Wiltrud and I were very fortunate to be driven up into the White Mountains by our friend Jean Bienvenu, a hiking guide and photographer who lives in the Chania area (https://www.west-crete.com/walking_hiki ... -walks.htm
). He was checking which flowers are out at the moment and scouting access for walks up there. He is very knowledgeable about mountain and alpine plants (many of which are endemic to the Lefka Ori), as well as the general environment, geology, and culture of the region.
The drive up affords wonderful views down to the Anopoli plateau and beyond, and into the wooded curves of the upper Ilingas gorge, with the southern buildings of Mouri just in view. The sky was hazy to the east, so we didn’t get any glimpses of Psiloritis.
We stopped in several places to check on the progress of fritillaries (only leaves so far), and peonies (only tight buds). The landscape as you go higher has wonderful Kermes oak trees (Quercus coccifera) sculpted by goats into weird patterns, as well as maples (Acer sempervirns) with their red fruits glistening in the sun, large centuries-old oak trees, junipers and gnarled Cretan cypress trees.
The snow fields blocked the road at Agathopi (before Amoutsara), so we started hiking across the snow and along the kaldirimi when it emerged.
Some of the first flowers to bloom after the snow melts are the delicate Crocus sieberi and lovely blue Scilla nana. We also saw some hyacinths just starting to come out and a few flowers of Anchusa cespitosa, which forms a cushion of blue when it is fully out; some edible wild greens, looking like flat dandelion leaves (we resisted the temptation to stop and collect some); lots of prostrate cherry (Prunus prostrata), some yellow Erysimum, Arabis alpina, a little patch of aubretia, Aethionema saxatile creticum (burnt candytuft), and other very small plants just in leaf or tight buds. The big surprise was an orchid (Orchis spitzelii nitidifolia) just starting to open at 1740 meters up! [flower photos further below]
The clouds kept coming and going as we ascended, and we were glad to have many layers of clothes on, as well as warm hats - it looked like we were on a skiing expedition at some stages! We branched off up above the dirt road at Amoutsara, as Jean B wanted to hike up to the top of Doxi (next to Kakovoli), but the snow field on the approach was at too steep an angle to do it safely. On the way up we stopped for a picnic and spotted a lone hiker coming down the path/snow field from the Roussies direction (we’d seen his car earlier). We looked for more flowers in the shelter of rocks and crags, finding some Alyssum sphacioticum (unique to these peaks).
There were birds twittering even at that altitude – we saw wheatears landing on the snow looking for insects – and we heard the call of partridges (chukars) and spotted several corvids (probably choughs). We were thrilled and awed when a huge Lammergeier glided over us in silence – it was the icing on the cake of the whole experience of being up in the wilds of the high mountains.