Mountains of Crete
Crete is a one of the most mountainous islands of Europe with high mountain ranges crossing the island from West to East. They are composed of limestone. The geological upheavals which created basins and plateaus also formed a large number of impressive caves, many of which were used for religious purposes during antiquity. The mountains of Crete make up a section of the Dinaric -Taurus chain, which starts in the Dinaric Alps and comprises the mountains of Albania, Pindus, the Peloponnese, Kythira - Antikythira, Crete, Karpathos and Rhodos, and ends in Taurus in Asia Minor.
On Crete these massifs form three large mountain complexes and in between some lower mountains and semi-mountainous zones. The biggest mountain range is in Western Crete, the White Mountains or "Lefka Ori” with the Pachnes (2453m) as its highest peak. In the middle of the island Mount Ida, a single elongated mountain mass whose highest peak is Timios Stavros (2456 m.), the highest point in Crete. In eastern Crete there are the Dikti Mountains with the highest peak of 2148m. Other ranges are Asterousia in the south of the island, Tripti in the east and the Kedros Massif in the middle of Crete.
The mountains in Crete are the best to explore on foot. You can do beautiful day trips in these mountains; make long hikes for several days or make a long trekking; for example along the long distance path the E4. If you like to do mountain walks on your own, a good guide book is of Loraine Wilson, High Mountains of Crete. In this book you find many day walks and several suggestions for trekking tours are described in this book.
The White Mountains or Lefka Ori dominates the landscape of West Crete. They are made of limestone and called White Mountains because they are covered in snow until late in the spring. In the summer, the sun reflected on the limestone summits makes them appear white as well. The highest summit is Pachnes (2453m) and there are over 30 summits higher than 2000m. Known are the many gorges in this Mountain Range with the Samarie Gorge being the most famous one.
Another characteristic of the mountains are the high plateaux in the centre of the mountains. The best known is the plateau of Omalos which is a round plain surrounded by mountains, at an altitude of 1100m. There are only a few roads leading into the mountains so the best way to experience the White Mountains is by walking!
There are two detailed walking maps of the White Mountains which are essential when you go up there! It is a rough area with few water and few people up there so experience with mountain walking is advisable!
PACHNES (2453 m)
The Pachnes is the highest peak in the White Mountains, only 3 metres lower than the Psiloritis, or Ida (the highest peak of Crete). The easiest way to reach the top is to set off by jeep or pickup from Anopolis until the end of the dirt track. It is a very spectacular ride that will bring you through the 'Madares', a moon landscape with many potholes! From here starts a path (well marked with E4 signs) that leads you to "Rousies" (1900 m). Here the E4 continues and you follow the signs up towards the top of the Pachnes.
In the middle of the island you find Mount Ida, or Psiloritis, a single elongated mountain mass whose highest peak is Timios Stavros (2456 m), the highest point in Crete. The Ida mountains are located in the prefecture of Rethymnon. On its slopes lies the cave Idaion Andron, in which, according to legend, Zeus was born. On the south side of the mountain massive is the green Amari valley. Interesting features are the plateau of Nida and the forest of Rouva on the east side. The observatory of the University of Crete is located on the secondary peak Skinakas at 1750m.
To reach the summit of Timios Stavros (Psiloritis) there are basically 3 ways. The classic route is from the east side from the Nida Plateau following the E4 long distance trail. It is a long hike of about 9 hours and 1300 m altitude. but technically not difficult. From the north side from the mountain refuge Migero is the
shortest route. You start at almost 1600 m and walk along a steep but clear path towards the summit. A long and hard route is from the south side from the village Fourfouras passing the Toubotos Prinos Mountain refuge. At least a 10 hours tour!
In the prefecture Lassithi the Dikti Mountains is the main mountain range. The highest peaks are Mt Spathi (2148 m), Mt Afentis Christos (2141 m) and Mt Lazaros (2085 m). The mountains dominate the Lassithi plateau, at an altitude of 850 m, is the largest plateau of Crete. Especially in the past is was famous for its many windmills! It is a place with a long history. Here is the Diktaion Antron, a cave where -according to the Mythology- Zeus was born. The Lassithi Plateau is a nice place for different excursions and you can start many different walks! Other smaller plateaus in the Dikti Range are Katharo, Limnakaro, Lapathos, Omalos and Nisimos.
Several gorges are found in the range of Lassithi. Apart from the two gorges named Havgas at Katharo and Kalamafka, there are more canyons such as Sarakina, Adrianos, Ambelos, Roza and Kritsa.
To climb to the summit of Mt Spathi, you can start from the village of Agios Georgios and follow the path (E4) leading to the small plateau of Limnakaro. From here you keep following the E4 into the Dikti Mountains. At the Selie pass you leave the E4 to climb the summit of Spathi. It is a tough walk with quite a lot of loose rocks. From Agios Georgios and back the tour takes about 9-10 hours. Starting from Limnakaro makes the tour about 2,5 hours shorter! There is also a mountain shelter (at Strovili) above the Limnakaro plateau from where hikers ascend to Spathi!
The Asterousia Mountains are the most southern range in Crete and even of Greece. It runs parallel to the south coast of Heraklion Prefecture, forming a natural wall between the Libyan Sea and the Mesara plain. The Asterousia Mountains run from Maridaki, east of Pyrgos, and Charakas to Matala in the west
The highest peak in the Asterousia Mountains is Mt Kofinas (1231 m.) which was during Minoan time an important peak sanctuary. The Asterousia Mountains are named after the local king Asterion, who married Princess Europa at the command of her lover, Zeus. The average altitude very high, but access is quite tough because the terrain is very rugged, with many gorges and canyons. Asterousia main features are the warm temperatures, rare rainfalls and very low vegetation. The bare mountains with sharp rocks and steep cliffs gives a very special character to this region!
The Tripti Mountain Range is located in the Lassithi prefecture in East Crete. The highest peak of Tripti mountains is called Stavromenos (1476m). The mountains are covered by beautiful pine forest and are known for some very wild and inaccessible gorges like the gorge of Ha and Mesonas Gorge. Other nice green gorges are the Pefki, Mylonas and Orino gorge.
The small summer village Tripti is only inhabited in the summer period or in weekends. From here starts the ascent of the the highest peak Stavromenos.
At the north west side you find the beautiful village of Kavousi with nearby the huge olive tree of Azorias and some interesting Minoan excavations and many beautiful ancient donkey trails.