travelling the seven parts of the world
Oct 1st, 2007




Athens Acropolis

Our alarm clock rang at 6:30. For some unknown reason I knew it was going to be a long day. If we wanted to climb Olympus we had to be up and leaving fast, and we failed quite nicely.

Most people think Mt Olympus is next to Olympia, which is where the Olympic games happened. It makes sense, right? It turns out Mount Olympus is on the other side of Greece entirely. Just a few kilometers from the seaside it stands tall at 2917 meters above sea level, making its relative height one of the highest in Europe. Mount Olympus is actually the Olympus Mountain Range. It seems to make perfect "greek sense" - as in, it makes no sense at all - until you realize that there just isn't one definitive peak: Olympus consists of 3 peaks that are just 8 meters apart in height, with several similarly sized peaks all around the place.

The highest point is Mytikas, the place were Zeus dwells, and fires his lightning bolts from - the place we were going to conquer.

We were completely unprepared. This was not a part of the plan, and had we not been driving around narrow 2 lane roads at 160 km/h (100 mph) we would've never made it. We had no camping gear, no climbing gear, no appropriate footwear, we didn't even have warm clothes (Its Greece, its gotta be hot, riiiight?). One of the kids (a 9 year old) was coming with us, climbing a mountain with one of the highest relative altitudes on this continent.

The only thing I had to go by was a small entry in my guidebook:

It is imperative to camp out overnight or stay in one of the two mountain refuges, rather than attempt to get up and down in a day.

We were gonna go up and down in one day.

After leaving our nice and cozy town we had stayed for the night we headed for the town of Litochoro, which means "City of the Gods", because, of course, its the closest town to Zeus, being at the base of Mount Olympus. We managed to waste an hour trying to find the right road leading up, but did get a map of the region.

The plan of attack was to drive up to a small shelter / cafe at around 1200m above sea level. From there on we'd take a route following one of the valleys until the first refuge, which is located about half way - 2000 m.a.s.l. We had no idea what could be found at a refuge like this, but I wasn't getting my hopes up for sure. From there on its a steep climb to the top.

All this meant conquering a total of around 1700 meters or 5600 feet vertically. I packed my camera, a 0,5l bottle of water and two snickers bars - that's gotta get me through, right?

It was a pretty cloudy day, and there were no views of the mountain - it showed itself only during brief intervals. This was our starting point:

The most difficult part was the initial climb, until your muscles get moving. Once you get in the rhythm, it starts getting easier. The weather was still somewhat warm, and the climb was not too steep, so were pretty happy about it all. We reached the refuge itself at about 11:20, two hours after leaving. I have no idea why anyone would want to stay here for the night - you have just climbed two hours, and you're already stopping? Didn't make any sense.

The refuge itself was great - they use mules to carry up stuff they can sell you at completely unreasonable prices, and we sucked it all up. After some much needed hot tea and stocking up on more food as I had this slight feeling I may not make it with 2 snickers bars after all, we were off again.

This is where it started getting awfully difficult - for starters, we had reached the clouds, and as we walked into them temperatures plummeted. The effect is kind of like climbing into a fridge, which, might I add is great fun anyone should take a shot at. We were now also out in the open, and winds started blowing harder and harder.

The climb also started getting steeper and steeper. By the time we were at the last stretches, every step became a gigantic pain in the arse.

At one point I realized altitude was starting to kick in. Just this morning we were sipping tea at a seaside town, and now we were up at nearly 3000 meters above sea level in a matter of hours. This sort of an altitude change generally manifests itself as you getting tired, it isn't dangerous by any meaning of the word, but you'll be gasping for breath.

We also started meeting people coming downhill who had set out at 6AM or sometime around then. They were all packed full of trekking gear - boots, windproof jackets, walking poles. One of the guy's upon seeing us sighed:

"Whoa, where are you going?"
"All the way!"
"Ahhhh.... really.... OK. You've got about 1.5 hours to go. But that's not the peak, Mytikas. To get to the peak, you'll have to climb all the way to the top, then take a half an hour climb down and then back up. Are you sure you're going the whole way? You don't look like it."

And right he was, at the end of the trail we had "only" reached Skolio, the second highest peak in Greece, at 2911 meters, just 6 meters lower than Mytikas. Climbing those 6 meters meant a half an hour trip downwards and then back up to the next peak in line. Everyone was exhausted, so me and my friend Kriss (being the two, akhem, strong, brave and powerful males) decided to march on.

It was pretty scary. We were cold, exhausted, it was cloudy, and we were obviously having to walk on a ridge, both sides having what looked like an infinite drop off. It was a one-slip-and-you're-minced-meat situation. We were so exhausted, we took a rest after 10 minutes, and then another one after 10 more minutes - and we probably wouldn't have made through the next 10 if we hadn't just reached the top. Along the way on these ridges we notice hooks - places for climbers to hook themselves up to. We looked kind of out of place.

Reach it we did, at exactly 14:19, two Latvians conquered Mytikas, the highest peak of Greece.

NB: Zeus was not there. I was told he was out for a pizza.

We felt revitalized, and getting back didn't even take half an hour. This is a picture of all of us back on Skolio:

It was approximately 3PM, and we had promised to be in Athens by 7PM - that wasn't happening for sure. The climb down was long, winding, and very fast. We were basically sprinting back down.

Here's a view back to Mytikas at the evening, when clouds started retreating:

This is further down the trail, view back to the Olympus range:

We got back down at 6:05, making for a total climb time of 8 hours and 45 minutes. On the way down we met a whole group of people all packed out - walking poles, jackets, sleeping mats, sleeping bags. We told them we came from the top. We smirked as we let them pass - didn't quite get the point of climbing two days, spending most of your climbing time in a mountain refuge when a 9 year old could get to the top and back down in less than 9 hours.

When we got back, Lelde, who had stayed in Litochoro with her 2 year old kid who obviously couldn't come, said we appeared to be high on something. And we really did feel a slight case of dizziness. Going down from 2917 meters back to a seaside town apparently does take its toll. It was 7PM, we were hundreds of kilometers away from Athens. I called the guy I had booked the apartment with. He wasn't very thrilled to hear we would be in Athens around midnight.

We were horribly tired, Kriss picked up 4 Red Bulls and drank them all one by one while driving. All of us were falling asleep, so the two of us kept talking as a way to check up on each other, to make sure he doesn't fall asleep at the wheel. Our conversations ranged from Ancient Greeks to Apple computers to how much the Greek bureaucrats had stolen while building the highway we were driving on. At 1AM we rolled into Athens.

While I recovered the apartment keys to make sure we have somewhere to stay for the night (I almost missed the guy, he walked right past me, and I had to call him to get him to come back - we were pretty close to sleeping on the sidewalk), Kriss found out the hard way that there are no free parking spaces in Athens. He ended up parking under a no parking sign.





Athens Acropolis