Greek Journal Part III

Greek Journal: 5/13/2005-6/8/2005

Summary: DenveràLondonàAthensàLeptokaryaàLitochoroàMt. OlympusàLitochoro àKalambaka (Meteora)àIguominitsaàCorfu TownàIguominitsaàZorganian Villages, Vikos Gorge and Mt. AstrakaàAthensàLondonàDenver


5/18/2005: Spilios Agopitos, Mt. Olympus, Greece: After getting dropped off at the trail head we through on the back packs and started the 3,200 ft climb to Spilios Agopitos Hut on the side of Mt. Olympus. I have to keep wiping away this image of Greece at an arid rocky Mediterranean landscape. 






Starting up the trail to Olympus











What we have seen so far is a land of quiet clean beaches, flowers, lush trees, steams, and impressive mountains.  Like the Canadian Rockies’, the Mt. Olympus Range is pure lime stone.  My observation is that there are no purer, cleaner streams any where than water that runs through lime stone.

Our hike started by passing over a small bridge in view of a small waterfall and in to a forest of chestnut and beech with ferns and some scrub oak on the forest floor. 

As we climbed toward tree line the forest became dominated by evergreens with the ground cover becoming dominated by gray lime stone boulders and bright purple wild flowers. 


We had a beautiful clear day and about five hours after starting our trek we arrived at the Hut.  We were met my Maria and her husband and given a no-nonsense introduction to hut life.  We were led to our sleeping quarters which was part of the new constructed dormitory.  The entire hut was built from native rock all beautifully done in the same style.

The hut had just opened for the season 10 days before our arrival and the snow had receded just enough to allow hiking to the high peaks.  Some of the special features of hut life included no hot water.  The water came directly from underground springs fed by fresh snow melt.  There was also no heat other than a fire place in the main common eating area, but there were plenty of big thick blankets for bedding.  There were also NO shoes indoors, but indoor slippers were provided.

We sat on the sunny deck with a view of the Aegean 10 miles away and 6,000 ft below us, did a little writing and reading and prepared for the evening meal.

At dinner we met the other guests of the hut.  The hut was built to hold about 110 people, but at his early time of year there were a total of 13 people.  Besides Maria and her husband we met a wonderful English couple.  Ken, the husband, is a professional story teller who had spent most of his professional life in England teaching Latin and classic Greek literature.  Mary, the wife, is an author of children’s books and together they had traveled and trekked just about everywhere on the planet.  They had kind of a Monte Python sense of humor and to look at them you would think they would be more at home in the town pub than on the side of Mount Olympus.  We got on, as they say in the old country, famously.

Then there was Reuel, a math teacher from Manhattan, NY who was single and traveling by himself.  He was a sabbatical from teaching at a private school and prior to this adventure had never left New York.  Reuel has studied Greek for six months prior to taking this trip and had made every effort to prepare himself for this excursion in to the outer world.  His appearance was such that he didn’t need to tell you that he was a math teacher at a private school in order for you to know what he did.  He was kind of a combination of Doc and McFly from Back to the Future and while quite reserved at first, once he got going was very talkative.  At dinner he wore a tweed jacket and a thin tie.

There were three students from Indiana who were studying English literature in England and just on a break from their studies.  There was a group of German Travelers who were hilarious.  I know hilarious Germans is an oxymoron. 


5/19/2005: 9:30 pm in Leptokarya. A day with Zeus: This am woke to high winds and a very painful right foot.  We had breakfast at 7 am, but hobbling from the room to the main lodge was painful enough to eliminate hopes of climbing 3,000+ ft today to the top of Olympus.  In addition to climbing upward today we will be descending what ever elevation we climb plus the 3,200 ft that we climbed yesterday.

Mo and Kelley decided to leave the gimp behind and try for the summit of Skala, Greece’s 3rd highest peak.  After they had departed I wrote in my journal, packed up the room, relaxed and then got antsy.  I decided to tape up my foot and take the Greek sports medicine cocktail; Ibuprofen 800 mg and one shot ouzo.  Once I was well padded up and taped I started climbing the trail.  After about 10 minutes of moving slowly it felt pretty good so I picked up the pace.  About 1,000 vertical feet and an hour later I caught Mo and Kelley and the push to the summit of Olympus was on.  We were now at 8,000 ft and above tree line, and with out exaggeration, the wind was blowing between 30-50 mph.  We had to drop to hands and knees a few times to keep from blowing over, but just as the discussion about throwing in the towel was coming, the winds slowed and the sun came through bright and warm.





Kelley fighting the winds just below the summit of Skala 9,300 ft








Up ahead we could see Reuel plugging along by himself.  We caught to him at the top of Skala, the highest place he had ever been.  Meeting at this point changed the course of Reuel climb if not his life.  Through out his Greek studies he had dreamed of  visiting Zeus’s throne and placing an offering of some personal items that had belonged to his mother who had passed away a short time ago.  Now that he stood on Skala and looked across the gap to the summit of Mitikis (the highest point in Greece at 9,570 ft) he had lost his will.


Reuel’s trepidation was understandable.  While it was only a short distance to travel the last ½ mile involved down climbing 200 vertical feet class 3 and 4 rock (using hands and feet) and ascending about 400 vertical feet of class 3 and 4 rock on the way to the summit.  While the climbing is technically very easy, the consequence of missing a hold and falling would likely result in death or serious injury.  I felt completely comfortable, Kelley had done some climbing and was totally in to going forward, Mo had traversed some terrain that offered a similar bad consequence for error just seven months before in the Garhwal Himalayas in India, but Reuel had not faced anything more challenging than a steep stairway in the past 20 years.






Mo and I down climbing Skala (steep) on the way to Mitikis.  The red spots on the rock are the trail markings. 










He finally decided to employ the only reliable method of decision making that he had available, heads he went, tails he didn’t.  It was heads.  At 11 am, just 4 hrs after leaving he Spilio Hut we all stood at the summit of Mitikis and tagged the Greek flag.  Kelley cruised it.  Mo focused on the patch of rock in front of her and Reuel focused on Mo.




The deities believed to have dwelled upon the mythic mount were Zeus, the king of the gods; his wife Hera; his brothers Poseidon and Hades; his sisters Demeter and Hestia; and his children, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Athena, Hermes and Hephaestus.

To this group was added the Smilkstein’s and Reuel of Manhattan.

Given that the summit is about 10’ X 10’ it was crowded.













Mo and Reuel making an offering to the gods, note the tie.












Reuel made is offering to the gods.  We looked out upon the Aegean Sea and watched as clouds rose from the valley below.  After a short time we reversed our course and with out incident made our way back toward the hut.  Just above the hut there was a ½ mile long snow field in perfect condition for glissading.  I had my best ski run of the year linking about 100 tight turns. 


We had already put in a full day with seven hours of hiking and climbing, but the day was by no means done with us.  Our immediate obstacles included the five mile 3,200ft decent from the hut and how to get from the trail head at Prionina the 15k to Letochoro.  We had no car and there was no phone or other facilities at Prionina.  We met up with our Brit friends at the hut and enjoyed a Greek salad, veal, potatoes and coffee.  I could have followed that with a beer chaser and a nap, but it was time to go.  Fortunately Ken, Barb and Reuel were also ready to go and Ken and Barb had a Micro Euro car at the trail head.  We headed down the trail and 2.5 hours later six exhausted people arrived at the trail head.  It was now 7 pm and our hopes of making it to Kalambaka (next destination) had faded a bit. 

In the spirit of the college phone book routine, six full grown people and six back packs were fitted in a car that was made for maybe two adults and two children who had no belongings.  We arrived in the town square in Letochoro and Reuel volunteered to drive us the 25 or 30k to Katirini where rumor had it that there was a rental car agency.  Given the late hour and two days with out showers we modified our goal to getting a rental car and making it back to Lepokarya to the Poseidon where, assuming we could make it by 9:30 pm we could have an all you can eat buffet, a shower and a room.

We said good by to the Brits and loaded in Reuels car for the theoretically short trip to Katarini.  With in minutes of our departure it became clear that Reuel didn’t have the driving thing all together.  Not only were his technical skills suspect, but he seemed overwhelmed by traffic, highway signs and directions.  With careful guidance we moved forward to with in 1k of Katarini.  At a small round about Reuel had a melt down and before we could make corrections we were heading south (wrong direction) on the main highway.  No problem except that the next turn off was 10k, meaning that at the very least we were adding a 12 mile extension to an already too long trip.  At this time Reuel chose to tell us that he had lived in Manhattan for 20 years and never driven a car in that time.

All good things must end and with a little luck we made it back to Katarini to the car rental agency.  Unfortunately it was closed.  We all decided it would be best if Reuel could just take us back to Leptokarya to the Poseidon.  On our trip to the Poseidon Reuel informed us that the only family he had was his students and that he really had no desire to travel.  Driving in Greece was the most stressful thing he had ever done and he would be glad to get home.  I felt bad for Reuel and very blessed myself to have a great family and to be traveling with such wonderful companions.

PS: We did make it to the buffet where we ate a lot, drank some bad Greek wine and loved it, got a room and had a shower and a fine nights rest.



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