Whether it was my friend, Russ, or I that came up with the idea to make a detour to hike Mount Olympus (home to 12 Olympian gods of ancient Greece), once the ball was rolling there was no turning back in my mind. I was flooded with confidence from trekking around Nepal for 3 weeks and ventured that I could handle this summit, especially since it was split up over two days. The plan was to catch a morning train to Litohoro, cab it to the trail, hike to the refuge, stay the night, leave early for the summit and be back down by lunch. Booya! We’d leave Athens to meet Zeus and return less than 48 hours later.
From the train station outside Litohoro, the taxi took us to our starting point of Pironia. It was possible to begin from town, but this would have added an additional 4-5 hours to our afternoon start. In 2.5 hours we ascended around 1000m (3280ft) in ideal weather up to the refuge, which was quite nice. There was a giant room with bunk beds, a restaurant, an eating area with a fireplace and common bathroom. While I tried to keep my pack as light as possible (agony) by bringing only a daypack, Russ managed to find room for a glass bottle of vodka in his pack for that night’s entertainment. Good thing the bottle wasn’t full and everyone headed to bed early for a somewhat early summit start!
We were on the trail by 6:40a the following morning and just below Skala peak by 8a, nearly a 900m ascent (2952ft). We sat on a pile of rocks in hopes the morning clouds would burn off, but the wind was chilly and after 30 min of teeth chattering (on my part), we moved on and hit Skala a few minutes later.
At this point I should mention that when it comes to outdoor activities, I generally push myself way beyond my comfort zone when I’m with Russ. He is much more knowledgeable and experienced about this stuff; therefore, I force myself to relinquish control over every situation and trust him. So far, so good.
Despite being socked in, Russ assured me we could handle the Mytikas summit. 90% of people (complete guess) were turning back or not bothering to attempt further. Two guys appeared out of the clouds with the warning, “Carefully consider what you’re about to do. You can’t even see a path.” While the lazy side of me was utterly ready to turn around and head back, the side that refuses to live with regrets won out and I agreed to press on anyways. The first 5 minutes were easy breezy – what were those two jokers before talking about? Then the real scramble section started. While classified as a class 3 scramble, my raging heart beat and shaky limbs would classify it higher. The parts where I hung over the abyss, gripping to the rock released a special little adrenaline pouch I would label ‘panic’. Of course, Russ was cool as a cucumber, providing lots of ‘you got this’ and ‘no, put your foot there and grab on here’. I wanted to be a chicken (read: smart) with those other two guys during so many points of this scramble.
In the end, success. 2917 meters (9570ft). We reached the highest peak in Greece…and couldn’t see a thing, not even Zeus or his buddies. The peak was still socked in. Our names made it into the log and triumphant summit shots were taken next to the Greek flag. Naturally I then started chit chatting with some fellow hikers…anything to avoid the scramble down. Just when I thought we’d made it down the toughest part and were nearly to Skala again, we decided to take an alternative route that involved a steep scree field. It was a gorgeous view and in the end worth taking, but I shredded my thighs in the process and was officially terrible company, nothing but fear and complaints out of me!
*Let me narrate these photos a bit. Left: Loads of head gear, total crazy lady. Bottom right: Contemplating how not to slide off into oblivion.
*Middle left: That is not a fist pump. Top right: Completely spent. And physically hot, but too terrified to stop and remove any of my 10 layers.
After making it back down nearly 2000m (6000 ft), we waited an hour for a ride back into town and then walked aimlessly trying to find somewhere to eat. Food rage had set in and it wasn’t pretty. Once the baklava happened, though, life was good again and I could appreciate the beautiful hike we’d just accomplished and the beach we were headed to for the night!
Russ might think twice now before hiking with me on something with a scramble, but it was a brilliant hike overall and I’m happy with it. Mount Olympus definitely added a different twist to our tour of Greece; going beyond the city and island landscapes, which I’ll write about in upcoming posts. Besides not meeting any of the 12 ancient gods, the only regret I was left with was not having more time to spend in this picturesque area of Greece! Maybe I’ll head back to the summit again one day when the forecast calls for clear skies!!!