Picture Cred @ Deux Pas Vers l'Autre
Quick Adventure Facts:
Who - Matt (see gear list)
What - Mount Olympus
When - July 15th to July 19th 2019 | 5 Days
This adventure did not follow a set trail but was rather an improvised route that followed rural roads, forest roads and the occasional trail.Length
Our unorthodox route covered just over 56 miles.Terrain
The terrain started off dry with small brush and trees. As we made our way through the little villages the vegetation progressively became more lush eventually giving way to beautiful green forests.
As we neared the peak of Mount Olympus, the trees slowly gave way to rock alpine trail and hiking above treeline. The ascent to the peak of Mytikas was an arduous hand over hand adventure that was as sketchy as it gets.Weather
Summer in Greece is fairly dry and warm. The week before I arrived there were temperatures in the low 100's (38 C). As it is in most mountains, the summer afternoons always presented the threat of thunderstorms.
The peak of summer may not be the most ideal timing for a summit of Mount Olympus but it was the only time I could do. If I had to do it all over again, I'd probably try again in late August or early September.
Flying into Thessaloniki and taking the train wasn't so hard but planning a hike in a country that you've never been to and that uses an entirely different alphabet isn't as easy. We relied on maps in Komoot to help plan our hike ahead of time but found ourselves frequently switching things up to fit our mood.Resupply
The first few days were fairly easy in terms of resupply. We hit at least one village a day and food was plentiful. The section from Kayra to the top of Olympus and down to Refuge Spilios Agapitos was a day and a half that had no food options and very little water.Gear
A typical 3 season set up like Matt used will work well for a summer summit of Mount Olympus, maybe with some gear rain gear thrown in. You can check out Matt's gear list here.
By: Matthew Favero
Nil and Marie came to us in 2017 seeking sponsorship for an ambitious thru-hike across Europe. The hike would take them over 6,200 miles (10,000km) all the way from Portugal to Istanbul, passing through some of the most beautiful and remote places across the continent. The initial outreach not only created an amazing collaboration between Zpacks and Deux Pas Vers l’Autre (French for Two Steps Towards Others) but also started a friendship that will surely last well beyond their project.
Almost daily, I’d exchange progressively silly messages will Nil and Marie. It was clear very early on that this wasn’t going to just be a business arrangement. My personal love for Europe and the different cultures and languages there and across the world had found a fellowship in the same driving principle behind their crazy adventure.
With the sharing of each new encounter and every obstacle overcome, I became increasingly jealous of their trip and routinely envisioned myself hiking in lock step with them over the Alps, through the Dolomites and the beautiful mountains of the Balkans. My openly expressed jealousy was routinely met with an open invitation to join them. I can’t even count how many times I had to stop myself from racking up a credit card bill and buying a plane ticket for a spur of the moment adventure through the villages of Europe.
Then, as luck would have it, my mom decided to do the Camino de Santiago in Spain. She invited my whole family to join her for the first bit and we gladly excepted. This was my chance, I’d now be in Europe and the opportunity to join my new friends had just presented itself. I reached out to Nil and Marie and we agreed that I’d meet up with them in Greece and hike to the top of Mount Olympus. I was so stoked, my family immigrated from Greece in the early 1900’s and I had never been. The rendezvous was all set (see what I did there with the French.)
After hiking with my family in the Pyrenees, I flew from Barcelona to Thessaloniki in the north of Greece to meet up with 2PVA. Regrettably, Marie’s grandmother had passed earlier in the week and she had to fly back to Paris for the funeral. Nil and I would have to climb Olympus without her :(
The morning after we arrived, we hopped an excessively late train that would follow the coast of the Aegean Sea south to the small village of Nei Pori where we would begin our hike. Nil and I were were having a good time laughing and telling stories and missed our stop due to a mix of not paying attention and a low quality PA system giving announcements in a language neither of us understood.
We quickly realized our mistake and, before hiking a single step, began our first reroute of the trip. We got off the train at the next stop, Sidirodromikos Stathmos Rapsanis. Say that three times fast. There was a small market where we filled up our water before beginning a little bit of road walking.
The main road was full of trash and graffitied bus stops and we were happy to leave it after a mile or so. We quickly made our way into some fields and began following farm roads as we slowly climbed towards the mountains.
It didn’t take long before we arrived in the small village of Pyrgetos. The first place we saw was a bakery and, of course, we had to go inside for a treat. The people were friendly and accommodating despite the fact that nobody spoke a word of English. Next, we hit the market, bought a couple days worth of food and headed back towards the mountains.
As soon as we left the village we found a series of steep farm roads that would take us towards the next village. As the elevation rose, so did the temperatures. We both started to sweat as we passed through Olive farms on the dry and dusty roads.
After a couple if hours of climbing, we came to a windy paved road that led us to the quaint village of Krania. The village square was lively with the voices of old men chatting away over coffee. We decided to join them for lunch and take refuge under trees that had to be hundreds of years old. One older man joined us at our table and told us how the village is almost empty in the winter and people only come for the summer. I envisioned how lovely it must be to sit in the town square every afternoon enjoying the company of your friends.
After lunch, we left our new friends and started to enter our first real forest of the trip. We found an old, over grown, trail and made our way upwards. We meandered along trails and forest roads until our path came to a dead end.
We consulted maps and determined that we could bushwhack our way to another trail but it would involve 20 minutes of uphill, off trail, ascent. Nil and I decided to go for it and started the grueling climb. We dodged branches and fallen logs as we slowly weaved our way upward. We eventually popped out of the woods, dripping in sweat and winded.
We caught our breath and started making our way along the forest road, hoping over puddles and enjoying the sporadic views from our elevated positions. The sky opened as we neared our camp site. We had picked out a small lake on the map and were hoping that we could find somewhere nice to set up.
When we arrived at the lake, it was covered in fog and you couldn’t see anything. Luckily, there was a couple of good spots to set up our shelters and a picnic table to used for dinner. We set up our tents, ate dinner and then hurried to our shelters for protection. I quickly passed out after my first successful day of hiking in the country of my Great Grandfather.
In the morning it was still raining. We ate breakfast, broke down camp and headed out. We both broke out our umbrellas, which I joked, made our hiking crew called “The Umbreall Bois.” The trail slowly descended out of the mountains, passed an abandoned refuge and into the village of Kallipefki.
The town square was covered and we took advantage and enjoyed a nice breakfast while chatting with a local. We waited out the rain a bit before the man invited us back to his house to hang out. Nil shielded the man from the rain with his umbrella as we made our way to his house.
His home was a simple old house that looked to be a couple of hundred years old. He showed us some cool sculptures that he made out of gords before he gave us directions to the next village and recommendations for where to eat.
Back out into the rain, we made our way out of town and back into the mountains. The forest roads were wet and we soon ran into an old sheepherder calling his sheep. Standing in the rain, draped in an old yellow slicker and hunched over calling out to his flock, he looked more like the ghost of an ancient sailor than what you’d expect to encounter in the middle of the Greek mountains.
The trail continued through the mountains before dropping onto a plain filled with fields. Walking through the rain we passed wheat and other crops as we strolled along the flat farm roads. It didn’t take long before we reached the next village, Karya.
It was still drizzling as we found the restaurant that our friend in the last village recommended. We had a great meal and the owner was gracious enough to call around and book us a room to keep us out of the rain. After dinner, we made our way to the hotel and dried out before heading to bed.
The weather finally cleared by morning and we made a quick pit stop at the town market before making our way into the high peaks resting below Mount Olympus. The trail became steep as we made our way in and out of the clouds. The altitude was starting to take its toll on me and my pace began to slow.
We reached the last water source that we’d see for over 24 hours and loaded up before pushing ahead. Eventually the trail came over a small pass and the views were absolutely stunning. Wild horses ran through the valley and you could see forever.
The trail slowly made its way down one side of the valley and Nil took out his drone to play with the horses and shoot some really crazy shots. The break was awesome and the views were even better.
Continuing on, the trail stayed high but relatively flat. In the distance, we could see a shelter used by the Greek military’s ski force for training in the the winter. The shelter is abandoned in the summer and free to be used by hikers seeking refuge.
As we approached the shelter, we saw our first “hiker” of the trip. An older man with a long pony tail, carrying a milk crate in his hands who claimed to have discovered how to reverse the aging process through consuming a special olive oil that he made himself. Doctors were studying him he claimed. After a brief chat he sprang down the mountain like a mountain goat. Maybe he was right, we thought.
We made ourselves at home in the shelter. It had a series of bunks with blankets, an old busted radio and a battery system that didn’t seem to do much. Pictures of the military training in the snow were on the wall as well as an old Greek flag.
The roof was leaking and the blankets were still a little moist. I actually had a difficult time staying warm due to the moisture inside. I distracted myself from the cold with the Coca-Cola 2 Liters that were stocked in the shelter. I passed out well before the sun set, ready for the next day.
With the morning sun came excitement. Today was the day that we would summit the mythical Mount Olympus. The initial climb was slow and steady and our spirits were high. When we arrived to the top of the first ridge, we could see Chamois (an agile goat-antelope) in the distance.
We followed the ridge to the first significant peak of the mountain, Skala. We caught our breath and took some pictures while gazing at the nearly vertical ascent required to summit to the top. Slowly, we made our way to the beginning of the climb.
The climb was one of the sketchiest that I’ve ever done. Hand over hand for close to thirty minutes. Taking our time, we passed a young girl shaking in fear as she tried to make her way back down. There was legitimate terror in her eyes which only heightened the anxiety that I was suppressing myself.
The last bit before the summit involves climbing down slightly before ascending towards the top of the peak. We climbed over the last bit of rocks to reveal a sign with a Greek flag standing proudly on top of the countries highest point.
The views were spectacular as the clouds slowly covered and uncovered the peaks around us. Shear cliffs surrounded the summit which we enjoyed almost exclusively to ourselves. We took some drone shots before I let out my signature Ric Flair Whoo and we began the descent back towards the sea.
We had to hike back to Skala before the trail seemed to fall out of the sky. Down, down, down we went for hours. I slipped and fell numerous times on the loose rocks at our feet and was happy to finally see the main refuge on Mount Olympus, Spilios Agapitos.
Our bellies were soon filled with spaghetti, cookies and coffee and our spirits soared. It was a great break and the warm food was just what we needed before we continued down the valley in search of the nights camp spot.
Looking at the map, it appeared that there was a small village a couple of hours hike away. We were curious to check it out and made good time as we quickly descended the valley. The trail was well worn and the amount of hikers we began to see clued us in to just how close we were to civilization.
The trail began to cross back and forth across the river at the valley floor. The water was a vibrant blueish-green, typical of glacially fed streams. One of these bridges eventually popped us out at the village. Much to our disappointment. The “village” turned out to be nothing more than a parking lot with some bathrooms and a small restaurant.
Never ones to turn down another hot meal, Nil and I decided to gorge ourselves on more of that delicious Greek cuisine. Through the entire trip, the food had been divine. The vegetables and meat where all local and fresh. In the villages the vegetables came from the local residents’ gardens and the cheese from the goats in the farms less than a kilometer away.
We finished our meal and started looking for an old monastery nearby which we were eyeing camping near. Nil made the mistake of telling me that the next town was only 7km’s away. I did the rudimentary calculations required of an uncultured American to determine what that meant. It worked out to a fairly short distance and I suggested that, despite it being late in the afternoon, that we push through to the town.
Nil tried to warn me that the map said there was still a lot of elevation gain which made no sense to me as we were literally dropping out of the heavens towards the sea. Regardless, we agree to make a go of it and quickly passed the monastery and a really cool old church built into the side of the mountain.
As dusk began, we ran into a small group of French hikers who were adventuring all over Europe. While their plan was no where near as ambitious as Nil and Marie’s, it was still awesome to chat with another group of adventures.
The 15 minutes that we spent chatting resulted in a lot less light and we started booking it down the trail. As the light disappear behind Olympus, I realized that I had packed up my headlamp in my tent. I was too lazy to unpack everything and get it, so I just continued to hike in the dark.
Eventually, Nil used his headlamp and shined it through my legs to help me see. It was sort of working in the fact that I didn’t fall off the many cliffs that I had the opportunity to but it was a challenge for sure.
It was around this time that the trail really started to climb and come back down and climb and come back down. We’d go up come down, cross the river, go up a little, come down a little, cross the river, go way up, come back down to the river, cross another bridge and repeat.
We were sweating, huffing and puffing in the complete darkness of the thick forest canopy but still finding time to laugh and joke. We eventually made it to a view point where we could see the lights of the next village, Litochoro.
Nil booked a room at a hotel on his phone and called to see how late we could check in. As we had just made a reservation, it wasn’t showing up in their system yet and Nil kept having to repeat his name. His frustration level was growing, which amused me, but not as much as I enjoyed hearing him say “Nil…like nothing” over and over in his French accent.
With lodging secured, we turned our attention back to the darkness of the trail and a new quest, ice cream. Hours and hours on the trail can easily lead to daydreams of food and I had pistachio ice cream in my sights.
After another hour and a half or so of hiking, we popped out onto a street at the outskirts of town and made our way towards the hotel. It was 11:30 at night and we had climbed to the highest peak in the country and descent over 13,000 total feet while hiking for over 16 hours; at least 4 of those in the dark. Needless to say, we were tired, hungry and ready to be done.
We found a small restaurant in the town square playing soccer on the TV and serving ice cream and took advantage of the opportunity to take a break. We relax a bit and enjoyed our treats and the soccer before paying our bill and heading towards our hotel. We arrived at the hotel just after midnight and where happy to get a shower and head to bed.
The morning was bittersweet. While we were excited to finish our adventure, we weren’t ready for it to end. Nil and I had truly solidified the brotherhood that had been slowly built over the past year and half of correspondence. We enjoy our breakfast before beginning our ascent to the sea.
We slowly made our way through the sleepy streets of the village and into the surrounding farm land. We passed a shepherd on the the road and stopped to take pictures with him. His hospitality, joy and toothless smile furthering reinforcing my realization that the people of Greece may very well be the most friendly of anywhere that I’ve ever been.
The day moved along quickly as we connected farm roads and passed olive farms while picking up tons of trash alongside the road. Before too long the sea was in sight. We had chosen to end our hike at the sea because it just seemed to make sense at the time. The smell of the ocean in the air was a welcome sensation and our pace quickened.
The pavement soon gave way to sand and our shoes were quickly removed to allow the sand to freedom to move between our toes. Throwing our packs on the ground and ripping our shirts off, we ran into the water to officially end our route.
The Aegean was refreshing and cool and we simply floated in the sea letting the suns rays warm our faces. It was hard to believe that the hike was over but it was hard to complain about where it ended.
After a quick snack from a seaside hut, we made our way back to the main road and hitchhiked to the train station to make our way back to Thessaloniki. We spent the majority of the evening trading the pictures and videos that we took before heading back to a hostel but not before enjoying one of the famous Greek Gyros.
It was an amazing trip for sure and one that I’ll never forget. Nil and I agreed that we’d have to do another adventure soon. What that adventure will be, who knows but I’d stay tuned.
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