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The Cha gorge

This is an article about canyoning in the gorge of Cha or Xa. Be aware that when me and my friends Antonis did the gorge there was minimal protection (I think one or two bolts) and we place ourselves all the belays with slings, nuts and friends. That has been made back in 1998 if I remember well. However, nodays the gorge is fully bolted and many canyoning schools passing it without issues. I haven't update the article as it is a story that I want to remember, especially those days where the term canyoning meant nothing to us wink

During my childhood, long before I started dealing with mountaineering and climbing, I often traveled with my family to southern Crete and specifically to the small village of Vainia, 2 km away from Ierapetra, which is my mother's birthplace. The 106 km long journey is really beautiful, except the first 40 km on the National Road. What has always been kept in my memory is the first time I saw the Ha (Cha or Xa) Gorge.

With its vertical, higher than 300 meter rocks and its 6-10 m width it is certainly one of the most impressive sights in the area, or better the most impressive one! Time passed-by and every summer I used to visit Vainia but the gorge was always in my mind.

Someday I must explore it, I've always thought. 15 years later here I am with my friend Antonis Papadakis in the bushy woods of Thrypti, buried in the tent, talking about Ha! The time had come! I felt so excited about what was expecting us in the gorge that I couldn't sleep. The same thing must have happened with my friend, so we kept chatting until one o'clock in the morning.

When I checked my watch the hands showed 1.05 am. My eyes were closing but my thoughts weren't, they still twisted in my mind. The first chirp of the birds was heard in the woods and at the first light we woke up. It was six o'clock and after a fast breakfast we stated packing.
A bit later we put on our neoprene outfit, which proved necessary, and we started walking. We started idly looking for the entrance of the gorge until we found a good tree trunk for the first abseil (climb down). At 8.50 the dream of my life had become true; I was inside the gorge!
The first outcry -wow! - was spontaneous, then Antonis came down and we started climbing down. Not further than 10 m away there came the second abseil. All in all the abseils in the Ha Gorge number 26 of a length varying from 10 to 45 m.
After having abseiled for about ten times there was a not so pleasant surprise for us: a wonderful overhang ending into a big silt! We could smell it stink even before abseiling from 35 m higher. After a brief discussion I started descending. In the end there was a lot of fun though it stank intensively, as the water was still and full of anything like dead pigeons, ravens etc.

If I remember well, we had to swim 6-8 times in the gorge in total but the second climber can avoid one or two times with some effort from the first one. Everything seemed to be normal and our pace was quite fast when trouble came! A rope was stuck during pulling it back. Our efforts to remove it were unsuccessful and, as a reasonable result, we cursed our luck! There was one single and simple solution to our problem: to cut the rope. Half-hearted Antonis climbed up some meters in order to cut as little as possible. Then the sound I heard broke my heart; scratch-scratch and 5 m of rope were gone, luckily not so many! With low moral but full attention we set off for the remaining part of the gorge. Abseils followed one another without any problems and then I heard something marvelous: That's all Stelios! They were Antonis's words, who was the first to go down the last abseil. Some moments later I was at the end, too. The questions about the Ha Gorge that I had been carrying for 15 years climbed down with me and vanished in the air
My impressions in two words divine, unique!

Some technical matters about the Cha Gorge:

  • Special attention is required as there are no bolts on belays. During our descent we maintened some belays and placed some securities like slings, carabiner etc.
  • Be extremely careful how you place and pull back the ropes to avoid being in trouble.
  • If there are two of you, you must have 3 ropes, 2 jumars, enough cords for prusik and securities and 5-6 pitons as well. If there are more of you, multiply the number!
  • The neoprene outfit is necessary except if you haven't taken a bath for two months!
  • In any case you should have a first aid kit with you and be aware of your allergies, as the gorge is full of insects and God knows of what else!
  • Don't forget your helmet! In case of a stone falling, however, you should be very lucky, as the gorge is quite narrow at some points it is no wider than 1.5 m.
  • As soon as you see or hear a stone falling, keep your fingers crossed!
  • I'd strongly advise you to inform the people who have already been there of your attempt they are only 7-8, don't worry! So, in case something goes wrong, your rescue is possible only by them, there is no other way. It's impossible to be rescued by the Fire Brigade, as, in such case, there will fall so many stones that you won't look the same when you get out!
  • Just take care not to destroy the pigeon eggs that are plenty in the gorge.
  • Take care when you finish some abseils in the water not to get enwrapped by the ropes. Therefore a proper gathering of the ropes is the first and the last thing you must have in mind.
  • Do not attempt to climb down the gorge if 15 days of sunshine haven't preceded.
  • At about 3/5 of the gorge there is a bolt from which you can abseil ending into a silt. Ignore it and traverse to the right as you come down, where you find another belay and avoid the water. Personally we didn't avoid it, as we didn't ignore the bolt!
  • Put on socks and shoes, not sandals! You must have already realized that after the first two abseils there is no return.
  • Don't go to the gorge if you don't grab it! Take special care when you take your rucksacks down! In general you must take into consideration that all abseils are partly or fully hangovers. That's all! If you are careful enough, everything will be all right and you will be left with a big, sweet smile at the end of the gorge, just like me.

How to get there:
Follow the national road from Iraklio to Agios Nikolaos and then to Ierapetra. In the Episkopi village you must follow the off road (ask anyone on the village about where is Thripti) for 10 km and we camp near a small church. The church is located on the left of the road and from there you can see the beginning of the Ha gorge. Then you must hike for 10 minutes until you'll do the first abseil.

Posted on: 06/05/2011 By: