MT OLYMPUS – TO THE TOP
October 17th, 2020. Summer is slowly coming to an end. Winter is creeping in. It’s the last few weekends before the cold really hits us. No better time to climb the tallest peak in Greece.
We began from the Gortsia Parking area on the East side of the mountain, and made our way up to the Muses Plateau. On average it took about 6.5 hours, including a half hour stop at Petrostrouga Refuge to catch out breath and have a cup of tea.
The weather was incredible. Temperatures were in the mid 10s most of the day, so the hike was easy. We were informed that beds at the refuges had been restricted before even arriving, so we came prepared to sleep under the stars. Or in tents anyway.
After setting up basecamp right in the middle of the two refuges, we headed up to Apostolidis Refuge to grab a bight to eat and talk about the next day’s ascent to the peak with our lead guide Sakis Pitenis (Trekking Hellas Mt Olympus). The place was rammed with fellow hikers, climbers, adventurers and first time visitors. But once a plate of hot food got placed in front of my mouth the whole world disappeared and it was by far the best meal I’ve ever had.
We finished up and headed back to our tents for a chilly night’s sleep. 6am start the next day. Better get some rest. I tried. My sleeping bag was a little less than ideal. My toes felt like they were about to fall off. Couldn’t get much sleep but as soon as the alarm went off I happily got up to move around and warm up somehow.
Off to the beginning of the Louki of Mytikas. The long, narrow and steep corridor leading up to the peak of the mountain, at 2918m. I had only heard of this section of the ascent. And I’m no experienced climber. But somehow I didn’t get too scared. Maybe it was the lack of sleep. The sun began to shine on the rocky surface leading up to the top, and I couldn’t wait to touch them with my bare hands to warm up my fingers and toes.
Sakis and Tasos from Trekking Hellas led the way for our group. Some friends went up with Nikos, Babis and Stergios from WildTrek Greece. And just like doing a tour of a busy museum, we crossed paths on the way up and down, briefly, but long enough to exchange smiles and take a couple photos.
The peak was lit perfectly by the morning sun, so it was a welcome break from the chilly ascent. It felt good to be up there, a really nice reward after a tough hike up carrying tents and sleeping bags the previous day, and a bad night’s sleep. None of that mattered though. I tried to take in the view along the crystal clear horizon, the sea on one side and the open plains to the West. And that morning light. I know I mentioned that already. But damn it just made everything look so damn good. A great moment. A few more minutes to take photos and hug your buddies, before heading back down the rocky chute.
The descent seemed like an impossible task. It was super steep and we already knew how careful you had to be going up. And there were more groups making their way up at the same time. Like trying to run down a two way escalator in the Tokyo Metro. But once we got going it wasn’t actually that bad. You pick up a rhythm and before you know it each new step was easier than the one before. Piece of cake. Even for Andreas who was scared of heights. He got to the top and back down without even breaking a sweat.
We got back to Apostolidis Refuge for some breakfast and coffee with the rest of the group who decided not to come to the top with us. We could see they were still tired, some hadn’t slept well at all. Others still tired from the previous day’s hike. But we busted in with radiating smiles and tons of energy. It was contagious.
Time to leave. We made our way back to camp. Took our last few photos in the warm sun. Packed our tents and strapped up our bags, and headed down for another 6 hour hike. It was hard on the knees. And the last few kilometers felt like torture. But that moment you see your car parked at the bottom of the road is golden. We got this second wave of energy as we dropped our bags into our cars and said our goodbyes before heading back home. 2 days went by pretty fast. It felt like more, but I was also happy to head back to Athens, with a quick pit stop at the Thermopylae hot springs of course.
Thanks to everyone who came! And congratulations to each and every one of you for outdoing yourselves! Hopefully it’s not the last time we see each other on the mountain of the gods.
Mount Olympus Splitboarding Camp 2019 was a great introduction to both splitboarding and mountain safety. Over two days we experienced a little bit of everything. From a sprinkle of fresh snow to blue skies and from spring slush to icy climbs. Ideal conditions for getting used to the equipment and gaining an appreciation of the unpredictability of the mountains.
Day 1 was all about getting to know the boards, going through ascent techniques like proper strides and kick turns, using batons and changing our bindings to fit the slope. We also went through a brief avalanche equipment training course just to get a feel for the reality of avalanche danger. *This is not a certified avalanche safety course – If anyone out there wants to get involved in ski mountaineering or splitboarding we strongly recommend attending an official mountain safety course.
We got to Migotzidis Refuge at the top of the KEOAX ski lift area, currently used by the military for training purposes, but is also open to the public for a small fee on select days throughout the year. After a quick snack we headed back down through the Xero-un-lucky Gully down to the base near the cars. On the way we stopped to do a couple of avalanche scenarios with the team, and dig a profile to explain more about snow layers.
Day 2 – The target was to reach the second tallest peak in Greece – Skolio 2,911m. Due to icy conditions and an increase in wind at higher altitudes however, we stopped short of Agios Antonios Refuge and returned down the same route as the day before. Playing it safe on the mountain should always be number one priority, and turning back was an important lesson in mountaineering, not to be underestimated.
The team arrived back at Olympus Lodge Hostel safe and sound and with big smiles on everyones faces. Greece has an incredible potential for ski mountaineering and splitboarding, with an almost endless mountainous terrain, even on the islands, it’s a blank canvas with plenty left to discover.
Thanks to Pitenis Siokas and Gerasimos Avramidis for the valuable lessons on safety and risk management, MicroXtreme for the rental boards and Splitboard.gr for the extra rental boards, Olympus Lodge for keeping us warm and fed, and Odyssey Campers for the extra wheels.
If you’re interested in joining next year’s Splitboard camps let us know by sending us a message. If you’re interested in venturing up into the mountains on your own make sure you have the right gear, and know how to use it. We recommend attending an official avalanche safety course before going out there without a guide. Play safe. Have fun.
Finally, special thanks to everyone who made our first Splitboard Camp one of the best things we’ve done all winter! You guys (and girl) rock!