Every summer I go back there. No, I’m not talking about some cosmopolitan island. It has no golden beaches or crystal-clear waters. It is, however, one of the most beautiful places in Greece and summer is the perfect season to explore it (mainly because during the winter it’s impassable). Olympus mountain, one of the places in Greece that you should visit at least once in your life. Every summer I am going on this trip together with my friends. Together, we explore its paths and conquer its peaks. There, we gather our thoughts and set our goals for the next year. We find ourselves and redefine our relationship. Not with words, but with thoughts. This year, our trip began a few weeks ago and lasted for 4 days. As we do each year, we met at my place at 03.00 in the morning. You see, we wanted to have the entire day ahead of us… We loaded the car with all of our equipment, we took nuts and cereal bars from Kitchen Lab and set off for Litochoro. We arrived at about 07:30. After drinking a cup of coffee, we continued until Prionia (mob. +30 6932 48 48 68, ph. +30 23520 83093, h. 1,000 m), the picturesque tavern of Dimitris Kyritsis that is the starting point for all climbers and explorers of Olympus. We parked there, we delivered a large part of our equipment to the donkey driver that would take us up to the “Spilios Agapitos” Refuge (www.mountolympus.gr, h. 2,100 m) which would be our base, while we continued on foot. You see, donkeys are the only means of transportation to the refuge. They carry daily, through certain routes, visitors’ equipment, food, even water. They also carry litter from the refuge to the dumpsters located in the village. So… the donkeys took a part of it and we carried the rest of the equipment and started climbing to the refuge. Our first goal was Pagaki, located about one and a half hours away from the starting point!
After passing the first part of the route, which is a dense forest full of paths which sunlight didn’t reach, we started climbing the mountain about one hour later. At that point, vegetation started being sparser and the area started being steeper. About halfway (the refuge was a total of 3 hours away), we saw the Pagaki. It was a wooden bench in the middle of the forest. We rested there for a while. We drank water, ate a cereal bar and a few nuts and continued climbing for about one and a half hours until we reached our destination. Truth is it was very difficult, but not impossible. In general, even a person with an average physical condition can do it.
We reached the refuge at about 11:15. We were welcomed by Dionysis, his wife Maria, and their daughter Eleni. Their family lives in the refuge during the period it is open and runs it (from April until October). The only thing I can say about them it that they are a great, welcoming family which truly makes you feel at home! However, the best thing was that Dionysis doesn’t run only the refuge, he runs the whole area! He even takes care of the signage, often on his own expenses. When we arrived, we left our equipment and started eating! We started with various chocolates and a juice to regain some of our lost energy. Then, we went to our room, a simple room with 3-beds, which is perfect for a nap. Careful: ONLY for a nap, since in the room there was nothing else, not even electricity! To be exact, there is no electricity during the day. When it gets dark, they fire up the generator, which powers the refuge until 22:00. Then, the lights go out and you have to use your flashlight. We’ve made sure to book the room two months in advance because rooms there are in great demand – even the ones hosting 8-10 people in bunks. We decided to take a little shower in the common (and very clean) bathroom of the refuge… I’m saying “decided” because it is a big decision taking a shower with water in 2-3οC! There is no solar water heater. Why? Because water is precious in these parts. What does that mean? If they gave people the option of having a hot bath, they would probably spend more water than what they are using to wash (it sounds reasonable…), water which is in fact melted snow!
Our next concern? Food!!! Truth is we were very hungry. What did we eat? A lentil soup, tomato beef stew with rice, a Greek salad, and potato stew. The refuge’s foods are always the same. You can find there everything I listed above daily. In fact, the people there cook each day a lentil soup, tomato beef stew, patties with sauce, and a tomato sauce. You can combine them with pasta, rice or potato stew, and – of course – Greek salad. After eating, we drank our tea. It is an amazing mountain tea which led us directly to our beds for our siesta. It was something we needed because we had spent all of the previous day (and night) without any sleep.
We slept from 14:00 to 17:00. Truth is we didn’t want to wake up. If we could, we would have slept throughout the night. And because we would probably wake up in the middle of the night and wouldn’t have anything to do, we woke up (barely) at around 17:00. We lazed about for a couple of hours until the moment came when we ate again almost everything I have already described! Then, we started talking to Dionysis about our enterprise of the next day. Dionysis is a seasoned climber. He has attended various seminars abroad, is a mountain runner and a rescuer. He was our man! He would lead us to the highest peak of Olympus on the next day! The highest peak is called Mytika (h. 2,918.80 m). After explaining to us how we would go and answered all of our questions, we went to bed because we would have a beautiful and difficult day tomorrow!
The alarm woke us up at 5:30 in the morning. We got up, ate breakfast watching the sunrise and got ready to start our trek in the magical paths of Olympus. At 07:15 we set off with Dionysis as our guide. Our first stop was Skala, also known as Kakoskala (h. 2,877 m). It is the fourth highest peak of Olympus which is easily accessible. From there, we could see Skolio (the second highest peak, h. 2,911 m) and Mytika. During our trek to Skala, we saw some magical images… Wild goats playing on the mountain slopes, while a bit farther away, we saw a herd of wild horses. We wanted to get closer to them after climbing Mytika.
The area was rocky, there was an incline but it was still relatively easy to reach Skala. We made a stop to enjoy the view and take photos. Our next goal was convincing Giannis to follow us to Mytika because when he saw the route, he decided to go back to Skala. When we convinced him, we wore our helmets, left our bag packs and everything else we were carrying (because we would have to climb) and set off towards our next goal!
Dionysis led the way. He tried to watch over all of us. Almost next to him was Giannis, then came Tarik and finally, I. We went on for about 10 meters. Then, Giannis simply turned around (figure of speech) and decided to return to the safety of Skala and wait for us there. Many other climbers did the same. They decided that this climb was very difficult and didn’t feel ready to face it. My opinion? They did very well. If you don’t feel ready to do it, it’s better not to force yourself. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone and – between us – you can enjoy the beauty of Olympus from any point in the mountain. On Mytika you will simply feel its greatness.
We pushed onwards to the top following Dionysis’ instructions to the letter. It took us about half an hour to climb. Half an hour for a very small distance which looked extremely difficult each time we looked around and underneath us… a real abyss. At that point, I have to mention – for anyone who wishes to know – that there is the possibility of climbing with a rope since there are hooks in the rocks. When we climbed, we took photos and lifted our flags and wrote our names in the pages of the book – a book which is in a metal canister on top of Olympus, for all those who wish to leave their mark there, defying the cold and winds which make it difficult to even hold the pen.
After going up, we had to go down. Climbing down is very difficult. When you reach the bottom, there is a great feeling of relief, satisfaction, and awe. Every time I think about it, I feel the same thing. We met Giannis back at Skala and started exploring the other side of Olympus, this time, without Dionysis by our side. We wanted to reach the herd with the wild horses. We passed Skolio, the second highest peak, an easier one. Even Giannis came with us :-))
After climbing, we descended and continued towards the place we had seen the horses. We had an idea. To be precise, a very, very stupid idea! We thought about taking a detour and not following the path with the signs but another path which looked more accessible. It was stupid. It was more difficult than we originally thought, longer than that it originally appeared and in general tiresome. We made it but I will give you this advice: Always follow the signs, especially when you are in places like this. Nobody is going to be around to help you if something goes wrong. This is a rule that should have no exceptions… Finally, we reached the wild horses and watched them from afar (for obvious reasons). We enjoyed nature and started our trek back to the refuge. When we arrived, we took a cool shower and ate lunch. We lazed about and at 21:00 we went to bed.
The weather was not good on the next day… We woke up at 05:30 again and ate breakfast. We discussed whether we should start our hike or not. The cloudy sky led us straight back to our beds until 10:00. The day continued with backgammon, cards, and games because the weather didn’t allow us to do anything more. There was no TV, no Internet, and no phones. So, we played games and talked (outside and in the refuge after it started raining)! Pouring rains and cold might not be such a summery weather. It seemed like we were in the heart of winter. That night, as soon as the lights went out, there was a beautiful surprise for us! Dionysis’ family and the guys that worked in the refuge prepared a goodbye dinner for us. It was a perfect goodbye present for us.
Next morning, we ate our breakfast at the usual time so we could enjoy once more the sunrise. Next, at around 07:00, we headed for Prionia on foot. We’ve already sent our luggage ahead on donkeys the previous day. We arrived two hours later. We loaded our luggage on the car and began our trip back. We couldn’t wait to see our friends and tell everything we’ve experienced – just like we do every time. We will definitely go again next year. You see, each year, at this time, all roads lead me to Olympus. There, I find myself again and organize my thoughts. I set my goals and gain strength to achieve them. I always have my closest friends by my side, and all of my co-workers which are there (in spirit at least). We walk the path and climb to the top together. Because we should always have peaks and goals in our minds :-)