Hiking Mount Olympus

This weekend was quite the adventure, to say the least.

Hiking Mount Olympus has definitely been one of the most challenging experiences of my time in Greece so far.  It was an incredible experience and I bonded with the other students on the trip, but we were underprepared to say the least. We started the day in high spirits, expecting a short-ish bus ride, an easy hike, a spectacular view, and maybe even a quick swim.

We ate our chocolate pastries within the first hour–“They’re good for hiking!” trip coordinator Nadia told us before leaving us with two guides who have hiked this trial several times before.  We laughed at their pep talk, thinking most of it was a joke.  I wrote parts of it down to remember some of the details I found so amusing at the time:

“Good morning! We have five hours left until we reach Mount Olympus [note: we thought the bus ride was 4 hours long total. We had already been on the bus for 2 hours at this point].  This is an extremely steep and narrow hike.  It will be quite difficult.  You must have a sandwich, fruit, and chocolate with you.  If you don’t have these things you can buy them in town before we leave.  People have died on this hike–but not with us.  Yannis has carried bodies out [note: we had been told that the hike was a pleasant and relatively quick].  We will push you to your limits and beyond.  There are wolves and bears here.  Also three-foot-long lizards [note: he meant inches, but we didn’t know that at the time] which are black and orange.  They are poisonous.  Don’t touch them because we don’t have the antidote.  As Robin Williams said in Dead Poets Society, ‘carpe diem!'”

Naturally, we thought our guide was a jokester who wanted to freak us out before the hike.  Five hours later, when we reached the mountain, we were less sure.

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A small shrine for libations to Zeus (or something)

So we stocked up on snacks chocolate and tried to ignore the ominous clouds and fog that had been gathering all afternoon.  Around five, we set out on our hike.  We also ignored the fact that sunset would be around 7:30.

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37 hikers (not so) ready to go!

Immediately after beginning the hike, I started to feel slightly nauseous and realized that the trip would not be as easy as I had anticipated, especially since I wasn’t feeling my best.  So I hung back with Yannis and some of the other hikers who weren’t feeling great and we made our way up, slowly but surely.  Despite our guides’ best efforts to push us along quickly, we needed a break about halfway up.  After refueling and taking some deep breaths, I was feeling better and ready to move on.

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The views were pretty stunning on the way up, and after I had re-energized, I moved to the middle of the group where we sang songs and laughed and also kind of felt like we were dying a little bit.  We were about a half an hour away from the shelter when darkness started to fall.  This was the most frightening part of the hike for me–I could barely see two feet in front of me and deliberately avoided shining light to the side so that I wouldn’t be able to see how steep the cliff we were walking along was.  We continued singing, a little bit more nervously, suddenly remembering the bears and wolves our guides had mentioned.

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We made it to the refuge around 8 and threw down our backpacks, changed into rubber “slippers”, and downed the most delicious plate of pasta and mugs of mountain tea of our lives.  We were told that lights-out would be at 10, but as I looked around at my friends’ faces I knew we would all be in bed before then and asleep shortly afterwards.

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Our accommodations were the next surprise: instead of bunk beds or individual twin beds as we had expected, 20 of us would be rooming in an attic with two huge beds, a pillow each, and a pile of wool blankets.  By the time we dragged ourselves upstairs, we were too tired to care about the lack of space or the fact that no one had showered (no hot water+freezing weather+no heating in our room=no showers for us!) We giddily swapped stories for a while, hyped up on excitement that we had made it to the refuge and a burst of energy from dinner before we cuddled up and fell asleep.  It was probably the coziest I’ve ever been, and one of the best nights’ sleep I’ve gotten since I’ve been in Greece.

Some friends and I woke up early to see the sunrise, only to find…

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…there would be no sunrise.

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Some in the group went on to hike to one of the peaks, but those of us who had felt the altitude sickness stayed behind by the fire and drank tea with honey.

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On the way back down, we met a couple of friends.  While us Americans found the mules we passed to be cute and friendly, our guides were unamused and urged us on, yelling, “Run!  Run!  Pass them quickly quickly!” At this point I slipped and fell in the mud and laughed because I was already filthy and we were almost to the bottom of the mountain and a shower was waiting for me soon.

IMG_9398We celebrated reaching the bottom by rinsing off and drinking from the spring water of Mount Olympus.  Despite all that had gone unexpectedly, I had an incredible adventure this weekend and I would do it all over again.

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