And I peeked over the edge, only to realize that a thousand-foot cliff waited for me on the other side.
I was roughly 400 vertical feet from the summit of Mount Olympus, the tallest mountain in Greece and the heart of Greek mythology. I had yet to spot Zeus, but my eyes remained peeled and suspicious.
Josh and I had spent the evening before at a cafe near the Aegean Sea debating whether to climb the mountain behind us or not. He wanted to climb it in a single day, I protested and wanted to stay at a hut for a night on the mountain.
Eventually we decided it would be too difficult. We were short on time, we’d have to hitchhike to town and then again to the trailhead. We had absolutely no food and if we were to climb it in a single day, we would have to start before any stores were open. Fail.
So we walked back down near the train station with a plan to get up early and take a train somewhere new.
8:00am the next morning we wait for the train. 9:00am rolls around and no train or person is in sight. Eventually we find a small article online detailing that the Greek railway employees are on strike for the next two days.
And to the mountain we went.
We hitched a ride into town, and quickly gained another ride to the trailhead with some awesome Germans.
By the time we begin the hike, it’s around 3:00pm in the afternoon. We have 3,000 vertical feet ahead of us to the refuge where we will camp.
I’ll be honest to say I was dreading a high hike so late in the day. Many times hikes tend to be way easier or harder than what you’re expecting. Our previous hike was quite hard, and took us almost twice as long as we originally anticipated.
We began to walk the Prionia trail, quite easily and at a decent pace. The path is well-marked and easy to follow. Eventually the dirt path turns to rock and the steady increase turns to jagged stairs. Occasionally we stopped for water and food, but suprisingly we make it to the refuge over 45 minutes before either of us anticipated.
“Refuge A” as it is called, is nestled on a high cliff overlooking the mountains and distant Greek shoreline. It includes bunks, a small restaurant, bathrooms, and places for hikers to pitch their tents. The prices are quite reasonable, considering its secluded location.
I sipped hot cocoa looking down at the sea where our morning began. You could see many switchbacks of the trail up the slope. I was now high in the Greek mountains with sore legs and a stomach full of a hefty plate of spaghetti. That morning I never would have guessed this is where I would be saying goodnight, but I was happy. Happy and content.
One of the refuge dogs joined us in our tent that evening. He climbed in and was too cute to let out. He spent the night hogging most of the tent and getting spoiled with attention.
Morning came and we left the lodge shortly after 8:00am. I needed a break quite early as my sore legs had a lot of warming up to do. We had heard the second half of the hike was much tougher, and I prepared for the worst.
We passed an old man hiking the rocky mountain barefoot, a couple of young teenagers passed us at Olympic hiking pace, we ate breakfast with a magnificent view, we watched the clouds slowly take over the hills and quickly dissipate. Somehow the hike seemed almost easy.
There are three main peaks to Mount Olympus. Skala, Skoilo, and Mytikas. Skala is the most common summit, although it is not the true peak. Mytikas is the highest summit and also the hardest to access of the three. According to Ancient Greek mythology this summit is where all twelve gods would meet and have discussions. It includes a class III rock scramble after descending from Skala onto a saddle.
Soon we reached Skala and stared at the nearby Mytikas summit. The path up looked almost vertical and I was 62.3% sure I might poop my pants.
The saddle had a steep rock face on one side and a thousand-foot cliff on the other. It was quite amazing to be able to look down and see nothing be clouds below you. I could understand why this place is home to such extreme spiritual energy.
I continued to scramble. Josh and I both agreed that the climb was much less daunting than expected. Although technically a “free climb” a fall from the rocks would hurt, but would rarely result in death or serious injury. With good footing and a careful pace I believe anyone with decent hiking experience could ascend it (the brochures say it’s for skilled mountaineers).
I touched a the Greek flag that stood at the top and looked around at the surrounding view. It was 10:38am. For a few moments, I was the tallest person in Greece.
Descending fast we stopped at the refuge once more for another plate of spaghetti and to pack up our belongings. Around 2:30pm we left for the last leg of the journey.
The hike from the refuge to the trailhead seemed much longer on the way down. Eventually we made it, managed to hitch a ride to town where we found a cafe and scarfed down a couple of hot dogs.
The total round-trip elevation change was 11,760 feet.
My legs hurt and we still had over three miles to trek to the shoreline and train station. We attempted to hitch a ride out of town, but all we received was a donkey on the run down the middle of the road.
That night we set up camp on a grassy cliff over the ocean. I looked back at the darkness over Mount Olympus, finding it quite crazy I stood all that way not even twelve hours before.
Shortly after I went soundly to sleep. And gracefully drooled all over my pillow.