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Advanced Cretan White Mountain Trekking

September 29, 2023 - October 9, 2023



There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.        – Beverly Sills



100 2020-1019 DK (900)
105 2020-1019 DK (903)
115 2022-1013 (511)
120 2017-0618 DK (901)
125 2022-0919 (600)
130 2017-0618 DK (900)
135 2022-1013 (517)
140 2017-0724 (128)
145 2019-0623 DK (902)
150 2019-0624 DK (900)
160 2022-0919 (352)
165 2018-1004 DK (800)
170 2019-0624 DK (901)
175 2022-0810 (521)
180 2019-0624 DK (902)
185 2019-0624 DK (903)
195 2022-0919 (350)
200 2020-0901 DK (900)
205 2022-0919 (228)
210 2022-0919 (303)
215 2016-0710 (256)
220 2021-0906 DK (902)
225 2021-0906 (126)
230 2021-0906 (153)
235 2021-0906 (161)
240 2022-1013 (901)
245 2022-1013 (818)
250 2022-0810 (503)
255 2022-1025 (118)
260 2022-0919 (422)
265 2022-0810 (518)
270 2021-0906 DK (901)
275 2021-0904 DK (900)
280 2020-1019 DK (906)
285 2020-1019 DK (905)
290 2020-0615 (102)
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Program Details

Crete’s White Mountains, or Lefka Ori, form a legendary massif.  They rise swiftly from the western island’s north shore, plateau across a treeless, alpine moonscape pockmarked with 150 square kilometers of volcanic ash-cones, scree fields and sinkholes, and then plummet through forests, into gorges, and down a series of sheer cliffs into the Libyan Sea.  Ironically, the area’s highest summit (Pachnes), deepest gorge (Samaria), and most popular trail (E4) are closely supported by auto access, and are popular tourist destinations.

The purpose of this program, however, will be to explore the more difficult, less accessible, most beautiful reaches of the area; to stretch skills and stamina; and to earn the area’s respect with a traverse from east to west across the entire range.  This retreat is a great opportunity for fit and experienced hikers who yearn to explore for the first time one of Europe’s most dynamic trekking environments; or for those returning to the area but yearn to explore beyond the typical routes of earlier visits.  By necessity the itinerary will intersect occasionally across those typical routes, but its predominant priority will be to veer off, to take trails less trekked, and to reach the peaks, gorges and forests few footsteps have found before.  Trails will range up to 17km and 1,000 vertical meters per day, include steep slopes, steep descents, and difficult footings.  Participants should be prepared for sections where safety is critical, and respect for the mountain paramount.*

And yet, while program participants must be capable of embracing the challenge of wilderness walking, the program, not the participants, will take on the challenge of wilderness logistics.  Technical trail sections, camping, even unmanned refuge stays have all been avoided.  Instead, all nights will be spent in lodges and pensiones with excellent dinners upon our arrival and full breakfasts the next morning.  There will be two days of strategically scheduled pauses—in both a lovely mountain village and seaside town—where great out & return hikes or rest and relaxation will be available.

Most importantly, the entire program will be led by experienced and certified guides with excellent local knowledge and long histories walking the very trails we’ll traverse.  And CDR will provide logistical support in case of weather or other emergencies; transportation for the one leg across an area too populated and paved to be of interest; and finally, transfers at our area airport, both to the trek’s starting point on the Askifou Plateau, and from the trek’s closing leg at the coastal village of Sougia .

In short, like all CDR’s retreats, this program will provide and support an opportunity to exceed your experience, extend yourself, and enjoy that process with a team of others enjoying the same.

*Note: If you seek more moderate trail experiences, we offer a challenging but less intense itinerary via our “Cretan Coastal Treks” retreat and several light-hiking/walking retreats under our Trails to Tavernas banner.


Your Guide: Daniel Kolibius

Daniel was raised trekking the alpine trails of Crete, starting as an 11-year-old when he traversed his first gorge with another avid Cretan hiker, his father.

In his early twenties Daniel returned to Crete to fall further in love with the island’s unique blend of high elevation peaks and surrounding blue seas. Since that first visit, Daniel has passionately followed a
desire to explore the peaks, gorges and little-known trails of the Cretan highlands, returning multiple times each year to spend weeks on the island’s trails, and to connect with not only the geography but the culture of Crete, especially the Sfakia region with its wild hills, cliffside seas, and strong, proud people.

During these countless visits, Daniel gathered a knowledge of Cretan traditions & folklore, learned the specifics of the region’s flora and fauna, and absorbed the rich history of peacetime and wartime struggles that echo across these trails. As a result, Daniel has developed local skills and relationships privileged to only a few non-native Cretans.

As his love of Cretan trekking grew, Daniel developed an equal enthusiasm for sharing his experience with other hikers from all over the world. His love of history allows him to point out the ancient stone-paved “kalderimis” from Minoan and Roman times; and his love of fauna helps him cite the various species that survive the rugged alpine desert of the Lefka Ori, and allows him to share with others the best spots to watch the hawks and huge griffon vultures that ride the currents & gyres sweeping up these cliffs from the sea.

Daniel is a German native-speaker, functional in French and fluent in English & Spanish. An experienced leader & coach, Daniel has a long history of managing diverse groups toward common success in both his professional life as a full-time tech-project manager, and in the wilder environment of alpine treks. Certified in both first-aid and as a hiking guide with the German Hiking Association, he holds a European Walk Leader certification honored across the EU.

Cretan Destination Retreats recognizes Daniel as one of our elite leaders, and
we are proud to share his skills, character and good humor with those clients
wishing to expand their own skills and experience on the trails of this
challenging and unique retreat.

Trek Highlights

Day #DayDateCretan Destination Retreats, Advanced White Mountains Trek, Autumn 2023Walking Distance
1Fri29-Sep-23Arrival Day:
Cretan Destination Retreats (CDR) will arrange for transport at a common time from Chania Airport (CHQ) to the scenic Askifou plateau at the eastern side of the White Mountain massif. You’ll meet the guide, with the chance to explore the area around the lovely family-run pensione or to swim in pensione’s pool.  A welcome dinner with instructions for the days to follow will end the day.
2Sat30-Sep-23First Hike on Cretan Soil:
After a breakfast on the pensione’s terrace overlooking the Asifou plateau, we will cross the plateau, and at its southern end, climb into the foothills and make our way from an old shepherd’s path down to the mountain village of Asfendou.  After a classic Cretan shepherd’s lunch in Asfendou, we will continue down the spectacular and rarely hiked Asfendou Gorge, where just before arriving in the village of Agios Nextarios, we’ll see the Libyan Sea for the first time.(Due to the paved character of the transit between this and our next trekking leg, we’ll use a transport option from the bottom of Asfendou Gorge.  A short ride to the coastal village of Chora Sfakion and an arranged water taxi will bring us west to our next pensione, on the quiet beach of Likos.  There we’ll have a seaside meal, and will sleep well only steps from tomorrow’s trailhead.)
13 km
3Sun1-Oct-23Coastal Paths & Mountain Villages:
We will start the day traversing one of the challenging cliff sections of Crete’s long-distance, coastal E4 trail, stopping for lunch and an optional swim on the isolated Marmara Beach at the mouth of the Aradena gorge.  After our rest, we will continue the day’s trek, exploring the lower part of the gorge, then exiting up a steep, narrow sidetrail towards the tiny hamlet of Livaniana, where we’ll likely stop for a fresh orange juice or coffee at the village’s charming little cafe.  After this optional stop, we’ll traverse the rocky highland plateau tucked under the highest White Mountain peaks, and end our day at the shepherd village of Anopolis, where our rooms and another great meal (and cold beverages!) await us.
10 km
4Mon2-Oct-23Spectacular Gorges:
On our third day, the geological wonder of the upper Aradena gorge awaits us.  We will descend into the gorge on the preciptous zig-zagging stone stairs that have been used by the inhabitants of this rugged region for over a thousand years.  Upon setting foot into the gorge’s narrow belly, we’ll turn south and follow the gorge’s dry watercourse toward the sea.  This is a challenging gorge, with several hand-over-hand sections, and one of the several great places to enjoy the sight of the majestic griffon vultures as they circle overhead.  About 1/2 way down the gorge, and not far from where we left the gorge the previous day, we’ll again take the path ‘less-traveled’ and exit the gorge, but his time on a steep, challenging and little used trail that lead west, back up to the plateau, and then across a landscape dappled with pine trees and bee-hives, toward the sleepy little hamlet of Agios Ioannis, which lies at the final accessible foothills of the White Mountains eastern flank.  In Agios Ioannis we’ll be greeted by our innkeepers, Adonis and Nextaria, with the good food and comfortable beds of the friendly Alonia Guest House.
9 km
5Tue3-Oct-23High Peaks, Short Hikes, or Relaxing Rest:
Day five is one of our planned ‘Flex-Days,’ where those wishing to extend their White Mountain trekking can either take a longer and high-alpine peak trail with the guide, or choose shorter spur-trail hikes to the caves or cliffs close to the Alonia Guest House to walk alone. And for those wishing simply to absorb the beauty of the White Mountains while giving feet & blisters a day off, or giving a brought book a good read, the Alonia Guest House’s hammocks await.  Three common options for this day are to:
1) Join the guide to ascend Zaranokefala Peak, where we will crest the White Mountains atop this southernmost summit and enjoy the spectacular view north across the massif’s alpine desert, countless gorges and dramatic cone peaks.
2) Take one or two shorter, self-directed hikes along any of the well-marked, half-day trails that lead away from Agios Ioannis, ending at the dramatic caves above the Elygias Gorge, or at the spectacular cliffs plunging from the Sfakian Plateau into the Libyan Sea.
3) Relax, resting in the hammocks at the lodging site, napping in bed, or simply sitting beneath the rich view of the mountains you have been crossing and will continue to navigate tomorrow.
0-20 km
6Wed4-Oct-23Back Down to the Sea:
After breakfast, we will leave the little village of Agios Ioannis, and descend the Sfakian Plateau via a spectacular cliff trail of carved stone stairs worn with Roman & Minoan footfalls.  At the end of this descent, we’ll again meet the E4 Coastal Trail at the beach of Agios Pavlos, where we’ll take a swimm and have a drink at the little, generator-powered taverna on this isolated beach, before walking another hour into the sun’s light as it falls along the Cretan cliffs west of us.  We’ll end the day with our arrival at our next pensione in the busy but landlocked village of Agial Roumeli, where the famous Samaria Gorge plunges into the sea.
12 km
7Thu5-Oct-23Hikes, Hammocks, Swimming or Sun:
Day seven is our second flex day, where you can opt to add other trails in your trekking log, or simply relax and enjoy the special character of Agia Roumelli.  You can join the guide on the steep and challenging 900m hike up Papouras Peak, take a short hike into the Samaria Gorge to where the gorge’s famous “Iron Gates” reveal the split crust of the earth.  Or stay in the village to enjoy from the veranda of a seaside taverna the exhausted tourists grab ferries after exiting Samaria.  Or step west only a few hundred meters to Agia Roumelli’s quiet beach, where between swims you can nap or read on one of the sunbeds provided by our seaside pensione.  The time is up to you, and in when the sun drops we’ll share a dinner together and share stories of the day’s various adventures, then sleep well in preparation for the long trek tomorrow.
0-15 km
8Fri6-Oct-23Against the Current:
On our eighth day, we’ll take the more challenging traverse of the Samaria Gorge than that chosen by countless visitors each year: Instead of walking down the gorge, we will ascend it!  We’ll start very early, and enjoy for the entire morning the rare experience of having this geological wonder of the world only to ourselves.  About 1/2 way up the gorge’s trail, at the abandoned but intact stone village of Samaria, we will start to meet the first tourists, and then experience the main pulse of their descent.  After they pass, the gorge will again be ours alone, including our final ascent up the spectacular wooden stairway that rises vertically from the gorge’s head to the Omalos Plateau.  There, encircled by the mountains that ring the plateau, we’ll meet our transport and arrive quickly at our pensione where good food and our comfortable beds await.
17 km
9Sat7-Oct-23Summit Day:
After a hearty Cretan breakfast, we’ll return by quick transport to the Samaria Trailhead, but will again leave the common trail down Samaria to others.  Instead, we’ll ascend west, climbing high above Samaria’s canyon to the summit of Gingilos, one of most iconic peaks in the White Mountains, with a forbidding granite cliff face guarding Samaria, and an elevation easily seen from Crete’s distant northern shore.  From our trailhead, the top will appear unreachable.  But we will follow a steep trail demanding no technical equipment, cross a diverse landscape of ancent bristlecone pine, shattered stone, natural bridges, a fresh spring, and a sweeping scree field until we reach a windswept col where we will rest while viewing the Libyan Sea at the foot of the virtually inaccessible Tripiti Gorge, and in the other direction the Aegean Sea, across Crete’s coastal plain to the north.  After our rest we’ll ascend further to Gingilos Peak, where we’ll not only look down to Crete’s two shorelines, but west across the White Mountains we’ve crossed in the past days.  We’ll descend after a rest and photos, and at the foot of the trail grab our transport again for a swift transfer back to the lodging site.
9 km
10Sun8-Oct-23Wartime History in Every Step:
If everyone still has stamina for a final exciting hike, we will traverse the Strifomadhi peak, and descend into and along the Axlada Valley, a shepherds’ hideout famous over hundreds of years for its resistance during Venetian, Turkish & German occupations.  The valley slopes down into an anceint streambed and then the mountain village of Koustogerako, a village successively destroyed and its population slaughtered by the same Venetians, Turks & Germans those shepherds resisted.  In Koustogerako, we’ll enjoy a rest and then take our transport down the final, paved leg of our mountain descent into the costal village of Sougia, where we’ll celebrate the retreat and its experience with a final dinner.
17 km
11Mon9-Oct-23Departure Day:
CDR will arrange a morning transport to the Xania airport for those leaving that afternoon, and for others who are staying longer to enjoy Crete on their own and cool their feet in the blue Libyan Sea, we’ll bid good-bye and maybe plan our next adventure together.

Other Details

Program Length: 9 Days, 10 Nights

Minimum Participants (for program confirmation): 6 by July 15th.

Maximum Participants: 16

Lodging Venues & Options:  Lodgings will be at local guest houses and pensiones that cater to hiking guests; all with standard rooms at double occupancy.  (Anopoli might demand some rooms shared with extra occupancy.)

Participant Requirements:  Participants must be in excellent physical condition, without known health issues that are likely to demand evacuation from non-accessible locations; and possess an experienced ability to walk steep trails over long distances and across a series of days.

Should this ability be misrepresented and the participant fail to demonstrate a capacity to continue in a manner that does not harm the retreat’s general progress, the guides and/or CDR reserve the right to protect the remaining retreat and remove the participant, refunding only that portion of their fees reflecting the lost time.  If you have any doubts about your capacity to enjoy the retreat, contact us, and we’ll do our best to ensure that the retreat is indeed a good fit.

Equipment Needed:  In addition to personal items, footwear and other standard gear needed to successfully traverse difficult terrain over multiple days, participants are expected to bring & carry:

  • Personal first-aid kit, including an emergency blanket, whistle and compass.
  • Sleeping bag (summer bag is fine; we will spend each night indoors.)
  • Backpack appropriately framed for continuous hiking, sized to carry above items, chosen personal items, and up to 3 liters of water.

Weather & Clothing:  This retreat includes seasides at a time of year likely to be warm enough for shorts & swimming; and high-altitude hikes that will have high risks of cold, rain and significant wind.  It is assumed that anyone participating in this retreat has experience in such climates under similar circumstances and will make safe clothing/gear choices appropriate to the conditions described above.  If you have any questions, just contact us and we’ll confirm or clarify your decisions.

Supplements & Discounts Available:

  • $50 Group Signup Discount. (5% per person for every group of 3 or more who sign up together.)

Payment Currency: $USD$


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September 29, 2023
October 9, 2023
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