically.  Don’t stand still for too long.  Tread softly.  Be prepared to move quickly but lightly.

Viewed from the crater rim, this year Stephanos looked less interesting than previous years.  The cordoned-off area in the centre was very small.  There was little sign of fumarole activity around the edges.  And there were coachloads of visitors crocodiling single-file down the narrow path to the crater floor.

But back to the beginning of this trek. Again, this is not a description of how to find the route but a sample of interesting things to see on the way.  The first part of the trek is Walk 3 on the Greek Islands Walks page of this blog, taking option 3 part way down the first page.

The next stage of the walk is very definitely off-piste and I’m unlikely to include it in Greek Island Walks for reasons of safety. The third stage I may well write up.  The final stage links up with the route in the last blog, joining the track below Stavros monastery.

The island bus, though often free of charge but this year costing €3, deposited the few of us who had travelled up from the harbour to Nikia in the small triangular square at the end of the road.  The kalderimi down to the floor of the caldera begins here so rather than starting the day with a frappé in the square at the top of the village, turn right at the side of the Museum of Volcanology (well worth a visit) to the top of steps heading down to the caldera, the 4- kilometre-long hole in the middle of the island.

The start of the walk is overlooked by the newly built Agios Nektarios church on top of the mountain behind the car park, and by a voracious volcanic beast.


The mountain behind the car park. Agios Nektarios perched on top with newly improved path up to it on the right of the photo and a spectacular lava plug on the left


…. zooming in on the lava plug


… which in reality is a petrified roaring beast.

From the main path which leads to the Agios Ioannis Theologos monastery the craters are clearly visible a thousand feet below.


The oval Stephanos crater in the centre, the two Polyvotis craters and Alexandros behind.  In the background the highest mountain on the island, Oros Diavatis, the tiny church of Profitis Ilias a white speck on top.

Turning left off the main path, the first part of the kalderimi is well stone-paved.


The stone-paved kalderimi is cambered to allow cornering at speed.

The kalderimi zig-zags down the side of the caldera.  From one of the hairpin bends the jagged lava outcrop of Parletia is clearly visible.  The crags, a highly defendable location, have long been fortified, including by the Crusaders.  But that’s another trek.  (see for example:

However, you can’t ignore the view of another lava monster looking imperiously over the caldera.


The lava ‘neck’ of Parletia


…..  zooming in

Further down the zigzagging path is a large rock with holes and recesses blown by escaping gas and softened by weathering. I’m a sucker for weird shaped rocks.


From one angle the rock looks like the head of an inscrutable alien


Looked at from the opposite direction it’s a harmless but intriguingly shaped rock with the craters in the background, reminder of where I’m heading

As it reaches the floor of the caldera the path turns onto a dry stream bed, squeezed between the high stone wall of an old agricultural terrace and a 20-foot high boulder


The path, now a stream-bed squeezed between stone wall and huge boulder

From here the route is diagonally across the caldera floor towards the oasis of the taverna surrounded by large eucalyptus trees.  There is no path to it but myriad potential lines to follow through the desert environment, white ‘soil’ reflecting the heat from nearly-overhead sun, sparse, scraggy vegetation and occasional stunted tree offering no shade.  Keep your eyes fixed on the oasis and salivate at the prospect of ice-cold drinks in the shade.

But it’s worth deviating off the most direct line to climb the rise to look down into the floor of the Stephanos crater.  Visitors the size of ants walk down the steep path to the crater floor and cluster around the unstable area in the centre even though the most interesting sulphur-emitting fumaroles and boiling muds are around the perimeter.


Looking along the length of the Stephanos crater


Zooming in on the unstable area in the centre


…..and on the crocodile of people on the path down

The large area of shade at the taverna lasts throughout the day as the sun moves and so creates a microclimate with a refreshing breeze. But can’t linger long.  It’s a long way back to Mandraki.

It’s gone noon when I leave the oasis. Now I’m into the heat of the day. The route I take most often is to follow the concrete path from here and then join a white-dust track towards the end of the caldera.  But on this occasion I have something different in mind.

The next section of the walk is most definitely off-piste and not at all for the trepid. Instead of visiting the floor of the Stephanos crater I opt to head for the Polyvotis craters.  Behind the taverna is an enclosure where the guy who runs the taverna grows figs and olives, though I don’t know how they survive, let alone fruit, in this aridity.  Facing the enclosure and the colourful flank of the Alexandros crater, there is a path to the left, well-trodden at first.


The colourful flank of the Alexandros crater

A few of the more adventurous on the bus trips take the short climb on the narrow path, improved since last year when it had been damaged by winter rains, to reach a narrow ridge between the two Polyvotis craters.  This year, no problem and to my mind always very good value for effort.  The smaller of the two craters is more volcanically active and I have always fought shy of trying to climb down into it. The surface is unpredictably unstable and with gases at boiling point hissing out of the sides it’s not worth the risk. The larger, seemingly less active, of the craters is steep sided.  The action is higher up.

I go into the mountains on my own and my guiding principle is to take responsibility for my own actions not to depend on others getting me out of trouble.  Especially with no one else around, climbing down into either of the Polyvotis craters is just too much of a risk.  Though one day, when I’m not so pressed for time, I hope to suss out a route into the larger crater ………  Watch this space but not too closely.


The narrow ridge between the two Polyvotis craters, colour added to the basic barren white by red and yellow sulphur deposits.


Looking along the length of the larger of the two Polyvotis craters.  Note especially the narrow cleft centre right in the far distance

I’m heading for the cleft at the far end of the larger crater.  From the ridge between the two, a very narrow path, barely the width of my foot, goes off to the left.  It’s always a bit loose and unstable so care is required.

Then a really fun bit!  Up to the left as you traverse the narrow path, an even narrow, more unstable ‘path’ heads up towards an area of fiercely gassing bright yellow sulphurous fumaroles, gases backlit by the sun.  A photo opportunity not to be missed.  I never have, and I didn’t this time.  It’s different every year.

The ground is very steep, extremely unstable, and very hot.  As always, I’m wearing walking sandals so every footfall has to be carefully assessed.  Walking in boots would arguably be easier but would also be more damaging to the extraordinarily fragile volcanic environment. Even in sandals I couldn’t completely avoid setting the surface in motion.  Camera in hand, I spent about half an hour inching my way around the hissing hot spot.

Eventually and reluctantly I tear myself away and backtrack carefully to the ‘path’ and head for the far end of the crater and the cleft between the mountain at the side of the caldera and the flank of the craters.


From the far end, looking along the ‘Grand Canyon’ towards the crater

Turning my back on the canyon at the end of Polyvotis crater I head up the narrow cleft.  From here there is no semblance of a path, not even a goat path. No animals venture here. There is nothing for them.  Only mad dogs and Welshman.  Probably not even the mad dogs.

No photos.  They would show only white, yellow and ochre rocks.  And in any case, it’s imperative to concentrate on both route-finding and foot placement.  Many times, it’s the angle of your foot and its position on the rock which ensures security.  Even though outside the crater, there are still a few fumaroles hissing away and washed-out sulphur deposits.

I have never been to the moon, obviously, but I guess its surface could hardly be more desolate, barren and devoid of life.  It’s awe inspiring, a privilege to be here.  Though only a few hundred metres in  a straight line from the hundreds of people at the taverna the sense of isolation is profound.

The ground rises steadily between the mountain which forms the northern rim of the caldera on the right and the outer flank of the Alexandros crater on the left.  Reaching the top of the gully and though now the floor of the caldera is in view, route-finding becomes even more difficult.  Not so much determining where you are aiming for, that’s fairly obvious, but in terms of how to get there safely.

A stream bed cuts across the route it’s necessary to take, if anything even more unstable and unpredictable.  But no major issue. I’ve been this way before.  Continuing with the extreme care necessary so far, the tactic is to aim for a small animal enclosure. Head for the ‘stream-bed’ and a large boulder, then cross to the other side of the gully and climb carefully up the opposite flank.  I work on the premise that If there is human activity out here, there must be some kind of path or track to it from the farm at the southwest corner of the caldera below the Stavros monastery.

It is with relief that this proves to be the case.

It’s a good to reach the arid, white-dust track running from the taverna to the farm.  Even though only for a short distance, it’s relaxing to not have to choose every footfall, just step out and keep the loose grit out of sandals. As it reaches enclosures, the track bends rightward through 90 degrees into a rough farmyard, thankfully with no free-range pigs wandering it on this occasion, and leads to the bottom of an old kalderimi winding tortuously upwards.

At first there is a raised causeway carrying the path up through disused terraces, fallen into disrepair and overhung by trees but easy to follow.  But then the route is lost, winding its way upwards, twisting and turning between rocks, fallen trees, landslips and terraces.  It’s difficult to find but can be picked out by careful observation, aided by the occasional red spot.

This is walking up through history with abandoned houses, threshing circles and sternas, testimony to what must have been a small but significant community.  Amazing that people should have chosen to live here.  A surprising amount of original structures have survived intact despite being on the inside of the caldera of an active volcano, thanks mainly to the stone-built, barrel-arched architecture..

It winds upwards for a kilometre through a narrow valley, much of it in shade which is a welcome relief in the heat of the afternoon, emerging below overhanging cliffs on the bulldozed track on the Mandraki side of Stavros monastery.

From here the route is on the track and paths described in the last Nisyros walk on Barry’s Ramblings and in Walk 6 on the Greek Island Walks page.

The steady climb on the track to the col offers no shade at all, no respite from the heat. The shade and ice-cold drink at the crater-side taverna is a fading memory but once at the col, though still in the full glare of the sun, at least it’s downhill from here on.

Fly over the route:

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Remembering the brightness


Scattered cloud and cold wind take the warmth out of the sunshine.


…. but true brightness and warmth are in the memory


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Nisyros:  back to the fun!

September and perfect weather for trekking in the mountains on Nisyros.  Cloudless sky.  Refreshing breezes.  Hunters with their dogs and guns not yet descended on the island. Nisyros has some of the most dramatic landscapes and treks in Greece – if you like walking around the inside of a volcano.

Circumstances meant that I was only back on the island for a week but in that time I covered a lot of ground.  The intention is to post a blog on a number of the treks over the next few weeks.  I tracked the routes using ‘Endomondo’ and a link to the videos created using ‘Relive’ will be given at the end.  This isn’t a description of how to find the routes but a sample of interesting things to see on the way.  Description of the routes is on the ‘Greek Island Walks’ page of this blog which is now a little old but the routes have changed very little:

The first is a walk from Nikia, one of the two spectacular caldera-rim villages, now once more accessible thanks to the re-instatement of the island local bus, not operating when I was here in May.  Description of how to find this route is at:

The short walk uphill from the square where the bus terminates to the main square of the village is as much as most on the trip-buses do. Enclosed by picturesque blue and white buildings, paved with black-and-white pebble mosaic ‘hochlakos’ patterning, enjoying a cold drink in the shade at one of the two kafenions looking up at the church tower is a great beginning to this route. Though the square is small with the church rising high above, it is somehow very pleasingly proportioned.  I love the place and have to remind myself that it’s an 8-mile walk back to Mandraki or I would just sit there rotting.


Looking up from the hochlakos mosaic to the church tower.

Around the corner from the square is one of the viewpoints down to the Stephanos, Polyvotis and Alexandros craters over a thousand feet below, backed by Oros Diavatis, the highest mountain on the island.  It’s a reminder that Nikia is perched on the rim of the caldera.


Looking from the highest viewpoint in Nikia down to the craters in the caldera

Drop down from the viewpoint to the edge of the village, turn right onto an old paved kalderimi and a number of deserted dwellngs are soon in evidence, some on their own, some clustered together, probably an extended family grouping.  One of the larger groupings has a threshing circle on the roof of a house, a couple of sternas (traditional underground water storage tanks) and stone-walled enclosures with basins carved out of volcanic rock.


Threshing circle on the roof of a house, enclosure with covered sterna and rock basins.


Another, larger, sterna, entrance to another enclosure and remains of a windmill tower on the mountain top beyond


Inside this enclosure a larger house presumably the principle residence, utilising huge rocks and with the luxury of a stone porch.

 The path from here, foot-width narrow at first, is on the inside of the caldera looking straight down to the craters.


Looking back along the path to Nikia perched at a high point on the caldera rim


The branch of a dead tree follows the line of the mountain tops of Nikia and beyond


Looking down to the craters and the taverna ‘oasis’ where the trip buses stop


A pleasing composition


Zooming in on the floor of the Stephanos crater with the stark outline of volcanic rocks

Having contoured around the caldera rim the narrow path suddenly becomes a well-paved kalderimi, dropping steeply down to a low col.  Though well-paved, in places it is made rough-going by fallen stones from the hillside above.


The stone-strewn paved kalderimi passed between volcanic pillars

 At the low point in the caldera rim a steel pipe crosses from the crater to Agia Irini, a tiny harbour dating back to the early years of the 20th Century.  Built by an Italian entrepreneur, for a few years the pipe was used to pump sulphur for export to the vineyards of the Mediterranean to combat disease afflicting crops, an industrial enterprise which failed.  From the col, a bulldozed track offers another perspective on the craters along the 3-kilometre length of the caldera.


Looking north-eastward along the length of the caldera with the craters in the foreground and Emborios, the other caldera-rim village, in the distance.

From the col the track, partly just bulldozed, partly concreted over, climbs steadily up to the monastery of Stavros, at one time a Crusader stronghold though now showing little evidence of that.  One of the buildings, only open at festival time as far as I know, has portraits of the heroes of the Greek War of Independence, including the Maniot Mavro Mihalis (Black Michael) around its walls.  This is the last point on the trek that looks down into the caldera.


The church and its bell looking down to the craters

The next mile is an uphill slog along a bulldozed track.  It irritates me every time I walk it, knowing that it destroyed much of an old well-paved kalderimi in order to provide access for an abortive geothermal energy project.  In places, winter rains wash away the superficial gravel to reveal the old paved surface beneath, nurturing a hope that more rains will clear it completely in subsequent years.  A forlorn hope.  In the weeks coming up to 14 September, the name day of Stavros, the main celebration on the island, a small bulldozer digs out more rubble to spread over the track.

The views from the track are not without interest, passing small churches, one built into the rock alongside a recently collapsed cave-dwelling, then looking across the broad expanse leading down the long, very tiring trek to what I dubbed ‘Dragon Coast’:

The track reaches a high point in the col from were a path leads to the ancient monastery of Siones: ( )

From the col the relatively boring track drops another mile or so, though there are diversions to add some interest.


A tiny, well-maintained church tucked into the shoulder of the mountain shortly after the col offering welcome shade and places to sit and eat a banana.

Thankfully, after a just over a mile, at the first hairpin on the track, a remnant of the kalderimi cuts off the bend and then, crossing the track, a longer section meanders down to rejoin the track near the Paleocastro.  This section of the route is not as spectacular as that around the caldera rim but is very pleasant, much to be preferred to the bulldozed track.

Sadly, this year bulldozing of ‘repairs’ to the track before the Stavros festival meant that access to the main part of the old route has been badly damaged by rubble pushed over the edge.  Just grit your teeth, pick a stable line and slither down the loose bank for a few yards onto the stone-paved kalderimi.

Apart from the paved kalderimi there are other reminders that this is an ancient landscape, not only long abandoned barrel-arch houses but also the occasional ‘erratic’, large stones re-used.


Ancient olive press re-used in stone wall of a terraced field


Marble base of a column brought to the island from elsewhere, now helping to prop up an earth bank alongside the kalderimi  


Fly over the route:

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From Symi to my back garden

I’ve been experimenting with the technology to record some of the treks I’ve been doing on Symi, using a combination of apps to record routes and then create a 3D ‘fly-over’ incorporating photos taken along the way.  It’s not entirely satisfactory yet as the grid is a bit too coarse to always allocate the photos to the point at which they were taken.  But it’s a work in progress.  Below are a few examples, just click on the links.

To the mountain-top monastery of Stavros Polemou

To the mountain-top monastery of Kokkimedes

A ridge-top loop around Nimborios

Let me know what you think of the results


I’ve been back home for a couple of weeks to check that family and friends are behaving themselves  ….. and to try to rescue the vegetable garden, ravaged by drought (!!!! in the UK ????), caterpillars, aphids and a rabbit.  The gardening produced a few colourful and interesting photo opportunities.  Goes to show that if you keep your eyes open there is interest even in your back garden.

The long summer heatwave and drought in the UK came to an end with a weekend of heavy rain and falling temperatures.  As so often happens, as the rain clouds disappeared south-eastwards, looking across the valley from the balcony I was treated to a colourful rainbow display, a double bow.  This is always especially poignant for me, my late wife’s name, Enfys, being Welsh for rainbow.


The extent of the bow


The fainter double outside it


Zooming in on one end shows the brilliance of the colours

Cutting out this year’s raspberry canes, for the first time ever unproductive because of the drought, and tying in the new growth, I disturbed a dramatic 75mm-long caterpillar of an Eyed Hawk-moth which had been munching through the leaves.  I had been squishing caterpillars of cabbage white butterflies which had reduced my brassicas to lace but this was a rare beauty so I carefully relocated it – after taking the obligatory photos.


The only coin I had to hand to show the size was a euro.  Note the blue tail-spur which differentiates it from other hawk-moths


Zooming in on the head showing the yellow shield-shaped marking

Having tied in the raspberry canes I started to clear the dead leaves from a clump of yucca, a painful job because even when dead they are needle-sharp and unyielding.  Deep inside I uncovered an abandoned goldfinch nest. My guess is that the parents had been intimidated by next-door’s new cat, the nest being a bit too close to ground level.  On a positive note, the cat also seems to have chased off the rabbit.


Dense dead leaves covering the trunk and the nest



… which emerged in a small fork when they had been cleared



Close up of the nest, still with three eggs in it.


Posted in Greece, Grey Britain, Hiking, Landscape, Mountains, Nature, Photography, Pontypool, Uncategorized, Wales, Weather, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments