Those of you who know Crete will be aware that Pachnes is the highest mountain in the Lefka Ori range, at 2453m.  Its only 3m short of Mount Psiloritis, the highest in Crete.  Aficianados threaten to build a stone obelisk on the top to rectify this shortcoming!  And you can climb Pachnes in a day trip!

Stunning dazzling white landscape in the Madares

What its like

It’s a stunning experience, because about 200m above the tree line (about 1600m) the landscape changes.  It becomes a totally alien moonscape.  Barren, harsh, unforgiving and inhospitable, the mountains and valleys stretch away in every direction in glaring white. 

Climbers making a traverse along the route to Pachnes
Climbers making a traverse along the route to Pachnes

There’s hardly any visible life.  There are brilliant white perfect cones, long knife edged ridges, deep circular sinkholes.  The quiet is complete, and, together with the landscape, a little ominous.  But above the sky is a vivid enticing blue, white clouds scud across, making a striking contrast.

The moonscape of the Madares, the high desert of the White Mountains
Moonscape of the high desert in the White Mountains

How to climb Pachnes in a day trip

Unless you are a really keen (or insane) hiker, you wouldn’t want to climb the whole way in a day.   But for guests at Panokosmos, we have a way to do it.   Starting from Panokosmos in the Apokoronas you first need to drive to Anopoli.  Its a wonderfully quiet and peaceful plain, high above the south coast. 

Anopolis plain in the evening sun
The quiet of the Anopolis plain

Then we arrange with brothers Manousos or Antonis at Anopoli Taverna

for you to be taken up in their pickup trucks to Rousies, a spot about 400m below the summit. If your bottom isn’t up to an hour long drive over dirt roads sitting on a hard bench, you can travel in comfort inside!

From there it’s a 2h walk (took us 2 ½ h but we are old!) to the top. 

Manousos pickup discharging its cargo of walkers at Roussies, 300m below the summit
Discharging walkers at Rousies, 400m beneath the summit

To clarify this “walk”, it is a fairly chunky hike with a bit of clambering over rock faces, long traverses over sloping solid rock, and some long paths in shale & gravel.

En route on the climb to Pachnes
Stepping out on the path to Pachnes

Madares – the high desert

Up in the heart of the White Mountains, Pachnes forms part of the Madares – the high desert.  This is unique on earth, a limestone landscape subjected to over 200cm of rainfall, mostly as snow. 

Vast open spaces alongside the path to the summit
Wild vast open spaces

This makes it one of the wettest places in Europe.   The word Pachnes means romantically “morning dew”or on the other hand more prosaically in Cretan “fog”!

Climb Pachnes in a day trip - this is the path you'll take winding up the ridge
Seemingly endless path…

Why is the Madares so barren?  Because the limestone rocks are porous, crumble into scree and thus break down into sand and silt.  There is nothing to retain water despite the immense rainfall.  This falls mainly as snow which when it melts, disappears into the sinkholes which dot the landscape.

A sink hole showing the last of the winter snows, still frozen in a hard sheet
A sinkhole in August with ice still visible in the bottom

And why are there so many perfectly conical mountains, all with the same slope – which is apparently at an angle of 32 degrees?  That is caused by frost breaking up the rock into scree.  At steeper angles the scree rolls downhill.  Any hollow gets filled, any projection gets shattered by frost therefore creating this slope.

Conical white mountain showing the Richter slope
Perfectly symmetrical conical shaped mountain in the Madares

What lives at 2400m?

Even at this altitude we saw sheep “grazing” – heaven knows what on.  We saw tiny plants right on the summit.

Tiny plant growing at 2400m amongst the stones
Tiny plant nestling amongst the stones at the summit

There are thistles on the way up. However, you’d think the sheep spent more energy moving from one tiny plant to another than the energy they might provide!

Sheep grazing on what? in the midst of the shale and scree on the mountain top
High altitude sheep!

Stand on the summit, take in the extraordinary views. For example, there’s the Aegean sea in the north and the Libyan in the south, the conical peaks, the sinkholes, the vivid whites and pinks of the rocks.  Its an awesome experience.

Blue sky, white clouds, barren landscape
Blue sky, white clouds, barren landscape

And how to get back down again!

Surprisingly perhaps, tho there is no mobile phone signal on the way up, there is on the summit. 

Very convenient to call Manousos to come to collect you.  It will take you about an hour to get back down, just about the time it takes him to drive up to meet you!  Then you have time for a great meal at the taverna before the drive back to Panokosmos.

The joys of Panokosmos

Of course you don’t have to stay at Panokosmos, but we’d love to see you here.

Panokosmos - the luxury of a first class hotel, the intimacy of a private villa, the atmosphere of staying with friends
Panokosmos – the luxury of a first class hotel, the intimacy of a private villa, the atmosphere of staying with friends

In any case for your holiday in Crete you might like to look at our blogs which show things to do in Crete, whether it be walking a gorge, hiking in the foothills of the White Mountains,

Walks in the foothills of the White Mountains
Walks in the foothills of the White Mountains

or taking a drive to see the sitesChania is a great town to visit, particularly to go to the street markets, and of course you’ll want to get the benefits of the Cretan diet – be it the yoghurt and cheese, or the olive oil

Sheeps milk yoghurt from Mastorakis, a dairy in a mountain village near Panokosmos
Sheeps milk yoghurt from Mastorakis, a dairy in a mountain village near Panokosmos