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28 November 2011

Hiking Flambouritsa

7 hours over sticks and stones
Our group at lunch break

Yesterday I was out with the "Krystallis" mountain club, hiking the Flambouritsa glen (in the Zyria area, near Trikala. We were 14 people, which is a nice group size. The hike was simple, without any difficult terrain really, but with a some stretches where the path was covered with loose stones. All that was easily forgotten, because of the great weather we had. Sunshine and a clear blue sky, cool air without any wind, just enough haze in the air to make photography interesting.

We basically made a round trip, passing alongside the glen on top of the edge at first, then on the upper end, descending down and returning next to the stream (which didn't have any water) to our starting point. At the point where we came down, there was kind of a wide valley housing what were said to be wild horses. I don't know if they are really so wild, but you can see them as little specs in the picture above. We were having our lunch break in viewing distance of them.

Along with me I had my trusty old Firstflex, with some Fuji 400H (color negative) and Kodak Tri-X (black+white). Those pictures obviously aren't developed yet, the picture above was taken with a Lumix FT-3, which has replaced my broken Pentax W60. The Lumix is good for image quality and ruggedness, but the software is nothing to write home about. Basically all you get is "push that button and hope for the best".

We were out and about for roughly seven hours. After the hike everybody stormed a local taverna. Lots of food was eaten, lots of old and new stories were told and the sore feed could relax a bit. Then everybody drove home to Athens. Judging from myself, this was followed by some good and deep sleep.

Posted by betabug at 10:33 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)
12 December 2011

A short hike at Grammeni Oxia

With the Krystallis mountain club
Above the Grammeni Oxia hut, when the fog cleared

The weekend I was out of town with the Krystallis moutain club. We were at the Grammeni Oxia (Γραμμένη Οξυά) hut in central Greece. We arrived Saturday, with the last bit of light. The road and hut were in fog, we were inside the clouds. Not much chance for photography. I had pondered long to take the Arca with me, but in the end I didn't and it was a good choice. In that weather, there wouldn't have been much to do for it.

The hut keeper had started to warm up the hut and we were warming us up in front of the fireplace. After some time (which we used to eat a "snack"), the rest of the group arrived, we were now 11. Once they were firmly installed in front of the fireplace too, the eating started in earnest. After having had a good dinner and nice evening, I grabbed my sleeping bag and bivouac bag and went outside the hut. I had decided I'd leave the heat of the sleeping quarters behind and test out my old bivouac bag. I slept warm and cozy in the fog. Not a trace of being wet and cold, even in drizzling fog.

On Sunday morning we ventured out to go for the "summit" of Grammeni Oxia. The weather wasn't in our favour at all. There was a thick fog, with lots of winds. Basically we were in the clouds, which were pushed around by a strong wind. Personally I was dressed very appropriately, I wasn't cold at all. After about an hour though, it was clear that going on wasn't any use. Part of our group wasn't very experienced nor well trained and we didn't want to risk any detours due to the fog nor any exhausted people due to the cold. So insted we turned around. In lower areas, the fog had lifted (which is where I took that picture).

We hiked a bit along the rough road leading to the hut, in order to appreciate the forest. I took a few pictures with the Firstflex, on Tri-X black+white film. Then we went back to Athens, having a good lunch all together in a taverna on the way.

Posted by betabug at 10:37 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
09 January 2012

Parnitha in Winter with Company from E.DAS.A.

With people from ΕΔΑΣΑ - Forest Protection Volunteers of Attica
Towards noon the snow already started to retreat partially

Yesterday, we were out hiking in the Parnitha mountains with a group of people from ΕΔΑΣΑ (E.DAS.A. Volunteers Of Forest Fire-Watching Of Attica). We took the gondola lift up to the casino, complete with plush carpets and gilt framed mirrors. Then we went out into the cold...

Snowflake on jacket sleeve

There was light snow and a fine, cold wind. We hiked out towards the Flambouri hut, first going through the areas of Parnitha that were burned down in 2007, then through still forested parts. Despite the cold weather, most of us soon felt warm and sweaty, so some layers of clothing had to go back into the packs. We then went on a round-trip around the area.

I had the Firstflex with me and shot two rolls of Tri-X. I mostly concentrated on shapes and interesting renditions of snow, rocks, and trees. As usual, many, many times I looked through the viewfinder, very few times I actually took a picture. We also had the Panasonic Lumix FT-3 with us, which showed not even the slightest bit of being touched by the cold weather. It just worked. The battery lasted without problem (in my experience so far, the only way to bring the battery to its knees is to turn on the GPS).

At some point someone noticed that cold, fresh snowflakes could be seen nicely on our jackets and gloves. We experimented a bit taking macro shots with the Lumix. I think they came out almost acceptable. The biggest problem was that everybody was moving, so keeping things in focus was a matter of luck.

Reforestation, trees planted in 2008

Both at the Flambouri hut and at the Buffy hut there were huge crowds of people. At the Flambouri hut there was the cutting of the Vasilopita of the Aharnon mountain club, while the Buffy hut was simply overrun by Athenians going to see some snow. Passing both huts, we didn't stop except for brief rests and went on into the trees.

After a long, good hike we turned back in the direction of the (truly ugly) Casino in its belt of burned forest. The sun started to come out a little bit and were able to see the carnage around us in nice light. On the positive side, we enjoyed looking at the little trees peeping out all through the burned stumps. They are the result of reforestation efforts. The E.DAS.A. guys were justly proud of those young trees.

We also saw the road passing the Casino and going to the huts, with lots of Athenians driving up there for food or coffee. It's not that there's never snow in Athens, but it's rare. So people decided that this Sunday is a good chance to see some. We just hope that they came down safely again, as we expected roads to freeze over in the evening. Ourselves, we took the gondola down again (seeing some mountain goats). As usual, we summed up the days hike with some good food in a taverna on the way back.

Athenians drive through burned down forrests to see some snow

Posted by betabug at 19:53 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
24 March 2012

Hiking to the Ziria Peak

Snowy mountains
View on the way up to the peak

Winter is over down here, but in the mountains there was some snow left last weekend. I was with the alpine club "Cristallis" hiking to the top of the Ζήρεια (Ziria) mountains, on the Peloponnese.

On Saturday we went to the hut, where one group had arrived earlier. As soon as I came in, I started getting busy, as I had promised to do swiss "Chäshörnli" for everybody. (Recipe in Greek) This is a dish of pasta with swiss Emmentaler cheese, served with apple sauce. I had prepared the apple sauce the evening before (and carried it up to the hut, but there wasn't so much of it). Now I cooked the pasta, while the others raffled the cheese and cut the onions.

Then I did the "frying in the pan" thing, preparing the meal for the ten of us. It was a bit of a challenge, as the only usable pan in the hut was a dented aluminium thing. Most of the cheese probably got stuck to the pan, not to the pasta. We had a good evening anyway. Later I went to sleep outside, since I'm not so fond of sleeping in large quarters, while I enjoy sleeping under the stars. In fact I woke up at night some times, gazed at the stars and wondered how I should manage to fall asleep again with such a view.

Next morning we went up to the peak, approximately 700m of height difference (2376m). There was a bit of snow. Since the day before a large group had been to the peak, there were a lot of steps frozen into the snow, which made choosing your steps sometimes a bit complicated. Anyway, we got up there, all the time enjoying a great view all around. The sun was shining, the air was pretty much clear. We got back safe and happy, headed to the traditional taverna and then back to Athens. I sure have seen enough snow this winter, but this weekend was fun.

Posted by betabug at 12:08 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
27 November 2012

Across Parnitha

Walking all over

Last weekend I was out with the Krystallis mountain club. We were crossing the Parnitha mountains near Athens. After a bit of a confused journey by public transport and with the help of some of the others, we reached the starting point. From there we started by going up the "Houni" valley on Saturday. I've been going up that path a few times before and it isn't that difficult. But apparently I'm totally out of shape, so I had a tough time. We had dinner and slept at the Bafi hut. I'm not much of a hut sleeper, but a pair of earplugs helped me get some rest anyway.

On Sunday we started out at 8:30 in the morning and we went across Parnitha. Passing by some places that I've been to before, but mostly by areas that I'd never seen, we arrived on the other side, at Avlona. I felt a bit better, but still didn't have too much power reserves. At the end I was quite tired. In Avlona we took the train that brought us back to Athens, switching to the Metro system in Larissa station and from there back home in record breaking time. Train travel is such a joy!

Now for two days, my legs are hurting. I really need to catch up on my sports program. "Totally out of shape" doesn't describe it enough.

Posted by betabug at 22:59 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
14 February 2013

Sleeping in the Snow

A soft, white blanket
Waking up in the snow

Last weekend I was out hiking with the folks from the Krystallis Mountain club. The plan was to go to the peak of Mount Taygettus, but that didn't happen. There was way too much snow, and since there was a layer of iced over snow two weeks old underneath the fresh snow, the risk of avalanches was too high. In fact, on the way up to the hut, while safe inside the woods, we heard the rumble of what I presume must have been an avalanche.

It snowed all the way up, small, hard flakes. Powder snow that was easy to tread, and not yet so deep as to be tiresome. All in all a good time. Arriving at the hut, we were welcomed by the people from the Spartan mountain club. We had a nice evening there, with some simple food and lots of laughter and stories. When I started to feel tired, I packed up my things and... went outside into the snow to sleep.

I had brought my norwegian sleeping bag, a goretex biwi bag (which the salesman told me would last two years or so and that was more than 20 years ago), and a borrowed hiking mattress. I stomped through the fresh snow to a nearby tree and lay out my bed. I also had a nylon rain poncho, which I tied to the tree, to fend off a bit of the snow that was still falling thick. That didn't work out so well, since I had nowhere to tie it to at the other end, so it would more annoy me from flapping around in the occasional wind gusts. In the end I rolled it around the bag with my shoes and give them a bit more protection. Dry feet in the morning are a good thing too. After unfolding the mattress, the biwi bag, stuffing in the sleeping bag, taking off my shoes without stepping into the snow with socks only and finally getting into bed and taking off my jacket, laying it under my head as a cushion, I had turned from tired and sleepy to wide awake again. So I was lying there, contemplating how I would sleep in the cold. I would guess the temperature to have been about -3C. The first result was that my feet who were quite frozen from the cold floor in the hut started to warm up and feel cozy again. Good start.

More of a problem was the snow that kept blowing into the opening of the biwi bag over my face. As I had given up on the ponche "roof", I decided to close the biwi's zip. That's always a bit claustrophobic, but I'd done it before and it was ok. Turns out either something had changed in all those years with the goretex, or else I hadn't had it closed for so long. After a while I was getting short of breath. I kept waking up breathing rapidly and having to open the zip. Each time I got in a good portion of snow. In the end I opened a tiny "hole" in the zip, to the side that was most away from the blowing snow. (Update: after further thinking I now guess that the problem was that the pores of the goretex were closed by frozen water, so the air wasn't getting through any more.)

I heard the hard snow "clicking" on the biwi bag all night. When it stopped snowing for some time, the snow from my tree would start to fall down. I liked that sound. Then the wind would pick up again, throwing the nylon poncho around and blowing more snow over me.

The snow was also much softer to sleep on than the hard ground when it's dry. The problem was that the snow got inbetween the biwi bag and the mattress, and the mattress froze over. It started to got cold from below me. My feet and the top side of me were perfectly warm. Even my head was warm, despite the sleeping bag around the opening being all wet from the snow that had blown in. The sleeping bag held up very well, none of that humitidy reached me. That's one point for synthetic sleeping bags (you carry that in extra weight compared to a down sleeping bag though). The cold from below had me worried a bit, but then I knew that the night wouldn't be that long. I guess the next time I'll try to put the mattress inside the biwi bag.

Despite those troubles, I had a good rest. I woke up a lot, but I also had long stretches of relaxed sleep. I did feel refreshed and not tired at all in the morning. I had a good time with my little adventure. Obviously in the morning I praised the comfort of being next to the hut. I could just get out and drag the whole mess of sleeping bag, biwi, and mattress to the hut, to let it thaw and dry out a bit in the entrance room, while I had some breakfast myself. Not the same thing if you're on a hike and have to do an emergency bivouac and having to pack up while in the midst of fresh snow and more snow falling on you. I guess it's a good idea to give this kind of thing a try at a place and time when you can bang on the door of the hut and get inside if anything goes wrong.

So, the next day, instead of going to the peak, we went on a small excursion on the E4 hiking path near the hut, well in the protective forest. Plenty of snow, with the sun coming through the clouds again. Took some pictures too, this was a cool weekend hike.

Picture by Rika Krithara

Posted by betabug at 20:26 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
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