Stomiou Monastery to Astrakas refuge: To the alpine meadows

Wild cranesbills It was an idyllic morning, with bright sunshine once again. As we drank our breakfast coffee, we could make out two deer very faintly on the far promontory. The cuckoo, whose call had accompanied us since Florina, was already hard at work, and there was the occasional cry of an eagle or sound of a woodpecker. It was too high and steep for any forestry extraction, and there were plenty of gnarled dead trees all around. Pink geraniums scrambled around the grey white rocks. These are the perfect moments that I love about wild camping.

Narrow path to Astrakas The cliffs towered high above us, and as we followed the narrow path, it seemed impossible that we would find a way up through them to the sun-lit snowdrifts and meadows we could see above. But there was never any doubt about the route: the waymarks were excellent.Up through the cragsOur only worry was water, as we had just a litre left between us. Luckily, as we started the steepest part of the climb up a dark and rocky ravine, there was an ice cold stream, with little pools and waterfalls. Perfect for a rest and morning wash.Alpine plateauAt last we came out into Sound of Music country, past clumps of irises and foxtail lilies. There was a brook running down through the meadows, almost encircled by the spectacular peaks above. Through the gap behind us we could see the distant mountains along the Albanian border. There were three alpine tarns, the first bright green with reeds and rushes and a small patch of clear water.  It was alive with dragonflies and butterflies, and suddenly a frog revving up.  The other two were higher up, more barren with stony sides and already drying up.  Another hour’s walk further up through the folds of the mountain was the Gamila Dragon Lake. We’d already visited two dragon lakes, and decided to give this one a miss. Instead, we climbed the long stony path up to the refuge, perched on the saddle above the third tarn. Above us, the choughs wheeled and swooped.View from Astrakas refugeThe route: Very steep path with some scree and scrambling over rocks, but never dangerously precipitous. There is then a pleasant track through the alpine meadows, with a further steep climb to the refuge. Well waymarked, with a combination of orange splodges, yellow squares and cairns. No water between the Stomiou Monastery and the seasonal stream at Davalista. The lakes are also likely to be dry later in the year. Kilometres: 12.5. Ascent: 599m. Descent: 199m. Map: Anavasi 3.1. Zagori.

Facilities: The Astrakas refuge is open in summer and occasional winter weekends. Food and dormitory accommodation.

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