Greece, the splintered southeastern tip of the Balkan peninsula, presents a highly convoluted map outline, with a generally rocky coastline equal in length to that of Franee’s, even though that nation is four times larger. What we see today is the result of the primordial flooding of the Mediterranean basin which occurred when a debfls dam at the Strait of Gibraltar gave way. Inrushing Atlantic waters inundated most of the mountain ranges that segmented the deep, hot depression. Isolated, exposed summits became the Greek islands, with Crete the highest and largest. More continuous massifs on the new mainland were still joined to the Dinaric Alps of Albania and Yugoslavia, with the important spur of Rhodhopi shared with Bulgaria. If the Mediterranean could be drained, the Yugoslavian systems, the Albano-Greek Pindhos, the Peloponnisos, Crete and the Turkish Tauros would form one extended, unbroken arc.

No point in Greece is more than a hundred-odd kilometers from the sea, and the sierras that crisscross the land steepen the grade over which the various rivers must run. Cultivation is confined to narrow zones on either side of the banks, which were seasonally overflowed until the advent of hydroelectric and flood-control projects. On the west slope of the Pindhos Mountains, which tend from southeast to northwest, rivers flow uniformly and swiftly from northeast to southwest. The only exception is the Aoos which exits northwest to the Adriatic via Albania. On the opposite side of the crest, rivers water fertile plains as they drain east or northeast in a more leisurely fashion. As Greece curls around the north Aegean, the courses of the rivers with their headwaters in Yugoslavia or Bulgaria are deflected to a north-south axis as they meander to the sea through gaps in the east-to-west Balkan ranges. On the Peloponnisos, most rivers are swift, short torrents, except for the Evrotas and Alfeios, which flow in opposite southeasterly and northwesterly directions from sources which almost coincide in the center of the peninsula.

On close inspection most Greek rock formations turn out to be limestone or schist, with occasional admixtures of gneiss or fleisch. Sandstones, conglomerates and other sedimentary rocks predominate in alluvial areas. The schists are usually folded and tilted into giant, weathered beds, which crack and rain down the terrible scree that constitutes the hiker’s nemesis. Limestone is of the karstic type (named after the Carso region of Italy and Yugoslavia), extremely porous because it’s peppered with caves, sinkholes and subterranean rivers. Underground streams often empty some distance out to sea or even channel salt water inland to render springs brackish. The sievelike limestone core of the Greek mountains acts as a giant sponge for precipitation, but unfortunately the extreme steepness of the ranges ensures that springs above 2000 meters are rare. Most of the peaks are not much higher (ca. 2100 to 2400 m), and the sheerness and lack of water can limit camping opportunities, but this ss partly mitigated by dramatic, sculpted contours verging on the grotesque. I Imnstone needles and pinnacles, treacherously brittle and lava-sharp, are best in Imlred from a distance. Not all of these evocative contours are the result of ordinary weathering; the appearances of many summits lend evidence of glacial action as far u’liith as the Gulf of Korinthos. Large volumes of water are still at work in the mountains, most notably in the wild Agrafa region where rivers have carved 1700- meter-deep gorges through uplifted strata.

 

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