There were quite a few scary moments on our walk: encounters with ferocious dogs, suspected bears, precipitous paths and scree slopes. But I think what frightened me most were the thunderstorms, spectacular though they were. The usual advice is to make sure you reach shelter before the storm starts, but that’s not much consolation if you’re miles from the nearest village.
We were on the Triantafilia ridge, well above a thousand metres, when the drizzle started, turning rapidly to a downpour. We could hear thunder in the distance, and retreated fast to a copse of massive beeches just below the ridge line, throwing our metal hiking poles away to one side. We huddled together for warmth and protection, shifting round one of the vast trunks to escape the full force of the rain. It started to hail. Thunder and lightning swirled around us, with the storm coming from first one direction then another. I knew we shouldn’t sit under trees in a thunderstorm, but it would have been even more risky higher up on the open ridge. Clouds had closed in on all sides, and looking down we could see little. There were no signs of any shelter. Despite our waterproofs, we were soaked through and getting cold. What a good thing Veryan was safe down in the valleys! She felt the cold more than either of us.
We’d asked about the weather in Drosopigi, the little village down below. An old man had invited us to stop for a drink of tsipouro, with home-grown walnuts and tomatoes. “Do you think it will rain?” we asked, looking a little nervously at the gathering clouds and keen to make the most of local knowledge. “No, no,” he reassured us. “Perhaps a fifteen minute shower, nothing much.” Since there was nowhere to stay in Drosopigi and it was still early, we carried on. So much for local knowledge, I thought ruefully.
At last the storm started to ease a little. We were both so cold that I began to worry about exposure. We had to find a more sheltered spot to camp and get warm. As the clouds lightened, Alan spotted a red roof in the distance, maybe half a mile down the mountain. It turned out to be a sheepshed, well built with concrete walls and a tin roof. Even better, no sheep were in residence, and obviously hadn’t been since the previous summer. The floor was covered in sheep droppings, but they were old and dry, with a few weeds pushing up through. In one corner was the remains of a fire and an old sardine tin. Perfect!
We soon had the campfire going, using bits of old half-burnt firewood. We made a cup of tea, finished off Navsicaa’s packed lunch and started to feel warm again. Sweeping an area of floor as clean as we could, we put the tent up. By this time the rain had almost stopped and we could hear the sound of a vehicle, sheep bells and voices in the distance. Regardless, we snuggled in to our sleeping bags and were soon asleep. I woke up once, remembering that I hadn’t drawn the wire barrier across at the back of the shelter, and wondered if a dog would get in and attack us while we slept.
The route: Tarred road to Drosopigi, then dirt tracks up through the forest, with some footpath shortcuts. Occasional waymarks for the national O3 long distance path, starting from the main road. Water at Drosopigi. Kilometres: 21. Ascent 903m Descent 109m. Map: Anavasi 3.3 Gramos Smolikas Voio Vasilitsa.
Facilities: Cafes at Drosopigi, but no shop or guesthouse, although the Brotherhood of Drosopigi is planning to build one.