October 18, 2015

Meeting with Twelve Gods - Summiting Mount Olympos in Greece

Ever wonder where lightnings are originated from? Apparently they are coming from the Stefani peak on Mount Olympus in Greece, where great old Zeus is hurling thunderbolts during yet another of his characteristics petty scenes of anger management failure. The whole mountain is literally infested with Gods and lesser deities. Pretty much each of the steep gorges, grottoes and 52 separate peaks is littered with one of the Olympiad or their siblings or offspring. Stefani peak is not the highest point on the Olympus however. The famous twelve Gods met and had their less civil moments of discussion on the peak called Mytikas (2917 m), which is also the highest point in Greece. Guess where I was headed to back in July of 2012. 

Quick facts
  • Days to hike: 2
  • Total ascent: ~1800 m
  • Special gear: A helmet is recommended for the final summiting
  • Number of Gods at the peak: 12 (+ great number of lesser demi-gods in the vicinity)

Our route took us from Helsinki through Istanbul to Thessaloníki, where we hired a car and drove towards the town of Litohoro. Mount Olympus is relatively close to the Aegean Sea, so the full size directly from the sea level looks impressive. The most common route to hike the mountain is part of one of the long distance hiking trails in Europe, E4. The country spanning route in fact starts (or ends at depending on the way you are looking at it) from this particular town, but there is a car park called Prionia somewhat higher up the mountain (1100 m)

Given our flight schedules, slower than expected roads and wanting to eat well before the first day hike, we were slightly delayed from our planned start of the journey. We had called the Refuge Spilios Agapitos earlier on the day and they had strongly suggested us to ensure that we make it there before it gets dark. Thus we were hiking against the setting sun. The trail is clearly marked and goes through forests. The hike from Prionia to the Refuge takes about 3 hours. The twilight started to creep on us just at the moment when we first saw a beacon of light higher up in the mountain. It was indeed the Refuge, our midway goal at 2100 m.

Mytikas as seen from Skala
We ate, washed and slept at the Refuge and were ready to start the second day ascent early in the morning. The Refuge staff insisted on ensuring that we all had brought helmets with us before they allowed us to continue. Apparently there can occasionally be falling rock on the final summiting.
The ascent continued in a forest but started clearly giving away for more barren rocky environment. One of our companions kept others entertained by seemingly never ending interpretation of Stig Dogg classics like I'm Hunting a Puma. Eventually Puma song started to get slightly repetitive just by the time we reached Skala peak at 2866 m. From Skala one route takes to Stefani, which is the mythological Throne of Zeus and another to highest Mytikas, the Pantheon of the twelve Olympians.

Scaling the steepest section of Mytikas
The route from Skala towards Mytikas starts with slightly nerving vertical descend and then continues just below the ridgeline, yet quite exposed steep traverse towards the peak. Eventually the route got so steep that we decided to abandon our backpacks and continued to proceed on all fours. There is a fair bit of scrambling needed on an area with plenty of loose rock. Thus the suggestion for wearing helmets seemed justified. Just before summitting there is one more exposed section to get over which requires the use of chains bolted on to the rock face.

Finally we were standing on the highest point of Greece. Clearly the stories of great halls and stormy feasts the Twelve Gods have reportedly had on this very location seemed vastly exaggerated. The only thing the Gods had left behind was a little flag of Greece and a visitor book. Yet the overflowing feeling of achievement was once again as gratifying as ever. There would have been a more direct way back to the Refuge, but it would have taken through very steep and long descent to begin with. We unanimously decided that we will just safely backtrack our steps. The trip from Refuge to Mytikas took us about 4,5 hours. The walk back to the car park was uneventful, yet knee-hurting.

Route from Refuge to Mytikas
While we had come all the way to Greece, we decided to give our little contribution to the economy. It was kind of sad to see how many areas which were clearly intended catering for masses of tourists were quite completely void of visitors -- apart from us. Which obviously meant that we got all the attention in restaurants and hotels being pretty much the only guests. After the hike we marveled more of nature's majestic beauty at Vikos Gorge, searched (without any luck) for more modern deities at the monasteries in Meteora region and finally landed on island of Corfu to see if it still was the European capitol of debauchery as apparently had been claimed on a British tv-show back in the 90s. It wasn't.
Vikos Gorge at sunset

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