|Morning, and the sun rises through a sea-sky where no boundaries separate water from land. Somewhere the dark water and dark horizon merge and sweep in a smooth gradient into a glorious dawn.|
|The lights in the loft come on at 6AM, rousing us and the other twelve or so hikers scattered throughout the room. Christine says we need to get up so we can have yogurt and honey. Neither of us really stop to wonder whether this is sufficient to power us up the mountain. We eat outside where the high-altitude air is chilly and the sun, distant and tiny, sheds its light without heat, igniting the mountain in brilliant colours.|
|Then it's time to leave the refuge behind and head upwards, leaving a small crowd of slower, or more relaxed, hikers behind.|
|The trail winds through wooded slopes where roots crawl across the trail - the refuge shrinks behind us.|
|The meadows skirting the treeline are only a short climb up from there.|
|The trail climbs level to, and then above, the other peaks. Some seem near enough to touch.|
|Then the trail takes a turn and begins climbing through a barren valley which screams glacier to me. Dusty, unmelted snow sits at the bottom - it's trying, but not hard enough.|
Ahead of us the world ends, plunging over cliffs; behind us, serene, tortured mountains move to block off our descent.
Hiking with Randy and now Christine has been therapetuic in its demonstration that hiking with other people can work and work well. Hiking with Christine has an interesting dynamic to it: during breaks or passing by overlooks we order each other to ridiculous locations for photographs. In the best cases getting there is a short walk; in the worst it can mean several hundred vertical feet and some scrambling.
And then, we're at the top of Σκάλα (Skala), staring across a gulf towards Μύτικα (Mytikas).
Σκάλα, at 2,866m is one of the shorter of Όλυμπος's five peaks. Μύτικα is the highest. In the distance another peak invites us as Μύτικα intermittently shrouds itself with clouds. Unfortunate experiences in the Sangre de Christos come to mind and I suggest we attempt Mύτικα while the weather is good; Christine agrees.
|A sign at the beginning of the route warns that it's exposed with loose rocks and unforgiving slopes, not to be attempted in bad weather or by the unexperienced. From where we're at, you can't even see the route. I pull out my German and we get a photograph from some other climbers before setting out.|
And then everything became ridiculous.
|Christine went around this corner…|
|…and discovered there was a cliff on the other side!|
|So we traversed the side of the ridge, rather than the top.|
|Which worked, until we reached the abyss of death…|
|Fortunately, we discovered a way across.|
|At which point the "trail", by this time a series of spray painted marks on the rock, started to climb…|
|…to really climb.|
|Looking down was no good as we ascended…|
The climb wasn't too bad in itself, but the propensity of stones to come out in one's hands was troublesome.
|It's windy at the top and a few soccer teams have their name scrawled about. It's a jumble of rocks scattered higher than all the rest of Greece. I'd been looking forward to meeting the Gods up here, though I'm not dressed for the occasion, nor do I have burnt offerings. Just as I'm giving up on the idea there's a sound and a man appears.|
|As a matter of courtesy we never ask Τασσός if he's really a man or actually a God. He takes our picture and we discuss the routes we used to get up; Christine and I decide to go down his route with him.|
|The route turns out to be a chute of relatively loose rock dropping a good eight or nine hundred feet without ledges or breaks.|
|Christine will later refer to Όλυμπος as "hardcore". As we find our first handholds there's no doubt I'll agree.|
|Our descent techniques differ. I prefer to face the rock while Christine prefers to face away. We've both had traumatic experiences of some sort using the opposing method, and can't quite believe the other won't see sense.|
|The climb lasts seemingly forever.|
|Somewhere along the way we pass the word "help" scrawled on the rock.|
|Finally, the chute opens up and meets with a traversing trail. Τασσός goes one way and we the other. He's given us his e-mail for pictures… do Gods have e-mail?|
|Looking up it's impossible to see the trail and nearly as impossible to imagine having descended it.|
We round a bend in the trail and walk right into the grandest of all possible scenes.
|And through it.|
|From there out the descent goes quickly.|
|Arriving back at the refuge we dine on spaghetti, salad, bread, feta cheese, and candybars. It's the first "real" food since breakfast, discounting our Twix bars.|
Satiated, we leave the refuge. As we do so a head-sized rock flies between us and ricochets down the slope below. Looking up we see the aforementioned horse rolling about in a rock pile. It almost killed us!
The hike down seems to take forever, to the point where we begin to wonder if we've missed the trail and second-guess whether we've ever seen the landmarks we're passing. Along the way the mystic chimes of the mobile burro monestary echo in the wind and then a train of them fly past us.
Finally, when all hope is fading, after "hundreds of kilometers" of hiking, the 3917 cafe appears. We use their phone to try to evocate the pear-bearing taxi driver, but he doesn't answer his phone. As we go to call him again some über-blond tourists walk by. These, surely, are not Greeks!
The German couple who've picked us up share a humour with me and the conversation on our way down is characterised by laughter and a mix of English and German. It's also taken at a more controlled speed than the taxi (thank goodness!).
We arrive at the highway as the sun sets over Όλυμπος. From there, it's only a short walk to the rail station, a quick ride home, the shower, and sleep. It's been about twelve hours of hard hiking.