In our room in Vovousa, there were posters of Bear River (Arkoudhorema), with beautiful waterfalls – and bears, of course. But we’d been told by some of the Gamila hikers that the bridge further up had been washed away, and we were worried that the route might be impassable. Nobody seemed quite sure, and the promised local “expert” never appeared. Apparently, though, the route was now well-waymarked as part of the E6, after having been lost in the undergrowth for years. Illegal Albanian immigrants had started to use it in the 1990s, and had opened it up again.
It was a lovely walk, through woods and meadows along the Aoos river at first, with its inviting pools and little beaches tempting us to stop for a swim. No thanks, I thought. The water was still far too cold: one day I’d return in August. Then we turned east along the Bear River tributary, and into the Pindus National Park.
The path was soft with pine needles, running under gnarled and ancient trees, past moss-encrusted boulders. We imagined the bears peeping out at us. Unlike a commercial pine plantation, there was an understorey of oak and hornbeam, with orchids at the stream edges and sunlight streaking the grey trunks and bright green grass of the clearings. There was a deliciously cool breeze, and no habitation or road for miles.
In the late afternoon, we reached the spot where the two bridges shown on the map had been washed away. A selection of waymarks were painted on the rocks showing the best places to cross the stream. But since the riverbed changes in the spring floods each year, they weren’t much use. We took off our boots and picked our way over as best we could.
That’s where we should have stopped and camped. We were both getting tired, and I had just fallen flat on my face, bruising my head and hip. I was lucky it wasn’t on a more precipitous bit. But we didn’t have much food left and we wanted to get to Metsovo the next day, where there were shops, hotels and tavernas. “It’s only a few more kilometres to the Flenga Lakes,” said Alan. “Let’s push on. They’d be a lovely spot to camp.”
But the path now turned steeply up through heather, pines and beech. At eight o’clock we were still climbing, and hadn’t found a flat or open place to camp. It might have been only a few kilometres but it was over one thousand metres up. It was getting cold and would soon be dark. At long last we came to the tree line, with only a few enormous single pines breaking up the slopes above.We stopped briefly at an old shepherd’s encampment, but it was surrounded by rubbish, sordid among the grandeur of the peaks. At last, we pitched our tent just below the saddle, and cooked all our remaining food: pasta, tomato, cheese and lentils.
The sun had set behind the mountains, but they still reflected its golden glow. A new moon was rising. Under the giant pine beside the tent was a patch of yellow lilies with bright orange stamens. It always gives me a thrill to see cosseted English garden flowers growing in their natural profusion in the wild. A perfect moment.
The route: Well-marked path, E6 as far as the turn up to the Flenga Lakes. Some scree, especially along the Aoos, and some river crossings. Water from the river and two springs at the start of the climb, then a stream crossing the path just below the treeline. Kilometres: 29. Ascent 1314m. Descent 402m. Map: Anavasi 6.4. Valia Kalda
Facilities: Nothing between Vovousa and Metsovo.