Artotina to Ano Mousounitsa: Disaster!

Vardhousia peaks

“Help! Help! Jane!” There was panic in Alan’s voice. Had he fallen and broken a leg or ankle? I remembered the words of warning in the Mountains of Greece guide: “There is no mountain rescue, so don’t have an accident.”

E4 to Ano Mousounitsa

It had been a difficult walk. The sun had shone after all, and the spiky crags of Vardhousia were clearly visible. But we’d left late, and then I forgot my hiking pole and had to go back to get it. We weren’t finally on the way until 10 o’clock. In view of the weather, we’d chosen the easier of two routes, the E4, which seemed to be well-waymarked, rather than the  higher level Mousounitsiotiki Dhiasela route.

E4 to Ano MousounitsaAt first, it was easy going: a soft mossy path through deciduous woods, then conifers. But by early afternoon, the bright sunshine had gone, and mist swirled up above. The waymarking was not so good, the path was obscured by fallen trees, and there were stretches of scree with a steep drop below. We lost the way a few times, and had to fan out to find the waymarks again. But somebody had recently cut back the worst of the prickly juniper, and the cut branches helped mark the way.

So we’d made it through the hardest stretch of footpath and only had a kilometre to go to reach the dirt track to Ano Mousounitsa, when I heard Alan’s cries for help. I made my way back. He was lying spread-eagled on his back, covered in blood, at the bottom of a stony slope. All the skin had been scraped off the back of his right hand, which was a mass of blood and flesh. I could see all the tendons laid bare. His face was a mess, too, with cuts around his eyes and nose, and a bad nosebleed. “Keep calm, don’t panic!” I told myself, pushing all emotion to the back of my mind. At least, he was conscious and there didn’t seem to be any more serious damage.

We didn’t have enough water to make any attempt at cleaning the wound, so all I could do was try to stop the bleeding and cover it. I fumbled among the blister plasters in the first aid kit to find the largest dressing and attached it with a crepe bandage. Blood still welled out around the fingers: another dressing there. We sat there for a while, to calm down, and Alan took a couple of ibuprofen.

What had happened? Quite simply, he’d stopped to take his backpack off. It had fallen, he’d leant forward to catch it, and found himself running down the slope before falling headlong. The back pack had come to rest beside him, and his glasses, hiking pole and hat were scattered nearby. He really was too old for scree running…..

By this time, it was four o’clock, the fog had come down again and we only had a couple of hours till it got dark. We stopped at the first sheepfold on the dirt road to ask if there was any chance of a lift to the village. No, he was on his own and couldn’t leave his sheep for fear of wolves. We had thirteen kilometres to go. The next shepherd was an Albanian: we knew he wouldn’t have his own pick-up. His boss had left for the village only an hour before. “Careful, they’ll bite you,” he said, as he walked us past his dogs, some of the fiercest we’d encountered – or perhaps they could smell the blood and fear. “People like you shouldn’t be out on these mountains,” he added. “And it’s a long way down to the village.” I didn’t tell him we’d walked all the way from the North.

E4 track to Ano Mousounitsa

At last, we came to another sheepfold, where two pick-ups were parked and two women were rounding up the sheep for the night. They promised to pick us up later on their way down to the village, and we left hurriedly as the dogs closed in again, little deterred by stones. The track wound down in endless zigzags through the cold, damp gloom. We didn’t dare take the occasional E4 waymarked short-cuts in case we lost the way or missed our lift. It was fully dark by the time one of the pick-ups appeared and gave us a lift the final few kilometres.

Alan was a gory sight when we walked into the taverna at Ano Mousounitsa. He disappeared into the toilets to clean up as best he could, while I ordered mountain tea and organised a taxi to the hospital at Amfissa, eighty kilometres away. The nearest taxi driver was busy, so one would have to come from fifty kilometres away. We finally reached Amfissa hospital at ten thirty pm. It had been nearly seven hours since the accident.

It was Saturday night, but there were no queues and the staff swung immediately into action: cleaned the wound, stitched it up, dressed it, gave Alan a penicillin injection and a prescription for more antibiotics and a tetanus jab the next day. The taxi driver had very
kindly insisted on waiting, and delivered us to the only hotel in town. It was midnight when we reached our room, and collapsed into each other’s arms, exhausted and limp with relief.

We spent three nights in Amfissa, a quiet provincial town, set amid an olive ‘forest’, not far from Delphi. Alan went back to the hospital each day to check for infection, and have his dressing changed. It would be at least two weeks, if not more, before the stitches could come out, and in the meantime he needed to have the dressing changed regularly. Carrying on walking was not an option. We caught the bus back to our home in Kalamata.

E4 below Vardhousia

IMG_1485The route: Combination of dirt track
and footpath, although the  path in the hardest section is occasionally obscured by fallen trees, and with some steep drops and scree slopes. Mostly well IMG_1482waymarked with E4 signs as well as drinks cans! Tough but glorious walking. Water clearly signed below the Piramida peak, as well as from the Evinos river. Kilometres: 24 (lift for about 5km).   Ascent: 870m  Descent: 1002m. Map: Anavasi 2.3. Giona,Iti, Vardhousia.

Facilities:  Tavernas and guest houses at Ano Mousounitsa (also known as Athanasios Diakos).

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