Rock of Scaros

13 Sep 2003 - by Reiner Stenzel

This is a trip report for mountaineers who appreciate history, culture and exotic nature. The place is a volcano in the Mediterranean, more precisely in the Greek Cyclades Islands. It may be the location of the mythical Greek city of Atlantis, which sank into the sea. Thousands of years ago the volcano exploded and a flourishing society vanished. The remaining crater rim now sticks out of the sea, forming the world's largest caldera. Ancient Thira is now called Santorini and again well populated. Most of the summer inhabitants are tourists who come for the sunshine, exotic landscape, and cultural events. I attended a conference on the island, but had plenty of time to explore the island. We lived in a small bungalow on the crater rim in a town called Firostefani, close to the high point of the island, Imerovigli. The houses are all whitewashed in stark contrast to the red-brown color of the volcano. They cling precariously to the steep slopes of the crater cliffs, which makes for fantastic views on the blue sea and the black-brown Center Island, which contains the active volcano. Colorful bougainvilleas add to the charm of the houses. There is still plenty of earthquake activity on these islands. Survivors of natural disasters often express their gratefulness by building small chapels on exposed places. These have beautiful architecture with white walls and blue-tiled domes. In Acrotiri one can visit archeological excavations of 3500-year old towns buried under 30 feet of pumice yet containing the most beautiful wall paintings. In Fira there are weekly concerts and interesting museums.

Next to the town of Imerovigli the crater rim protrudes into the sea forming the Rock of Scaros. Once upon a time there was a castle on this rock that was undefeated for 600 years but its ruins are now all gone. From the town there is a trail to the rock and to a small picturesque church on the western slopes of the rock. A side trail ends below the 30-foot summit rock. From there on it is a short class 3 scramble to the top. Few visitors make it. The view from the top is gorgeous. But this is not the end of the story. Earlier I had inquired with the locals about a path down the crater walls to the sea. They all smiled and said it is not possible because of vertical cliffs, unstable volcanic rock and random rockfall. Indeed, the 1000-foot crater rim looks formidable. But what is life without a challenge. In addition, the heat of the day calls for a dip into the Mediterranean. From Mt Scaros I spotted a possible chute on the north side of the rock. It leaves near the ruins of a small chapel near the trail. It seemed free from vertical cliff bands although one could not completely see down to the bottom. I thought it over, returned the next morning and headed down into the north chute before the sun heated up the lava rocks. No trail, no footsteps, plenty of loose soil, porous rocks and prickly plants. While descending, the rocks tumbled down and the dust rose but I was pretty sure nobody was below me. A flock of quails took suddenly off and I was not sure who scared whom more. Too bad the occasional wild fig trees in the chute had no fruit. Fortunately, Murphy's law has only a 50% chance and I was lucky that the chute went down without vertical cliffs. After an hour I had a well-deserved dip into the green-blue sea. I dried off in the wind and sun, then was ready for the climb up. It was best to reclimb the chute near the rocky side walls. Although a good workout it went without difficulties. It was a fun morning before leaving beautiful Santorini in the afternoon. Can highly recommend this hike to other adventurous visitors to the island.

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