They say "time is a created thing" created - by man - to keep all the really cool things from happening at the same time. I truly had no business bringing "time" to a place such as Mount Olympus. The god's; I'm sure were not amused.
"Two and a half hours" the concierge at our hotel in Athens assured us; "this is all the time to drive from Athens to Mount Olympus". We were lucky to have a concierge who had actually been to Mount Olympus let alone had hiked to the summit, stayed in one of the hostel's that dot the massive mountain side. "Two and a half hours, 3 hours to climb to the hostel and 1 1/2 hours to the summit", we were ready. Well, I was ready. Linda I'm sure had more than a few reservations about leaving our (company provided) 5 star hotel in favor of a 110 bed hostel. But things were set, reservations made, car rental to be delivered in the morning 8:00 am sharp.
We were going to be cutting it close, but the next two days were the only 2 totally free days on this trip in which I wasn't required to attend at least one meeting or "mandatory" event. And even with that, the 2nd day actually had a "mandatory" event which started at 6:30 pm. We were planning to be home by 4:00 pm, which would give us plenty of time to shower, rest and be ready for our final event. I was excited; Linda kept her reservations to herself. Zeus was having a good laugh.
Google maps said 4 hours to the small town of Litohoro outside of Mount Olympus national park. We were already running late after waiting for the rental car company to show up. They were there on time, but instead of walking to the concierge counter where we were to meet, he approached the front desk. Fifteen minutes for paperwork and an extremely long (but detailed) instruction on how to operate a car. I was getting impatient until I realized I really didn't know how to drive a European standard / automatic shift car. I paid more attention.
I wasn't to concerned about the time on Google map. I often ran into time issues with Google maps when hiking in the states. Google assumes every road can be driven at 60 mph and calculates the time accordingly. I knew we would be driving faster. Maybe not that much faster in our rental car, but E75 was a beautiful freeway and once we got out of Athens we were making good time.
Five hours later we arrived at the Prionia gate and trail head. We were starving, having bypassed everything in favor of getting to Prionia as quickly as possible . Thankfully, as Europeans have figured out long ago, a restaurant awaited us at the gate.
The E4 trail begins the climb from the moment you pass through the gate. Passing through a thick forest of trees, fern, moss and lichen. The landscape is beautiful and I can feel the tension fade as elevation is gained.
We are here. Plenty of time. Our plan is to hike all the way to the summit this evening and stay at the hostel on our way back down the mountain, enjoy a leisurely breakfast before hiking back to the trailhead. Even with the long drive, we should arrive with time to spare.
The ferns give way to pinion and pine trees as our elevation continues to increase and we can see snow hiding in the canyons and crags of the rugged mountain above tree line. Our hostel, simply referred to as Refuge A, is better known to our European counterparts as Spilios Agapitos. Our check in time is sometime before 8:00 pm. I had been catching glimpses off and on of a structure sitting atop a ridge line for the past hour, but nothing solid. I really didn't know where to look. We were supposed to make the hostel in about 3 hours and that was ten minutes ago. Finally crossing a glen, the solid rock wall and red roof was unmistakable, we had reached our home for the evening.
The hostel system in Europe is truly one of the great hiking treasures, that we here in the west miss out on. This stunning cabin was built in 1931. Refuge A, named Spilios Agapitos after the first president of the mountaineering club EOS. Now known as EOOA, the Hellenic Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing. Over eighty years old now, Refuge A continues to be owned and operated by the mountaineering club. Profit is not the motive, proving shelter, upkeep, and compensation for the managers and crew is the goal. We decided to check in and get a bite to eat before we continued to the summit. We wanted a place to sleep and felt it better to get that spot reserved now. In discussing our plan with the manager she politely informed us that it was to late to try for the summit tonight. I was confused, we had more than ample day light for a 3 hour round trip ascent to the summit and back. Our host smiled. The summit was 3 hours - one way - from our current location at a minimum. On the plus side, the hostel wasn't full and for our $13 euro each we could have a closet to ourselves.
Okay, not the Hilton, but the food was awesome, the pillows and mats were clean and the wool blankets were warm. The showers were not. No hot water. None. Never. Sweaty from the hike we settled for a sponge bath and the use of the "squat" toilet facilities.
With a clearer picture of our time table we were running out of options. Hiking down would certainly go faster than hiking up. The drive would or could be a little faster now that we knew our way. Our calculations were set. We would need to leave the hostel at 4:00 am to reach the summit and make it back in time. I inquired what time they started serving breakfast and if they would have any packed lunches available. When I said 4:00 am, our now very gracious host smiled and said "it is still dark at 4:00 am, the hostel doesn't unlock it's doors until 6:00 am at which time breakfast will be available and a box lunch if desired."
That was that, out of options. No chance to make the summit of Mount Olympus. Just to be clear, Mount Olympus is a massive mountain and the summit "Mytikas" is the official highpoint of the mountain. Referred to as the Throne of Zeus. However, Mount Olympus has 5 sub peaks all amazing peaks in their own right. As Linda and I settled in for the evening we decided to let things ride. We would wake up, get going as soon after 6:00 am as possible and let the chips fall where they may. It was important I be at the closing event, even "mandatory" but no one was taking role. Our biggest issue was our instructions left with friends to call out the Calvary if they didn't see us at the event. It would be one thing to be late or even miss the event. It would be something totally different if it caused a related search and rescue to commence.
One final note about our stay in the hostel. The evening was wonderful and people from all over the world settled into the familiar routine of eating dinner and making due without electronics. In the general dinning area people grouped onto the different tables to visit, read or play games. The fun banter, laughter, and musings of the day in languages other than my own was heart warming.
I'm glad we didn't get up at 4:00 am. The alarm seemed early at 5:30. By the time we were dressed, packed and ready to hike, it was after 6:00 anyway. A few slices of bread and jam to take on the hike with us. Linda enjoyed the warm chocolate (no sugar) before we started up the main E4 trail again.
Mount Olympus has a massive prominence and watching the sun rise above the Aegean Sea is breathtaking. Fully above the treeline now, the wind is cool and our bodies are hot from exertion. The hostel allowed us to leave stuff behind to pick up on our return trip. We are traveling light. Pictures are very deceptive showing a leisurely trail just below the ridge line. A second view is a better indicator of difficulty.
One thing is for certain, this mountain is beautiful. Stunning really. Having any kind of time restriction was a joke on my part. What was I thinking? Mesmerized we watched the clouds roll over the mountainside. The play of light and shadow doing just reward for this mythical place.
In the fog, we hit a small summit and headed back down another slope. Before traveling to long (thankfully) we consulted with another group and finally my GPS to discover that the small summit was in fact the sub peak Skala and the drop off point for the class 3 climb to Mytikas. Another decision junction. It was 9:30 am and looking across to Mytikas and the class 3 climb I estimated, at least, another hour to reach the summit. People could be seen on the rocky slope. They were not moving very fast. We were done.
One thing is for certain. I will never attempt to "squeeze" in an adventure such as this in the future. Time - for good and ill - is better left in the realm of men; mountain's and god's pay no such attention to such petty things.
P.S. We did make it down the mountain and to Athens in time. Our event started at 7:00 not 6:30 pm as previously thought. A hot shower, wonderful meal, and kind friends who were thankful for our safe return was a wonderful way to end our Greece vacation.