Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mount Olympus, the Party with the Gods 7/09/08 Day 52

Day 52 (slide show) (video)

After waking up 2 to 3 times through the night because I was hot I got out of my bag around 6am and waited for the sunrise. I was quite surprised at how warm I was in the coffin. That’s what I call the Black Diamond Light Saber. I love this piece of equipment. It’s easy to set up even in the dark and you can lay it down just about anywhere. And then there is the ultimate feature of this bivy bag, it only weights 1.10 oz. WOW.

When I got up there was a bit of a breeze, maybe 10 knots but it was cold. My watch which I had hanging outside the bivy bag said 4c and that isn’t that cold. It was the moist wind that pierced right through you. The mountain is so close to the Again Sea that it gets some strange weather. It wasn’t to cold to wait for the sunrise though. I was able to catch a couple of great pictures. At this point I was sure glad I spent the extra time and money to rescue my hooded jacket, gloves and hat from the airport a few days ago. After the beautiful sunrise I noticed a little commotion coming from my Athenian friends. Nikolas was up and working on breaking camp but the old man Constantinos was a wee bit groggy. I thought I saw him on his knees begging Zeus for just one more day. He looked better after he got the coffee going. It was real hot filtered coffee too. We got a pretty good start on most of the folks heading for the top, not many were ahead of us. The mountain looked very daunting but I felt it was calling me somehow. In the back of my mind I could hear music coming from the peak, and I think it’s the Blues I hear.

I need to tell you about the theory that Constantinos has developed and I think it makes since. I told him I wanted to find the original route the Athenians might have taken to the Mountain. I mentioned that he couldn’t find any information on an actual trail from Athens to Mount Olympus but he did find an article about ancient Greek people coming to the mountain from Dion which is close to the Aegean Sea. There has been some evidence found on the second and third highest peaks, Saint Antonios (Agios Antonios) and Scholio respectively. On both peaks they found the remains of a burned out alter to Zeus and many other artifacts. There has been other evidence found around the mountain also. Read this article from the AMPHORA, A publication of the American Philological Association. Scroll down to the story on Mount Olympus by Ourania Molyviati. There are many interesting facts here but the one not here is that no evidence has been found on the summit. So I ask, why would any priest or person in charge, let anyone go to the top. For that matter why would anyone want to go and see the Gods face to face? Instant death I’m sure they thought. So the theory is there is no original trail to the summit from Athens to Mount Olympus and if you are told that there is an "11 day trek" by a tour guide ask if their name is Breksh. Ask if they did any guide trips to Base Camp of Everest.

Not more then 15 min from were we camped it becomes very steep. We are traversing the edge of the "Plateau of the Muses" where there is a very steep drop off. This is where I saw my first brass plaque with names of fallen climbers on it. This would be the first of many I saw through the day. After a while they became distracting and Nikolas said “Don’t look down and don’t look at the plaques.”

At one point I put my hand up to get a hold on the rock and there was a plaque there. Another problem was the rock was very loose. I soon learned that if I cause a rock to fall you don’t say ROCK you say PETRA, the Greek word for rock.

We made the summit, Myticas in about 2 hours and it was just about straight up. The dangerous area that I spoke about earlier was nothing like the areas I went through later. And guess what, my friend Nikolas tells me that we are not going down the way we came with packs on its too dangerous. We will continue on to the third highest peak Scholio. I like that Idea; I didn’t want to go back down those cliffs without protection. Once on the summit time seemed to stop. I could hear the music again and it was fine. Zeus and Apollo waved to me and said, “Come on over and join the party, what took you so long. We were waiting.” Then I woke up and realized my stomach hurt. It must have the bad bread that Constantinos gave us for dinner last night. On top you could see forever. You can see the Aegean Sea to the east. Off to the west the Greek countryside. There were many peaks you could see but I can’t remember there names. I was too mesmerized to hear them as my friends described what I was seeing. I got my name in the little book and a great picture with my two Athenian friends. Thant’s what’s important.

Now were going onto the next peak. This took about 1 hour and was just as difficult. There were some steep drop offs and long descending chimney’s looking back into the big bowl we had come up the day before. These were unbelievable sites. On the peak Scholio, I remembered I had the sign I had made on the Everest Base Camp trek of REI and the store I worked at. I told my friends there that I would get a picture of me at base camp, which I almost made and on the top of Mount Olympus which I forgot to get. Sorry everyone I tried.

I think now its time to get our asses down from this mountain. This is where the accidents happen, on the way down. It always seems that way. We were now going to go back down into the big bowl we had come up from the day before but we were now coming into it from a 2 O’clock location where on the way up we went on a 10 O’clock line. That’s looking at it from the break spot from yesterday. We negotiated our way off the caldron edge and onto the steep edges of the bowl. The rock was very loose and the best you could do was traverse back and forth while trying to balance yourself with the rock sliding underfoot. It was important to stay out of the fall line of each other so the rocks didn’t slide or roll onto your friend. This went on and on and on. I could see the bottom but it didn’t seem to get closer. I’m glad I had my trekking poles, my knees and ankles got so sore. Without them I would have been going down like a spider on all fours.

Now here is where the mistake was made. We are taking a short break and I pointed out to Nikolas that I thought I could see a trail on the left side. He hadn’t seen a trail marker yet coming down and he was always out front doing the trail breaking. Why I was chiming in on the route was ridicules, because I had no clue. My Athenian bloodhounds had the GPS units and the maps I should have just stayed out of it. We started towards the area I pointed out while trying to work down the left side. We hoped to be at the car by 4pm and it was 4pm with a long way to go. Well by following my advice we ended up looking over a 50 meter cliff with no way down. We had to backtrack for about 45 min. When something like this happens you all of a sudden start thinking about sleeping on the mountain another night and how much water I have left. I didn’t have much. I filled my one liter bottle and a 3 liter camelback just like I had on the way up but I was now low on water. It must have been that hard bread.

About this point we made our way to the edge of another cliff much, much higher then the last. Our point dog Nikolas was ahead and said to keep following the top of the cliff and I mean right on the edge. All it would take is a miss-step to the right and your saying hello to Zeus. Then all of a sudden there was a red mark on a tree. The first sign I had seen. I didn’t know that Nikolas had seen one other earlier but it looked good to me. Then the cliff ended, “now where do we go” Constantinos asked. We looked down and there were ladder rungs bolted to the wall. There were about 15 or so. One of the local climbing clubs had put these in. This was cool I thought, then we came to some cable strung so you could hold onto it like a rope bridge while you made your way down a very steep grassy tree area. At this point I was begging Constantinos for some of his water. I was going to offer him some of my Euros but I left them in the car. He gave me the water, nice guy. We knew we where going to make it.

At about 6pm we made the car and I was so tired I could hardly walk. Constantinos was hurting to. Nikolas didn’t say anything except that he was going to play football or something the next day. It’s great to be young. After peeling off our boots we made it out of there feeling like we just dodged the big one. It was about 45 min to a town named Katerini which is where we decided that they would drop me at. I was on my way to Prague. I had no idea of where I would stay but again Constantinos got on the phone and called another one of his friends and I had a reservation. When we arrived at the hotel, which seemed like an eternity I couldn’t walk to the check in counter. I was in bad shape. I was glad they had an elevator though. I was so hungry but I didn’t want to do anything but shower and sleep. I really do mean it when I say this; I felt a little sympathy for my two Athenian friends who had a 5 hour drive back to Athens and work the next day. “Drive safe Boys” it was a great adventure. We will be telling stories about this one for a long time. As I crawled into bed and I could hear the Blues, I think it was Buddy Guy. Good night Zeus and Apollo it was nice to meet you. I know you were looking out for us.