Ha - The King of Cretan Gorges
One dominant feature of the area of Ierapetra, in front of the beautiful village of Vassiliki is the so-called "King of Cretan Gorges", the Ha Gorge. It is considered the fifth most beautiful gorge in Europe and one of the wildest gorges in Crete, a rare morphological phenomenon of nature, probably caused by tectonic earthquake. It’s also one of the bigger gorges in Europe with a height of 700 m and a basis opening of 8 m.
It remains a virgin environment, untouched by man, who still finds its formation prohibitive for exploration or development. The intense parallel colours on the rocks are impressive, too.
The entrance of the gorge is very narrow, about 3 m and opens on the top. Its width in many parts is only 30 cm and in others no more than 3 m. To the left and right stand huge stone walls 200 – 400 m high. Its length is about 1 km. Right before the entrance there is a pond, created by a small waterfall that comes from another lake above. This is not visible from the root of the mountain but you can marvel at it once you climb a few rocks carefully.
As you reach the inside you can see many small ponds and waterfalls, especially in the wintertime, which is the best time to visit the gorge. As you proceed inside you are filled with awe, as huge rocks, cut in square or rectangle blocks shadow the small valley, you just left behind.
A few years ago, the mountain of Thrypti was overgrown with pine trees, a true ornament to all Crete. The largest part of the forest was burned down in 1984 and 1987. However the ability of the certain species (pinus Brutia) to regenerate fast and endure drought would very quickly offer full restoration, if it wasn't for the illegal herding of sheep and goats. Apart from pine trees, there are also many other species, trees and bushes, aromatic plants and flowers. Many rare and endangered plant species are sheltered in the gorge.
The area inside and around the gorge is a very important wildlife habitat. The small ponds draw many migrant birds, but also endemic birds and mammals, insects and serpents offering them food and shelter. The Cretan hare, the Cretan weasel (kalogynaikari) and the Cretan badger are quite common. A rodent of the African fauna has been observed and has not been seen anywhere else in Europe: the spiny mouse, which looks like a common mouse, with brown fur, white on the belly and with spikes on its back and sides like the hedgehog. The hedgehog is also quite common and is protected by national law. In the gorge many species of bat are also hosted.
Several predatory birds and vultures live in the area of Thrypti, as well as smaller birds, like the duck hawk, the partridge, the quail, woodcocks, red nightingales and crows. The number of species is significant, but the numbers of the individuals are decreasing, due to the gradual domination of man on their natural habitat. Illegal hunting, passing cars and poisoning from pesticide pose a serious threat to all of them.
Very few experienced climbers have crossed it. Any attempt without the experience or the equipment could prove fatal, as it happened in the past. If you decide to climb it, a neoprene outfit could prove necessary. All in all the abseils in the Ha Gorge number 26 of a length varying from 10 to 45 m. You will probably have to swim about 6-8 times in the gorge.
Some technical matters about the Cha Gorge: Special attention is required at the belays that are not secured with bolts. During the descent maintain some belays and place some securities like slings, karabiners 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!
We 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 proceeded. 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. 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. Have a good climb down!
Ha Gorge Map
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How to get there: Follow the national road from Heraklion 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 Thrypti) for 10 km. A small 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.