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Two Weeks in the Balkans- Pt 3

November 1, 2013

After climbing the highpoint of Serbia we decided to drive through Macedonia (Makedonia, as it should be spelled), to climb Mount Olympus in Greece. We began driving on toll roads heading South, which soon petered out. Within a couple hours we made it to the Makedonian border, where the roads greatly improved, and headed for Skopje for lunch.

Skopje is in the middle of a complete remodel of downtown, some of it is completed, but most is under construction. In the paired town squares, separated by a bridge across the Vardar River, lie massive fountains for Alexander the Great and Philip of Macedon. The only catch is that the Alexander the Great never went to Makedonia, because Skopje is not even in the historical region of the Ancient Greek nation of Makedonia. In fact, most of the nation of Makedonia lies outside of ancient Makedonia and only the South lies within it. I think it is an attempt to drum up national pride.

Historical Makedonia or not, it is a beautiful countryside with rolling hills and interesting mountain ranges. We drove on excellent toll roads most of the way through Makedonia, and crossed into Greece.

The public works in Greece look like they are out of the tv show Life After People. The highways are covered in dirt, the shoulders are covered in bushes, and medians have become forests covering half of the left lane. But unlike Life After People there were people still there to collect tolls. Too bad.

In the evening we made it to the town of Litochoro, at the foot of Mount Olympus, and planned to ascend the Mountain of the Gods the next morning.

Early in the morning we were up and drove from Litochoro for about 30 minutes to Prionia, where the the trail began. The morning heated up quickly and by the time we got to the Spilios Agapitos (Refuge A) hut we had worked up quite a sweat. The trail was quite steep and I was slowed by some food poisoning, but fortunately we got a little cloud cover and it cooled off slightly.

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At about 2300 m we passed the treeline and began some rocky switchbacks in scree slopes which we took quite slowly. Eventually the trail led us to a fork, steep and short or long and still quite steep. We picked the longer route and slogged up the slope with a few Greeks, French, and Ukrainian hikers. Eventually, in heavy fog, we got to Skala, one of the summits on the Olympus Massif. We asked a guy which way to Mytikas (the highest of the summits on Olympus). He pointed us to head straight along the trail, but after 15 minutes we found that we were en route to Skolio. I climbed Skolio while my dad waited, and we hiked back to Skala.

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Skolio summit marker

Skolio summit marker

At the top of Skala there is a few painted arrows pointing down a chimney for twenty feet. We saw the arrows and followed them down the chimney. In heavy fog we followed some yellow and red markers on rocks down, to a little saddle and up about 100 meters elevation of steep scrambling to the highest peak of Mount Olympus, Mytikas.

Summit of the Mountain of the Gods.

Summit of the Mountain of the Gods.

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Despite the trail being packed, we were the only ones on the true summit. The clouds broke for a little bit and we saw hordes of people on Skala and Skolio, all looking at the couple guys who were on top of the ‘real’ peak. We descended from Mytikas and made it back to Skala for lunch, then attempted to hike quickly back to Prionia for early dinner. But, after 2300 m of elevation gain our knees were pretty tired so we had to take it slow, making it to the car by 16:30 (4:30 pm).

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Our route:
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