The town of Florina is built in the entrance of a large valley, which dominates from above mount Varnouda, whose trails the athletes will run, competing in the 1st Florina Trail Challenge. The mountain is rich both in vegetation as in diversity of wild animals, something which is obvious by the names of the races of the event. Starting from Florina and climbing, we came across woods of pine trees, oak trees, cedars, firs, beaches and birches, whereas large meadows give our eyesight the opportunity to rest and admire the landscape and further the horizon.
The bears constitute the basic “inhabitants” of the forests. We found it during our tour on the trail of the long distance route of the event, since a bear had partially wrecked a kiosk, which will be a supply station during the race! The smell, the hairs from the claw- scratched wood and the manic attack with which she hit it, portrayed us in the best way the fierce force that this queen of the woods possess. Except the bear, wolves, dears, wild goats, a large population of wild hogs and the rare lynx are also inhabitants of the forests of Varnouda.
For yet another time on a presentation of a trail running event, we found that the major part of the trails of Florina Trail Challenge are already open, cleaned and flagged with elegant post signs by the Mountaineering Club of Florina (S.E.O.F.). The larger part of the races’ routes follow these trails, besides a few exceptions. Trekking along the magnificent ridge, we use a trail a few meters to the left of the beach forest, at the clearing and closer to the ravine, which gapes vertically above the village of Akritas. Athletes will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the mountains and the Pisoderi Ski Resort at the back.
Of course, there are parts of trails that were revived by the organizers purely for the new race and will remain a legacy for hikers in the future. In the forests of beech, someone can see signs placed decades ago and are literally unified with the trunks of the trees, as revealed by the photographic material accompanying the article!
There are many impressive route points of the races and a huge variety of landscapes. The athlete will run through different types of forests, pine trees at low altitude, forests of cedar and oak trees at higher altitude, whereas at the ridge and then lower, where the route goes through a dense beech forest is extremely impressive , as its culmination on a clearing full of ferns!
On characteristic points of the route with a panoramic view or key passages towards the mountain, one can observe battered machine-gun nests and ruins of settlements, literally ghosts of one of the darkest pages of our contemporary history, the years of the Civil War. These memories quickly dissipate in the beauty of the landscape and the view that these specific points offer, combined with the shortness of breath by the intense effort.
The highest point of the route is the top Taima, at 1,640 m. of altitude. For the athlete, the climb up to the top is extremely painful, but then he will move for some time along the ridge, near the rim of the ravine with its impressive rock formations, the incredible view of the surrounding mountains, the ruins of the machine-gun nests and, if the weather allows, the town of Florina peeking far below the horizon. The view is magnificent, and while the athletes are still running along the ridge they will immerse into a forest of towering beaches, following a winding path, under their leaves. Then a long descent will begin, that will lead them to a clearing with ferns, which is inhabited by wild boars and bears of the area, since there is the damaged by the bear kiosk that we mentioned earlier!
A very impressive point of the route is located in the 6th km and is a characteristic cluster of rocks on the edge of the ravine, named Vlachiki Plaka! The title originates from the old days, since the rock formation and the meadow found there, were a point were the nomads would bring their flock of sheep during the summer months. The view is amazing, with the town of Florina in the distance, the valley visible almost throughout its length, while afar the slopes of Pisoderi Ski Resort are clearly distinguished. Looking to the opposite side of the valley, by stepping on the characteristic plaques, a vertical climb appears through a dense forest that begins just outside the town of Florina. It could constitute a “vertical" challenge for an extreme event in the future! Before the athletes reach Vlachiki Plaka, they will pass 2-3 rock formations, which according to his level of fatigue could resemble to him a bear, a bow of a ship or perhaps even a mermaid! Tricks of the mind, but also impressive features of the route...
The start and the finish of all races take place at New Park in Florina, a very spacey area, which provides a good place for the athletes to warm ups, and also a comfortable expo area for exhibitors and other side events that the organization has planned. The finish lane, which goes through Makedonomachon Avenue, enables the athlete to see and "feel" from afar the culmination of the race, and constitutes a very good element that helps psychologically, after the intense effort. Another feature we liked is that all supply stations will be accommodated in very beautiful wooden kiosks, which already exist in various parts of the mountain.
The route of the harder race of the event, the Arctos Trail, is basically divided into five different sections. The total length of the route is 31 km and a positive altitude of 2,102 m. The minimum elevation is at 661 m. and the maximum (Taima peak) at1,640 m. The main technical feature is the excellent quality of the trails’ terrain (gravel forest trails), except a fairly rugged rocky short segment while crossing the ridge. In other words, regarding the technical difficulty of the trails, the race is ideal for fast trouble free running.
As to the degree of difficulty of the athlete's effort, it is exceptionally high in Arctos Trail and this is a race for experienced athletes. The route has many ups and downs, but mostly a climb that is repeated twice, and in which within 2 km the athletes have to climb about 500m., reminding us the ascent to Skalakia of Parnitha, as regards to the degree of difficulty! Concluding, the Arctos Trail needs a careful study of its route, from the official web-site, and very good distribution of forces along the race.
Athletes who choose the middle length route, Lupus Trail, will run 16 km with 1037 m., of positive elevation, and essentially will go through all the beautiful spots of the high length route, without doing the loop of Arctos Trail. The quality of the trails are the same as in the Arctos Trail, but this is a medium difficulty race, were the athletes acquire a beautiful experience of Varnouda and its forests. Therefore, it is a race for less experienced athletes. Finally the Lynx Trail, constitutes an introductory race, with a length of6 km and373 m. of positive elevation, that will surely reach its goal of attracting the inhabitants of Florina during their first contact with trail running.
The technical characteristics of the three races are as follows (by clicking on the names of the races, you can find full details on the official web-site of the organization):
Arctos Trail: A demanding route for experienced athletes
- Distance:31 Km
- Positive Altitude:2102 m
- Supply Stations: 6
- Time Limit: 7 hours
Lupus Trail: A moderately difficult route for less experienced athletes
- Distance:16 Km
- Positive Altitude:1037 m
- Supply Stations: 3
- Time limit: 5 hours
Lynx Trail: An introductory route for new runners
- Distance:6 Km
- Positive Altitude:373 m
- Supply Stations: 1
- Time limit: 2 hours
The organization according to the overall design, and the things that we observed during the weekend that we were hosted in Florina, can meet the tastes and preferences of any kind of trail running athlete. Those athletes who are experienced and aim for a different personal experience, will find it at Arctos Trail. For those athletes, who want to participate in a complete race, but mostly want to admire the natural beauty of the area, Lupus Trail is best suited for them. Finally, for those who are curious to see what trail running is all about, the Lynx Trail is their race. Certainly, everyone will enjoy the beautiful natural scenery of the area. Besides, as Spiros Karatzoulis explained to us, the aim is for all of us who will find ourselves in Florina, to spend a day in the mountain, and live exciting experiences with beautiful emotions. We are confident, that the organization of the event will offer us the above generously.
The Florina Trail Challenge 2016 is organized by the Non- Profit Organization All Cycling, the Mountaineering Club of Florina (S.E.O.F.), the District of Western Macedonia and the Municipality of Florina and will take place on 12th of June 2016. Registrations start on 1st of April 2016 and will last up to 5th of June 2016 and will take place at the extremely well-designed web- site of the event. At the end of the article, you can get a taste of the route, through the gallery of photos we took during our visit to Florina.
Advendure is the main media sponsor of the event, and will cover it with articles before and after the races, but will also participate in the race weekend in beautiful Mount Varnouda, conveying the atmosphere and presenting rich photographic material.
Photo ©: Angie Terzi - Advendure
View this photo set on Flickr