Throne of the Gods

Adventure - - Throne of the Gods - Text by Ger­hard Cz­erner Photos by Martin Bis­sig

25 years ago Greece’s high­est moun­tain mass saw its first tra­verse. Back then the bikes still had racks and no sus­pen­sion forks. Nev­er­the­less, the ride across the God’s throne, Olym­pus, is still a mys­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, even with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy.

I have no clue why Zeuss and his eleven godly pals were sup­posed to re­side up here, of all places. The icy wind blows across the rocky desert of the Olym­pus’ peak with such might that my down jacket can barely fight it off. Pretty un­com­fort­able for a god in san­dals and a light, flut­tery gown. Goose bumps chill down my back again. Blasts of wind were tear­ing at the walls of our tent all night long. My friend Michael also seems to not have slept with all the noise from the gusts. His swollen eyes are scan­ning the morn­ing sky: no clouds as far as one can see. Zeus doesn’t seem to be all too mad at us then. Ac­cord­ing to Greek mythol­ogy he chases un­wel­come vis­i­tors from his court­yard with thun­der and light­ning. And we’re pretty close to his throne.

Va­ca­tion in Greece at the beach is some­thing any­one can do. Def­i­nitely not some­thing we wanted, be­ing real moun­tain bik­ers, we chose a moun­tain of course. Not just any moun­tain, but the high­est moun­tain the coun­try has to of­fer: the Olym­pus. The 2918 me­ter high mas­sif tow­ers into the sky like a strong­hold right be­hind the east coast in the north of Greece. A fortress with sev­eral peaks that are al­most the same height, just scream­ing for a tra­verse. Though we’re not the first bik­ers to an­swer to that call. We came across the re­port of the first tra­verse by Ste­fan Etzel and Chris­tian Smo­lik dur­ing our re­search on­line.

The two Ger­mans went on their Olym­pus ad­ven­ture in 1989. You can read be­tween the lines just how much moun­tain bik­ing was in its fledg­ling stages at the time. In or­der to not fall over their forks the pi­o­neers sat on their racks for ex­am­ple. That’s right, bikes had racks and no sus­pen­sion forks back then. We can’t wait to see how the pas­sages they de­scribed feel with to­day’s tech­nol­ogy. But quite a few me­ters up­hill still sep­a­rate us from the de­scent from Mt. Olym­pus, not to men­tion that we’re tak­ing the pi­o­neer-route in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. We didn’t want to take the easy way to the peak but the one that looked to be the most promis­ing on the map. We planned on tak­ing two days, with an overnight stay in our tent. We fought our­selves up to 2700m yes­ter­day start­ing in Li­to­choro. The deep and chunky gravel was nasty tough and soon the wind be­gan blow­ing stronger and colder. Some gusts even had us wor­ried that we’d be blown over the edge. For safety rea­sons I kept look­ing to­wards the peak from time to time to make sure Zeus wasn’t stand­ing there in his flut­tery gown, send­ing a flash of light­ning our way. We were lucky we didn’t have any bulky lug­gage on our backs. Mules car­ried our camp­ing gear up the moun­tain. In­stead of calm­ing down overnight the wind seems to have got­ten a bit more wrath­ful this morn­ing. It takes time for us to cram our tent and camp­ing gear back into the bag. Fi­nally we grab our han­dle­bars with clammy fin­gers and con­tinue our as­cent. Our sight is on the Sko­lio peak. It’s seven me­ters lower than the main peak Mytikas with its 2911 me­ters but it’s sup­posed to be ride­able by bike. The han­dle­bar­wide path crosses the al­most horizontal east face of the Mytikas. You ba­si­cally just gen­tly roll along the path but a care­less wob­ble would throw you right off the god’s throne di­rectly into the pits of Hades. I’m just imag­in­ing how the three-headed hound of hell would tear us apart as the path be­comes steep. It zig-zags up the west side of the moun­tain. We have to dis­mount and shoul­der our bikes. As we stomp up­hill wheez­ing I keep look­ing back and smile: never ever would it come to my mind to sit on my rack and ride down this path! Th­ese guys were re­ally tough back then. At the top of the Sko­lio the sum­mit cross greets us in the form of an oc­tag­o­nal stone pil­lar. A sum­mit book is even at­tached to it. We turn the pages to see if any other bik­ers have signed it but the wind pulls so hard at the pages that we de­cide to close the book. Oc­to­ber may not be the best month for this tour but it sure is in terms of the view. Who knows if you have this in­cred­i­bly clear view in late sum­mer. Op­pos­ing us is the rock face of the Mytikas. It stands in the wind like a huge sail made of solid rock.

In the far west the back of the Pin­dos Moun­tains breaks from the ground. This huge moun­tain range reaches all the way to the bor­der of Al­ba­nia with its 250 kilo­me­ters. Lynx, wolves and bears are still sup­posed to live in its nat­u­ral park forests. If you look to the east the Ae­gaen ocean shim­mers sil­ver on an in­fi­nite hori­zon. Oh yeah, the ocean! We had it nice and warm there yes­ter­day be­fore start­ing our tour but now a de­scent of only 3000 me­ters dif­fer­ence in al­ti­tude sep­a­rates us from the beach. We get back on our bikes, a bit stiff from the cold and the long walk. The loose gravel doesn’t re­ally help with get­ting back into the feel­ing of rid­ing and find­ing a rhythm. But our move­ments flow again by the time we ride un­der the huge stone sails of the Mytikas. Now the fun of rid­ing re­ally gets us psyched again. Rid­ing to­wards the Muses Plateau we pass the Re­fi­gio Seo, one of the four moun­tain huts on Olym­pus. The stone house is fur­nished very spar­tanly and fits into the sparse and in­hab­it­able side of the moun­tain per­fectly. We take a seat on one of the hard, scuffed wooden benches and or­der a “Greek cof­fee.” The deep black mocca burns down our throats, send­ing lit­tle shots of elec­tric­ity through my brain. Awe­some. As we fly down past the 2000 me­ter mark we dive right into a colour­ful paint pot af­ter all the grey stone: the dense Greek fall for­est wel­comes us. We were im­pressed by the moun­tain for­est on our way up al­ready, sim­ply be­cause we weren’t ex­pect­ing this much for­est in Greece. We make our way down the for­est path and only feel our own airstream. The air is sud­denly warmer. It was a good de­ci­sion to chose fall for this tour. In sum­mer hordes of hik­ers are sup­posed to scurry around on the moun­tain. To­day we only meet a hand­ful of Greek hik­ers that stop us be­cause they want to have their pic­ture taken with us. They send us off with a “kalo taxidi“- safe trav­els. The set­ting sun colours the small cable breaks of the Ae­gaen deep blue as we reach the empty beach. We col­lect drift­wood and make a camp­fire. It’d be nice if Po­sei­don would come out of the wa­ter and hand us a fish with his tri­dent. But that would be too much to ex­pect – Po­sei­don has his res­i­dence on Olym­pus as we now know.

Up­hill to­wards the peaks of the Olymp moun­tain

ABOVE: A suc­cess­fully climb/bike up to the Sko­lio Peak of the Olymp Moun­tain (2912m above sea level) RIGHT: Tricky down­hill to­wards a lit­tle town called Li­cho­choro in the foot of the moun­tain range

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