Trip Report: Mt. Khourkas (courtesy MP) - This morning, we loaded up on spinach pastries from the bakery and called our friend the pension owner to arrange payment.
Then we tried to figure out how to get to Ano Mousounitsa, the village which is the starting base for the hike up Kourakas. The only way to get to Ano Mousounitsa is by car, or taxi. Our first attempt to get a taxi failed, as for some reason he did not come. So we waited for a long time at the town square, sitting on our bags. We eventually managed to grab a taxi and convince the driver to drive us up to Ano Mousounitsa. It took convincing for some reason. Some helpful guy even came up to us to help us communicate with the driver. So the driver agreed to take us there for 30 EUR.
The drive up was beautiful and scenic but kinda scary. It was a winding narrow mountain road passing through villages and goat herds. The taxi driver drove like a madman despite the steep turns, speeding and yelling on this cell phone all the while. I guess it was normal driving for these parts.
Finally, the taxi dropped us off near the square of the village Ano Mousounitsa. This place was really very remote. It was splendid. It was basically a mountain village of a 100 people. The village square had an old church, 2 tavernas, many chairs and tables for the nightly gathering of the inhabitants and a large tree growing in the middle of it with a fountain.
At this point we tried to get a map but failed. We managed to buy supplies for the hike, fresh bread and feta cheese to live off for 2 days!! It was the best bread and cheese I ever had, by the way. We also communicated with the taverna staff to convince them to let us leave our bigger packs until we came back. We only took what we needed for the hike (which was already too heavy).
So having no map but with our trusty hiking guidebook, we left for the summit of Kourakas.
The summit of Kourakas is at 2,495 meters. Elevation from Ano Mousounitsa is 1,000 meters. The first part of the hike was foresty and bouldery. Sometimes there was only a dirt path. There were many little shrines on the way and one mountain water source stop. The trail indications were not always clear.
Then there was this part of the trail above the treeline that followed a mountain road serving various Shepherds and sheep folds. Sheep folds are near vast areas where the sheep are kept. We could see and hear the sheep far off in the distance of rolling hills. The road/trail did come right alongside one sheep fold which did have sheep and was guarded by about five very large and very fierce sheepdogs. The dogs and molossi, wolf sized sheepdogs known for their ferocity and for giving trouble to hikers. The trail ran pretty close to the sheep fold, but I thought they would leave us alone as long as we did not approach. The dogs did not come close but were very loud and impressive looking. They come to about waist high to me.
Walking on the road, we became really doubtful about the way to go. There were no trail indications that we could see. A motorcyclist came our way and we stopped him. We managed to communicate to him that we were looking for the way to the refuge on the trail to the summit and he confirmed that we were headed the right way. Funny how this place is so remote, but locals know exactly where stuff is, like trails in the middle of nowhere.
We hiked for about 5 hours with 800 meters elevation to a refuge. The refuge is a stone building built on an outlook on the way to the summit. The refuge was locked but did have a more or less flat area where we could camp. There were also a lot of sheep droppings on the grass.
In the refuge area, two tents were already set up. Turns out a family of Germans were also hiking up to the summit. Two men and with two children. We chatted with them and ate our bread and cheese and leftover stuff. The bread and cheese was so very tasty. It was the best. I followed the trail indications for the drinkable mountain spring to fill in our water bottles. Then we slept. It was very windy and cold. I was so damn cold. Also, the ground was not flat.
Day 12: Tuesday, August 7
We got up bright and early to hike up to the summit. Now this part of the hike was steep with many rocks and boulders. It was a patch of loose rocks called scree. Hiking up that was hard. But the hard part would be to get down again. At this point, we were at 1,800 meters of elevation. Once we hike up part of that steep wall, the view down into the valley where the refuge was was breathtaking. It was bright and crisp and sunlight made the rocks shine. Sunlight filtering through the clouds made the valley into patches of bright and dark green.
After one hour of exertion to hike up the loose rocks part, we arrived at a plateau. It was another valley this far up on the mountain. This rolling green grass was filled with sheep droppings. Shepherds are in frikkin good shape to bring the sheep up and down the mountain around here!! The valley was spotted with huge boulders on which the trail indications were painted in red. Arrows pointed the direction to the summit.
We crossed the plateau and hiked the last part to the summit. This part was very vertical and it was really more like rock climbing than hiking. The Germans had started the hike after us and had caught up really fast. These children were insanely fit, they practically ran up the mountain. I raced the boy up to the summit for no good reason, really. At the vertical part, I was faster than him and was the first to reach the summit.
The summit was at 2,495 meters of elevation. The summit was indicated with a metal EOS flag (Greek outdoors society or something). There was also a summit box which was actually a old shrine with a candle and icons inside.
The view of the surrounding peeks was breathtaking... mountainous peeks as far as the eye could see. I felt very isolated and very small. Far off into the distance we could hear the barking of sheep dogs and braying of sheep. I could see the sheep very far away in the valley of another peek with binoculars. They were little white and black dots, with black dots moving fast that must be the dogs. To think that somewhere far over there, there is a lone man herding his flock by himself in this really remote place... unimaginable way of life for me.
We ate more bread and cheese and rested for a while. The Germans gave us cookies. Now the fun part was to get down. Hiking up is tiring, but hiking down is a bitch. Walking down this moving patch of rocks sucked for my knees. I cannot survive without walking sticks.
We arrived to the refuge and took our packs and tent and hiked back to the village. Altogether, the hike back took 6 hours. I hiked down really fast.
We arrived at the village, I was exhausted. We went to the taverna to claim our larger packs and eat. Villagers looked at us curiously... yes, we're the crazy dudes who left for the mountain two days ago! We're back. The Germans were already at the taverna, where they collected more of their family, a mom and an uncle. While we ate, some ancient lady with a cane came up to us. She said: “Hello!! Do you like my village? It is nice. I am Canadian!”. So are we. Small world. This lady immigrated to Canada and came back to her home village to live out the rest of her life, maybe.
Now to figure out how to get back to Lidhoriki. That part was also interested. We manage to make the taverna staff call a taxi for us. The taxi needed to come from Lidhoriki to come get us. When villagers need to go somewhere, they must usually get a ride from someone. We waited on the side of a road for the taxi. It came! The driver was a crazy fast driving chick. If I thought the previous taxi driver drove like a maniac, she was worse. She drove fast on the swerving road with the car windows open, smoked and yelled on her cell phone all at once. I don't know how someone can have stuff in both hands and still speed into a turn on the side of a cliff, and like, not die. But she did it. She also talked to us. Well, it was more like yelling, but friendly kinda. She also yelled stuff at passerbys she knew when she drove through the other villages. I watched the goats on the side of the road.
Back to Lidhoriki. We stayed at the pension again. We called our buddy the pension owner again. He seemed to find it amusing to see us again.