Five years ago Lindsay and I had our first date and we went to Brew Pub in Kingston and watched “Into the Wild”. To celebrate, this year we woke up at 5:00 in the morning, ate some muesli, and headed up to the highest point in Greece.
Mount Olympus has an elevation of 2918 m and has 52 peaks, the tallest of which is Mytikas. Olympus is the mythical home of the 12 Olympian gods, including Zeus.
We had entered Litochoro (elevation 293 m) the previous day in a storm which prevented any view of our goal. This town lies at the bottom of the Enipeas Gorge which leads up to the mountain. Given that there are less than 12 hours of daylight and that the mountain refuge is closed for the year, we wouldn’t be able to hike from our guesthouse to the summit and back (distance of about 45 km and nearly 3000 meters gained). The alternative is to take a taxi to Prionia at the top of the gorge (elevation 1100 m). This “town” seems to consist of a restaurant, a washroom, and six mules.
Taxis are popular for starting the hike so they all have a fixed rate of 25 euro. We shared this with two other hikers and were on the trail by 6:30 when it was still very much night. In two hours we had reached the refuge at 2100 m. This part of the hike is pretty constantly uphill. It begins in the forest but enters a wide, open gulley at about the halfway point. This gulley marked the first gusts of wind which had been forecast to reach 95 km/h.
When we reached the refuge we met the workers packing it up for the year. We glanced inside, the lights were off but it looked spacious and comfortable, but we didn’t have much time to lose. Quickly we were on the trail again heading for the summit. The second half is also a consistent uphill slog. We seemed to be on the lee side of the mountain but we could see clouds pouring over the ridges like a waterfall and it concerned us for the scramble from Skola (elevation 3866 m) to Mytikas.
The trees ended around 2500 m and we came over a ridge to the full force of the wind and the wonderful views you can only get inside of a cloud. I was sceptical of reports that other people felt elevation effects but we both seemed to be breathing harder and stopping to take a big breath wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it should be. Maybe we’ve gone soft after 2 months of cycling at sea level. Still, by 10:45 we were on top of Skola wearing every article of clothing we had brought (including a toque, mitts, and a down jacket) but we were still shivering. It was barely below zero but the wind and the damp cut through our clothes.
In order to reach the true summit from Skola, there is a scramble along the ridge that is well-marked by paint. Being in a cloud, the length of a fall from the ridge couldn’t be ascertained. Lindsay decided the risk wasn’t worth it but I still felt that it was within my comfort zone so we made a plan for Lindsay to hang out in a sheltered area and I would return within an hour. Ten minutes later I could hear clanging and five minutes after that I discovered the clanging to be some tin containers hanging from the summit post! The climbing is not objectively difficult but the exposure and wind did make it a bit adventurous.
I took a picture and descended back to Lindsay, having been gone a total of 30 minutes. We were both chilly so we didn’t hang around to talk to the other hikers who had just shown up. Instead we started the long descent back to Litochoro and by 1:00 we were at the refuge again. Now there was no sign of the workers or the pack mules. By 2:45 we were in Prionia. With about two and a half hours of daylight left we decided to hike back to our guesthouse through the gorge rather than take a taxi again.
The hike through the gorge is not monotonic but we could ignore the complaints of our knees by looking up at the huge limestone cliffs in the fading light. This 11 km took us over 8 or so little wooden bridges and by a monastery and some incredible caves. We reached the town at 6:00 under a full moon and eventually found our guesthouse in the maze of streets after first acquiring a bottle of wine. The bottle was destined to go untouched as we crawled our way into bed. In all it had been about 32 km of hiking, none of it flat, with over 2000 m of elevation gained.
UPDATE: The first snowfall of the year was also last night but this morning it dawned bright and clear. Lindsay took a picture up the gorge to the mountain, the peak still shrouded in cloud. The lines of snow across the rock bands are still visible. Apparently at dawn everything above treeline was white.