Hiking Up to the Gods

This Semester I had the amazing opportunity to go hiking in the southern part of Greece. About thirty CYA students and a hiking guide from the area woke up early on a Friday morning, to take a six-hour bus ride. Groggily pushing ourselves onto the bus having forgotten to eat breakfast, we all used that morning ride to sleep a bit more and to mentally prepare ourselves to hike up the tallest mountain in Greece –which, of course, happens to be the one and only Mount Olympus

The minute the email about hiking Mount Olympus came into my inbox a few months ago, I jumped at the opportunity to sign up. My mom can attest to the fact that I had barely read the whole email before I was screaming with joy – how often was I going to get the chance to hike up to the mythological throne room of the gods? I knew that having chosen to come to Greece, I absolutely HAD to be on this trip, especially as I had spent the entire summer before thinking about all the possible experiences I could have on that mountain. Now that I’m back at sea level, I can say that the actual hike was nothing like I had expected, but it was still one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had.

We started the hike at the base of the mountain, which is in the town of Litochoro. Getting off the bus, I could already tell I would be in for a treat from the beautiful forest surrounding the mountain range. Going to school in Boston, I’ve come to love watching the leaves change, and I was really bummed that I wouldn’t get to experience that while I was in Greece this semester. But it seems like the gods had other ideas because the trees on this mountain range were some of the most beautiful shades of orange, red, and yellow that I’ve ever seen. A lot of the friends I’ve made here at CYA also go to school on the East Coast, and we were spinning in circles for a solid five minutes because we were so excited about the foliage – it was one of the funniest situations ever!

    

After we calmed down from the surprise of the trees, we started our hike by walking across a bridge that overlooked a small waterfall and then we continued up some steps laid into the path. Within the first couple of hours we made an impressive gain in elevation, and within the first hour I was sweating but still having a fun time. It was incredible to see all the little hills and valleys, and it was really nice to be out in nature. I’m also someone who loves to talk as I’m doing something, whether it’s walking, driving, or doing arts and crafts, and the hike was a perfect backdrop for me. There were a lot of other hikers that I either hadn’t met or hadn’t had a lot of opportunities to interact with during the semester, and I got to meet a lot of new and really cool people that way.

We started our hike pretty late in the afternoon, around five pm, which gave us just a couple of hours of daylight (luckily this trip took place before daylight savings time ended), but by the time night fell we still hadn’t gotten to the shelter, so our day hike quickly became a night hike. I have very little hiking experience, and quite frankly the only time that I spend outside is when I’m swimming at the beach or having picnics with friends on the grass. That means I am by no means equipped to hike up a mountain at night! Even so, I surprised myself when I realized how much fun I was having looking up at the stars and hiking in the dark with nothing but a flashlight and the moon to light my path.

    

Not long after it got dark, we could see the lights emanating from the windows of the refuge, and even though it seemed like every time we came upon another switchback, the light seemed to get farther away, we eventually arrived at the shelter at around 9:30 pm. After a quick dinner, we all braced ourselves for the pain we’d feel in our legs when we finally stopped moving and prepared for the rest of the hike up to the summit the following morning. Once we had all gathered in the morning, we had breakfast at the refuge and got to meet lots of other hikers and climbers, as well as some adorable dogs, all on their own journeys up the mountain. Gearing up to continue the hike, my friends and I took a few minutes to take some photos with the sun and the trees – even though we weren’t at the summit yet, we still had a pretty breathtaking view.

    

The second leg of our mountain hike was definitely a little bit harder because my legs were already sore from all the hiking we had done the day before. There were some parts of the mountain that were simply extreme verticals, and even though I saw my feet moving, I had trouble comprehending that I was hiking upward; it was truly wild to see!  After a few more hours, we reached the summit, and once we saw the open expanse that took us to the mountain edge, every one of us seemed to get a burst of energy. Finally being on a flat surface, we all started running to the edge to see what awaited us there, and we were not disappointed. It was a little foggier than usual that morning, but the view was spectacular. We were surrounded by mountain ranges, the sky was so open, and we could see for miles in every direction; I was floored, to say the least.

I don’t know if this is a common trope at all colleges, but one of the jokes at Tufts is that when people go abroad they always come back talking about all the ways that abroad “changed” them. Even the first day I got to Greece, one of the first texts I got from my friend was “Has abroad changed you yet?” It’s all a joke, but it’s based on a lot of truth: the abroad experience is different for everyone, but there are always concrete experiences that change perceptions and the ways we walk through this world. I think that’s a really powerful thing, and it was one of the reasons why I was so excited to study abroad in the first place. I could tell from the first step I took towards the summit of Mount Olympus that this was an experience that was going to stay with me forever; the process of walking through a part of the world that was and still is both so mystical and so natural, sharing laughs with friends, straining my neck to look out over cliffs without falling, all of these experiences changed me.  I came back from this trip having gained a lot of different things: I’m now more aware of my surroundings and more critical of landscapes and how I walk through spaces as a pedestrian. I also realized how much I love the terrain of Greece as a whole. What’s more, I got to see beautiful rural landscapes and make great friends, and I discovered how much I love walking among trees and hiking, a pastime I’ll definitely continue once I get back to the States. Mount Olympus gave me a taste of what it feels like to be next to nature, and I absolutely loved it.

 

    

Alexandra Strong

Alexandra Strong is a Fall '18 CYA student and an intern for the CYA MediaLab. She is a junior studying Anthropology and English at Tufts University in Boston.Back at Tufts Alexandra is involved in writing and publishing clubs, a cappella, and she is a tour guide.

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