Leigh had to return to her conference, but I had an even MORE harebrained plan: I was going to climb Mount Olympus. Yes, THAT Mount Olympus. Home of Zeus and all that. Incidentally, the ancient Olympic games were in Olympia, which is a completely different part of Greece.
The scariest part of the undertaking was the first part, namely renting a car. The Greeks seem to regard driving as a competitive sport, and they’re very enthusiastic about it. Add to that the fact that Thessaloniki has tiny streets and a lot of construction underway, and you’ve a recipe for a truly terrifying twenty minutes or so before I got out onto the interstate.
After that it was a very uneventful drive to the national park. I stopped at the small tourist town at the foot of the mountain for lunch, and then started the drive in. There’s two possible routes – you can park in the town and have an eight hour hike to the shelter, or drive partway up the mountain and hike for three hours. I opted for the latter, given the time constraints, and the fact that I am getting older and out of shape.
Just a few kilometers up the road was an entrance station, where a nice ranger lady gave me a map, and made sure I had plenty of water. The road up the mountain was switchbacky, but didn’t have a lot of sheer drops, so it was actually quite fun in the rental stickshift. I stopped partway up to visit yet another monastery.
The final parking lot, Prionia, is at about 1100 meters elevation, and has a little taverna where I got more water. After my experience on Athos, I was very worried about dehydration, but it turned out not to be a problem this time out. I stopped to sign the log on a small cache hidden near the parking lot, then started up the mountain.
I knew it was supposed to be a three hour climb from the parking lot to the refuge where I intended to spend the night, but it was a bit cooler than it had been at sea level, and the temperature mercifully continued to drop as I climbed. It was quite steep in places, and I took a lot of breaks. But it was hard NOT to keep stopping, as the view just got better and better.
At about the two hour mark, I started faintly hearing bells. Bells? I wasn’t completely sure at first – it was right on the edge of hearing. But over time, it became more and more obvious that I was, indeed hearing bells. I correctly inferred that I was probably being approached by a mule train. And I was right.
I have video too, but it’s a bit larger than I can post here. After allowing the mules to pass, I resumed my climb and finally made it to the hiking refuge at about 2,100 meters. There were a number of other people there, including a group of about 20 American high school students. They were just as noisy as you might expect, but nice kids, and it was good to have someone to talk to in English. The refuge served tasty basic food, and got a fire going, which was appreciated, because I was absolutely soaked through with sweat. I also bought a T-shirt, just so I had something dry to put on.
This was the view from the refuge as the sun was setting behind me. They turned the power on for a few hours, and there was even WiFi, so I could let Leigh know I was still alive. At 10 PM sharp, the lights went out, and we turned in to get ready for the final climb in the morning.
- Means of Transportation Employed: Bus, Rental Car
- Cumulative Total: 10
- Highest Elevation Reached: 2,100 meters
- Geocaches Found: 3
- Number of dogs accompanying the mule train: 2
- Size of spider just to the left of Prionia cache: Huge.