It was a Friday afternoon as me and Waffle watched the colorful landscape of Belgium disappear underneath us, as we popped above the clouds. A few hours later, we saw the first view on the soaking wet Greece, and the lights of Thessaloniki. A weekend was about to begin.
We somehow survived to the highway after driving through the somewhat chaotic center of Thessaloniki. Our hotel was in between Thessaloniki and the Mount Olympus. The village was abandoned by tourists, dark, quiet and ghostly. Just a few stray dogs barking at our car. At the hotel we were greeted by the most friendly owner. He showed us around, told that we were the only guests and was sad to hear that we were staying just for one night.
Came Saturday morning. Wet and grey it was, when we crawled out of the bed, switched into our hiking gear and headed for the Olympus, who was hiding inside a thick layer of clouds. The starting point for our hike was at 1100 meters above sea level, there we left our car and started the journey towards the invisible peak, through fog. We were able to see roughly 10 meters ahead of us, then everything went white. We were surrounded by the sound of dripping water and our own footsteps. Clueless about the landscape surrounding us. The mythical mountain of Greece, was staying true to its name.
After a couple of hours of out of shape hiking, up hill, constantly up hill, we reached the Refuge A. A mountain base camp 2100 meters above the sea. Our approach was acknowledged by a herd of dogs, barking at us. After confirming we were no threat to them, they came and asked for petting, food and attention. Such terrifying guarding dogs.
The refuge was full of hikers, coming, going or just resting. The day before it had rained heavily and a lot of hikers were still drying out next to the fire places. We heard that the actual peak of Olympus, Mytikas, was unreachable, thanks to snowfall. So we were aiming for Skolio, the peak 8 meters below it.
We reserved beds for us and had our lunch at that place. Again we met extremely friendly people, chatted about the dogs they were taking care of, collecting money for their food and veterinary costs. Greece seems to have an ever growing issue with those strays. Somewhat heart breaking to see animals abandoned like that, out on the streets.
After lunch we started off again, towards the peak. The cloud was still there, blocking the vision tightly. The temperature was quickly dropping as we ascended. Even though, we could not really see anything around us, there was a great beauty in the nature. Small things, like twigs transformed into small jewels, colors being muffled by the frost and everything surrounded by whiteness. Serenity. That’s the word for it I guess.
The peacefulness of the landscape disappeared soon, when my heart decided to go and get our old friend arrhythmia joining the team. So the climbing hit a wall. I was angry, in pain and devastated. We might not make it to the top. I sat for a while, waiting for the situation to solve itself.
At some point I decided to carry on. We did not came all the way to Greece to sit around a mountain cabin. So we went, slowly advancing, higher and higher. I had to stop, breathe and relax after every 10 meters or so, otherwise the pain was just overwhelming.
That was how we reached the treeline and crossed it. After the trees were gone, came the wind, making the temperature feel a lot colder. Poor Waffle forgot his hood, and suffered from frozen ears and cold head. Everything was still very white, icy and beautiful.
We walked through a snowy and slippery trail. Higher and higher, always hoping to finally reach the end of the clouds. No luck with that. So we continued climbing into the white void, still pausing every few meters, breathing, relaxing, and moving again.
The silence up there, during the moments with no wind. It feels like the mountain pressed mittens onto your ears. At times I felt like giving up, because of the pain. Also Waffles head was freezing over. But quitting clearly is not in our vocabulary.
Finally, we met a group of hikers, and they told us that the first peak, Skala, was just a few hundred meters away. So we pushed through. I thought I was dying when we finally reached the top. But it was worth it.
We saw the Mytikas, caped in clouds, massive and somehow demanding our attention, disappearing to the fog, and then coming visible again. Behind it, a deep gorge, and Skolio, somewhere, not visible. It was rather easy to understand, why the ancient Greeks gave this place for Zeus to live in.
I decided not to continue up all the way to Skolio, so we stayed on top of the Skala, taking it all in. Hoping for a bit of sun, which we finally got, followed by a nice view on the Mytikas. Then started slow and painful descending. Clouds were getting thinner, and we were treated with some really nice eye candy.
It was clear, that especially I was completely out of shape. My thighs were trembling while I was trying to find the balance on slippery, rocky trail. Motivation being a hot meal and bed to crash into. The dream of seeing the stars on a mountain and spending time above the clouds, those were coming true.
5 hours after leaving, we were back at the Refuge, befriending dogs. We got our beds and some dinner. And fell asleep almost immediately. So much for the stars. There we were in a coma, in a dorm room at the height of 2100 meters. Oblivious of the wonders of the day to come.