Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Mount Olympus... Home of the Gods

Mount Olympus Trail Map - http://www.olympusfd.gr/images/Maps/map_us.pdf
for a better view

At the beginning of the semester, my roommate Amy and I planned to hike Mount Olympus, which we were originally going to do over Labor Day weekend, but switched the hike to our second to last weekend in Greece, as our last hurrah! We were joined by our two other roommates - Allison and Melissa - which made this the perfect way to spend our second to last weekend together. 

Along the Gortsia Trail
We began our journey on Friday morning, with a two mile trek to the bus station in Athens to get our bus to Litochoro (Lee-toe-hoe-roe), the closest town on the East side of the mountain range. After a five hour bus ride, we hitchhiked from the bus station into the center of town, where we bought a map of the trail and procured a taxi for the journey to the trail head. Once we got to the Gortsia trail head, we began to hike up the mountain towards the Petrostrouga Refuge, where we were to say the night. I think the hike to the refuge can be broken into three parts with different types of terrain. The first third of the trail consisted of switchback step paths through the wooded mountain and included two hundred meters of elevation change. During this part of the hike, all of our bodies were struggling to acclimate themselves to hiking, but they soon adjusted, and hiking the mountain became much easier. The second third to the refuge consisted of trails in which we lost as much elevation as we gained, while the last third was an uphill climb that changed over four hundred meters in elevation.

Hiking to the Refuge

On the last section of the hike we saw the lightning tree, which I like to believe is the result of Zeus' lightning. During ancient times, Mount Olympus was the home of the gods, Zeus took the Stefani peak as his throne, and the council of the gods took place on Mytikas peak (the tallest peak). The first known summit of the mountain wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century, as the Ancient Greeks refused to climb the mountain inhabited by their gods.

We reached the refuge around 7:30 pm, after three and a half hours of hiking. At the refuge we were given beds and a hot dinner. From the refuge we were able to watch the sun set over the mountain and paint the sky. After bundling up for bed, we retired early in preparation for the second part of our hike.
Lightning Tree
Saturday morning, we got up at 5:15 am for the second part of the hike. Once we started hiking the sun began to rise, and the snow that coated the trails was swathed in oranges and pinks, giving us the perfect start to our hike. It was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have experienced in my entire life.
Sunrise on Mount Olympus
After departing the refuge, we quickly came upon snow covering our path, starting out manageable but quickly becoming quite deep and slippery. While I had hiking boots with me that kept my feet dry and helped me to keep my balance in the snow, my roommates were faced with hiking the snow in sneakers.

Sunrise on Mount Olympus
One of the most fun parts of the hike was crossing this snow covered valley, which was surrounded on both sides by hills. The crossing included a lot of falling, snowballs, and ended with us breaking for breakfast while watching the last of the sunrise over the Aegean.

Hiking in the Snow

Eating Breakfast

About a half hour after breakfast, the snow started to deepen along with the rapid increase in the steepness of the trail. At this point Allison and Melissa turned back to the refuge while Amy and I attempted to continue up to the peaks. Once we got to Skourta, the snow was over a meter deep and we often had to brace ourselves against the wind, which threatened to blow us over. Thankfully most of the snow had been compacted and we were able to walk in the footsteps of other climbers.

Hiking in the snow
After summitting Skourta (as seen in the picture above and below) we were able to see the Plateau of the Muses, as well as Stefani and Mytikas. The view was absolutely incredible, and we poured some wine for the gods of old in libation. While we wanted to continue, we lacked the necessary equipment for the conditions and thought it was safer to return to the refuge.

Home of the Gods
From the refuge we made it to the Gortsia trail head in two and a half hours, shaving an hour off of our time. We had so much fun hiking and all of the Greek people that I have talked to about the hike have been quite impressed with our achievement. 

I have found that there is power in human belief. The Ancient Greeks' unwavering belief in their gods has left a trace on Mount Olympus. You can feel their spirits in the landscape, whispering through the wind, in the shape of the snow blown off the mountain. And so, perhaps it was better not to climb any farther, lest we partake in deadly hubris.

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