Female & Solo Hiking on Crete: Days 7 & 8 Sougia - Domata - Agia Roumeli
This part of my Cretan hiking was described by the very helpful site Destination Crete as „One of Crete's most tiring and difficult routes”. Their description of the hike from Paleochora to Sougia was dead on with “the most beautiful hike on Crete” so I was really anxious about that part.
On the map, it does not look all that bad. There are no high mountains, you go along the coast and there is a bit of up and down. Well, nothing unusual for a hiking trail, right? And yet…
Breakfast in Sougia with bikers
The previous night I spent in the most beautiful wild camping site possible – at Lissos. I made the pretty easy hike to Sougia in the morning and made a stop at a local tavern. I arrived right on time – just some minutes after I ordered my coffee and omelet, dozens of bikers arrived. I guess there was a kind of a meeting for them.
Goats, my constant companions
I finally moved on and started to climb the moment I left the town. I was still battling infections and coughing hard – especially when climbing up. But at least in the beginning, there were no issues with difficult terrain - the trail lead along a wide dirt road, close to goat pastures and enclosures. (If you like goats, check this post)
Constant Vigilance! Said Cretan Mad Eye Moody
The whole hike had hardly any flat sections. The trail surface was mostly difficult or very difficult – made of rocks, loose gravel, thorny bushes and more rocks. It required constant attention as slipping on loose rocks or painful bumping in to a rock could happen any time.
The views from hilltops were beautiful but paid for with a lot of sweat and wheezing coughing attacks. The route constantly creeps up steep slopes or down on narrow and difficult descents.
Multiple times on the trail there are dry spring bed crossings, which again require descending steep slopes into the gorges and out of them.
The added hardship was a very hard wind, especially on the higher, exposed parts of the trail.
The views were stunningly beautiful as I was pushing on towards East.
Reaching the Tripiti beach
I was soon walking down the extremely steep slopes of Tripiti Gorge, worrying about falling – my legs were tired and the trail was covered with loose sand and gravel. It was very easy to slip and fall. I actually had to stop and rest from a descent! After a while I finally reached to gorge’s dry bottom and made my way to its opening.
The view is quite stunning – you see high cliffs right to the sea and huge rock walls on both sides. There is a cave on the left side of the cliffs where sheep and goats gather. Right under an overhang of the cliff there is a tiny chapel, hugging the rock. It is surrounded by a small fence, protecting it from the four-legged barbarians.
To the right there are a couple of small houses. I wasn’t sure if there was anyone in there as they looked inhabited. At least one looked very well prepared for living – there was a water cistern and even a satellite dish.
And there was absolutely nowhere to pitch a tent.
I was seriously exhausted – I didn’t make much in terms of mileage but the hardship of the trail was severe. It was getting late and I had no idea if there were any other places to pitch a tent. The whole area at the opening of the gorge is covered in stones, rocks, and goats’ droppings. The gorge was also very rocky so I knew there was no sense to go back.
I tried to see what the trail looked like beyond the bay. Pretty soon I realized there was no way I could continue – the sea was very rough and I guess there was a high tide. The trail continues right next to the shore along huge rocks and boulders. The angry sea was hitting the rocks really hard with waves completely soaking the narrow passage. There was no way I could walk there and stay dry. I saw on the map that the trail goes along the coast for a while and I assumed (quite correctly) that there probably would be no safe camping spot in the near distance.
Which meant I had to stay at the bay for the night.
An unusual night shelter
I considered pitching the tent in front of the chapel – there was enough space but the flooring was rather unpleasant – it was covered with pebbles and rocks (but at least no goat droppings). The chapel was open – so I entered it. And as it was so nasty cold and windy outside, I decided to just stay in.
I was terrified someone could find me and see my behavior as disrespectful. But I really felt desperate. I put my tent on the floor as a protection from the dirty floor (there was a renovation at the chapel not long time before and there was a lot of dust everywhere) and made my camp there. Not too long after that, the skies opened and a serious storm rolled above me.
What else will you throw at me, Crete?
In the morning I was really slow to get going. My spirits were pretty low and I knew I was facing another hard and difficult day of hiking. Just this time I was pretty sure to get soaked with rain in addition to just sweat.
Just when I finally packed and moved on, I saw a guy standing in front of the small house. I smiled, he waved and I tried not to show how anxious it made me feel. I wondered what he thought of me and if he assumed I spent the night at the chapel.
I moved quickly toward the sea between cliffs and a huge rock. The waves were still beating on the rocky shore and I had to measure well the time to make my crossing to not be showered with them.
The trail goes over huge boulders and in between rocks, often completely wet and slippery.
Then it’s a slow walk on the beach made of pebbles and rocks, feet sinking into them with each step. The winds were getting even stronger and soon it started to rain. I had my rain jacket already on but very fast my legs were soaking and so I decided to put the rain pants on as well.
Which was not as easy as it sounds.
First of all – it’s not easy to put pants on in high winds at all. I had the kind of rain pants with zippers all the way down the legs. In theory that makes them easier to put on, as you don’t have to take your boots off. BUT. You need to unzip them from the bottom up which is not intuitive. So I did it the wrong way and then struggled (in high winds and pouring rain) to redo it, while the unzipped legs now freely danced all around me like a banner in the wind.
I must admit, there were some heavy cursing words expressed by me describing the whole situation.
I finally put them on, much too late to save my pants but at least it was much warmer and no risk of rainwater trickling into my boots.
You can do it, Ioanna, you have to do it!
The combination of very hard terrain, heavy winds and rains made the hiking exhausting. I was almost happy when I could finally leave the blasted beach (but oh, so beautiful!) and start climbing up the hill.
Soon I wanted to be back on the beach.
The climbing was very steep (again) and took forever. The soil under my feet was unstable and I had to be careful where to place my feet to avoid slipping. On and on up the hill, taking breaks to catch a breath or for another coughing attack.
The dramatic beauty of the Domata beach
Climbing in and out of gullies and small gorges I finally reached a hill from which I could see the famous Domata beach. I wished for a better weather but even under the gloomy and dark skies it made quite the impression.
The name of the beach comes from the spectacular shape of cliffs which cause the fantastic terraces covered in pine trees. From the hilltop the formation didn’t look as huge as when we get closer to it. In a way it looked a bit as if a huge space ship landed there and got covered with vegetation.
After a steep (as usual) descent to the beach I walked along the huge cliffs on dark grey sand and rocks. I can only imagine how different the experience must be during a sunny, summer day!
After reaching the end of the beach, a very long and tiring climbs begin. I can’t even describe how hard it was, I had to speak to myself to add a bit of courage. There were moments I wanted to cry and just stop. But there was no way to do it – no flat area to pitch a tent, no water source, and no shelter. The only option was to move on to Agia Roumeli and hope I could stay there or catch a ferry.
I had to stop to rest every few meters and each false summit caused a small heartbreak.
The village at the end of the trail
Finally – I did it. I reached the hilltop and could see the tiny village of Agia Roumeli at the bottom. There was even a blasted rainbow over it to add to the drama. The route to reach it was cruel. Winding up and down, never leading directly toward the goal.
My legs were shaking and I couldn’t trust them when descending, I thought my knees would just give in with the next step. Multiple times I slipped on the loose gravel and caught my balance in last second but with painful muscles stretches or wrist twisting (when using trekking poles to catch myself).
Check out some of the gear that got me through Crete below:
Agia Roumeli seemed another ghost village. Hotels and taverns closed shut, no human anywhere. I was closed to tears – I had no strength to move on, I hoped to catch a ferry (there was a tiny port there) because I was done with this coastal walking. Finally, when I reached the port I saw some people in a tavern! A woman inside saw me and started to wave to a man sitting by the doors to open them and let me in.
I knew then what happiness was.
It looked like it was one family (three generations) and maybe one or two neighbors. I wandered if there was anyone else in the village. All gathered in the tavern by the tv and a wood burning fireplace.
They looked at me funny (can’t blame them) and I finally sat down in a big, comfy arm chair.
I inquired about a ferry but they said the seas were too rough, no ferry this day. So I asked about rooms. They had one. I didn’t have to know anything else.
I slept for 11 h that night.
My initial thought was to catch the ferry the next day and go to Chora Sfakion and be done with this coastal hiking. But then, I read the trail description ahead of me and it looked like I have already done the hardest part. So instead of quitting here, I took another night in this lovely place to rest and then walk on.
The next day I just rested – I slept for another 4h during the day!
I can highly recommend visiting and staying in Agia Roumeli – what a lovely village! There is no road reaching it – you can get there by boat or on foot. It is most famous for being at the opening to the Samaria Gorge and you might want to consider the two trails. As I was there in January, the Samaria Gorge was closed for the season.
Should you hike this section of E4?
Do I recommend the trail? YES! – but. It’s a great, challenging trail for fit, experienced hikers. I was not fit, battling infection, and only somewhat experienced. I also hiked in January with very short days. It’s not a light day hike and in a bad weather could be even dangerous.
If you want to hike it – prepare well - take a lot of water, wear very good, sturdy hiking boots (the terrain is really harsh and I think hiking shoes might not be good enough), and use trekking poles. There are sections in the forest but also a lot of open, exposed walking – which can be difficult in high temperatures or high winds.
All the hardships reward you with stunning views of less-known Crete, the dramatic coastal line made of huge rocks, cliffs, and mountains, as well as with tremendous satisfaction upon completing it.
Sougia - Tripiti - Agia Roumeli
Distance: 22 km
Height gained: about 2100 m
Height lost: about 2100 m