Lago-Naki & Mount Fisht, Russia

Earlier this week, we took a 3-day backpacking trip through Lago-Naki in the Republic of Adygea, Russia.  Lago-Naki (part of the Caucasian State Nature Biosphere Reserve) has world-class scenery which includes mountains, alpine meadows, wildlife, glaciers, and extensive trails.  I will explain this area in more detail and what brought me here (for the second time) in my upcoming double trip report.  During our backpacking loop, we passed by three major peaks — Mount Oshten, Mount Pshekha-Su, and Mount Fisht.  On the second night, we stayed at Fisht Camp.  The next day, we did a side hike to Mount Fisht, ending our hike 30 minutes from the summit due to glacier safety concerns.  I will explain more about this in the report, but in order to reach the summit of Mount Fisht, a large glacier must be crossed near the end of the hike.  An online resource claimed that the only things necessary to cross this glacier were “good shoes and perhaps a walking stick with a pointed end”.  After we had completely crossed the glacier (with crampons on), we looked back and saw that we had passed by a couple major crevasses and that the glacier crossing was actually dangerous without crampons, an ice axe, ropes, and the proper experience.  Thus, instead of continuing to the nearby summit, we noticed that another group was about to cross back over the glacier with all the proper equipment and we joined up with them, being tied into their safety ropes.  Safely getting back across the glacier was much more important to us then reaching the fogged-in summit just to say we were there.  Outside of the glacier safety issues, we had a wonderful trip through a beautiful area that few westerners have ever seen.  In fact, several Russians hiking in the area were shocked to see an American in the park.  Joining me on this hike were local Russian friends Konstantin and Oleg, who have both visited us in California.

Konstantin and Oleg backpacking towards Mount Pshekha-Su on the Lago-Naki Plateau

Konstantin and Oleg backpacking towards Mount Oshten on the Lago-Naki Plateau

Steve pictured with Mount Pshekha-Su in the background

Steve pictured with Mount Pshekha-Su in the background

Oleg and Konstantin on the hike down from a pass to Fisht Camp

Oleg and Konstantin on the hike down from a pass to Fisht Camp

Mount Fisht and Fisht Glacier as seen on our day hike

Mount Fisht and Fisht Glacier as seen on our day hike

Crete Day 6 — Aradena Gorge

Our final hike in Crete proved to be my personal favorite.  From Chora Sfakion (known locally as Sfakia), we caught a taxi to the head of the gorge, hiked all the way down through the mouth, and arrived at Marmara Beach and the Libyan Sea.  Highlights of the hike for us included crossing over and under the iron Aradena Bridge, exploring the abandoned village of Aradena, carefully hiking down the 1st Kalderimi, seeing the colorful and narrow canyon (and plentiful Cretan wild goats doing stunts), checking out the old rockfall ladder and newer bypass, arriving at the Libyan Sea and enjoying a cold beer, and hiking along the sea cliffs to Loutro.  As you can see, there will be a lot to talk about in my report.  I’m including one bonus picture of Loutro, which turned out to be my favorite village in Crete and the place where the hike ended.  The next day, we spent the day relaxing at Elafonisi Beach in Crete and then continued on in our trip by visiting Ephesus, Turkey.

Steve at the 1st Kalerimi above Aradena Gorge

Steve at the 1st Kalderimi above Aradena Gorge

Looking up at the famous Aradena Bridge

Looking up at the famous Aradena Bridge spanning the gorge

Looking back into the mouth of the gorge from Marmara Beach

Looking back into the mouth of the gorge from Marmara Beach

Our hike ended in the small village of Loutro after an extra hour of hiking

Our hike ended in the scenic village of Loutro after an extra hour of hiking

Crete Day 5 — Imbros Gorge

The only family hike which we did on this trip was through Imbros Gorge.  In the morning, we took our rental car on a car ferry from Sougia to Chora Sfakion in order to save 3+ hours of driving through the mountains.  We then did our hike through Imbros Gorge, which featured a continuously narrow canyon for most of the route.  It was quite an impressive canyon and Daria and her friend Alesya thoroughly enjoyed it.  The weather also finally cooled off slightly which was a big plus.

Daria and Alesya in the first section of slot narrows

Daria and Alesya in the first section of slot narrows

Steve and Stefan in the second section of slot narrows

Steve and Stefan in the second section of slot narrows

Imbros Gorge features a major natural bridge near the end of the canyon

Imbros Gorge features a major natural bridge near the end of the canyon

Crete Day 4 — Samaria Gorge

Our fourth day of hiking took us into Crete’s most famous gorge… Samaria Gorge.  Carrying out the hike involves using a combination of buses and ferries, which I will explain more about in the trip report later.  The hike was outstanding and it was easy to see why hiking Samaria Gorge is one of the most popular tourist activities on the island.  Samaria Gorge easily rivals the canyons in places like Zion back home for pure scenic beauty on a grand scale.  As in all of the gorges here, Cretan wild goats are the most frequent wildlife spotted along the trail.

Cretan wild goats are found frequently along the trail

Cretan wild goats are found frequently along the trail

The beginning of the lengthy high narrows starts about 10km into the hike

The beginning of the lengthy high narrows starts about 10km into the hike

The highly photographed Iron Gates marks the end to the narrows near the mouth of the gorge

The highly photographed Iron Gates mark the end to the narrows near the mouth of the gorge

Crete Day 3 — Agia Irini Gorge

For our third day, we moved over to the wonderful small village of Sougia in southwest Crete.  The gorges along the southwest coast can all be hiked one-way with a little bit of creativity and planning.  We are down in this area now to hike what I call “The Big 4”, referring to the four major most well-known gorges of Crete.  The first of these was Agia Irini Gorge.  After securing a ride back to our hotel from the exit point of the gorge, we caught a taxi up to the head of the gorge and began hiking down it.  Agia Irini Gorge lacked the slot narrows which were found in our first two hikes, but more than made up for it with spectacular wilderness scenery.  An abundance of trees and high cliffs were all around us.  It was a very beautiful hike.

A mix of forest and canyon hiking in Agia Irini Gorge

A mix of forest and canyon hiking in Agia Irini Gorge

Steve pictured overlooking the middle portion of the gorge

Steve pictured overlooking the middle portion of the gorge

The lower gorge tightens up quite a bit

The lower gorge tightens up quite a bit but there are no slots

Crete Day 2 — Sarakina Gorge

For our second day of hiking, we drove one hour away, passing through Ierapetra, Myrtos, and Mythi on our way to Sarakina Gorge.  Sarakina Gorge had even more impressive narrows than Kritsa.  We were unable to find our way into the upper canyon but still enjoyed the hike immensely.  On the loop portion of the hike back, we happened to pass by wild grapes so we picked a couple bunches and it gave us an amazing boost in the midst of the intense heat.  To cool off, I also took a dip in the Myrtos River, which flows quite nicely beyond the end of the lower gorge.  So far, we have been very impressed with our first two canyons in Crete.

The 2nd Narrows of Sarakina Gorge

The 2nd Narrows of Sarakina Gorge

Breathtaking scenery within the narrows of Sarakina Gorge

Breathtaking scenery within the narrows of Sarakina Gorge