Wednesday, July 4, 2012

At the table with the Gods

Mount Olympus is one of the most known landmarks of Greece and not for its height, which is anything but negligible, over 2900m, but for being the home of the ancient Gods. Zeus himself is known to have thrown his fierce thunderbolts from the highest peak of Olympus, Mytikas.
Getting there is not for everyone or so the legend says. Only the pure hearted are granted the honor of being in the presence of the Gods.

Hoping that I will prove worthy of meeting with them, I start my trip at the foot of the great mountain where lies a small and quiet village called Litochoro which is going to be my home for the night.

To my surprise, the village has a quite vivid night life, a lot of taverns worth remembering and a mean ice-cream place. The only downside is that lodging tends to be a bit overpriced in summer since it’s the only village close enough to the mountain to allow you to wake up in the morning and start walking.

Most people who aim on climbing the highest peak, Mytikas, start walking from Prionia (1100m), the last refuge up to which you can go by car. From there, it’s a two to three hour hike to the next refuge, Olympus A (2100m) from where you can start planning your last assault on the top.

At Refuge A you find people from all over the world speaking all kinds of languages you have never heard before so it is also a cultural experience. What is even more important is that everybody’s friends there. The mountain draws everybody closer together.

Rising early is critical on the day of the peak climb. The path is not difficult up to Skala (2866m) but is very abrupt and it required a lot of effort. Also, there is no water source on the way up so it is vital to take enough water for going and coming back, which is going to be a considerable amount of hours.

The mountains have usually their own weather so if you wake up in the morning and find yourself in a mist so dens you can hardly see your hands in front of you, as I did. Don’t despair! Mountain weather can change any minute radically.

From Skala to Mytikas the difficulty of the path increases. The way is not steep enough to climb but not flat enough to walk on so I need to “scramble”. A rope would be very useful in this section of the climb but I wasn’t that inspired. This part is a bit harder but getting to the top and meeting Zeus himself is worth all the efforts.

Since I still had a few days left to wonder around on the mountain I decided to visit the Muses Plateau. They say that there, on that plateau, if you are very attentive you can see the muses dancing and singing in the winds that caress those heights.

I start my trip from Refuge A and continue the same way I went the previous day up to a point where the map shows me the entrance to Zonaria. In Greek, “zoni” means belt and this path looks exactly like one. It is not a risky path but it does require all your attention since it is very narrow and gravelly.

Kakalos refuge guards the entrance to the plateau. It’s a small colorful place that gathers experienced climbers from all over the world, the raw kind of mountain people that don’t mind sleeping on the edge of a cliff with no tent or enjoy drinking their coffees outside at 12 degrees while sunbathing in their shorts. Even though it was a sunny August the temperature up there was more of a chilly spring.

The plateau is green, quiet and welcoming. I can easily imagine why people thought of it to be the home of the muses. After the rush of the climb, suddenly I found myself in the serene and eternally green fields of the muses.

For a church, this is hardly the place to be and yet, at almost 2650m above the sea level, I found “Profitis Ilias” (Ilias Prophet). It’s not the typical kind of church though since it is made of piles of rocks found on the plateau.
I know what you might think. That it was made having in mind a more touristic purpose rather than a religious one. To my surprise “Profitis Ilias” is a perfectly functional church. I even found out that some days before a couple got married there.

A small tip before the end, if you happen to find yourself on Olympus in mid August there is no better place on earth to see the Perseides, the meteorite shower that starts on the 9th and lasts up to the 14th of August.

And this particular year, all through the month of August, you can see the planet Mars which will be very close to earth and on the 27th of August will appear as big as the Moon.

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