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Greece: My big fat mountain

Mount Olympus is home to capricious gods, turning on both sizzling sunshine and scary summer storms in the space of a day. Mark Daffey reports.

We enter a clearing marked on my map as Petrostrouga, half way down a ridge that runs from the high-altitude Muses Plateau on Mount Olympus...

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A handful of shepherds' huts in various states of disrepair are spread among a depressing stand of pine trees. Their battered tin walls are pegged loosely to upright posts. Inside, planks are laid roughly across horizontal beams as platforms above the earthen floor.

The surrounding trees are either dead or dying, their trunks split and branches limp from lightning strikes.

Our timing is bad. All morning, brooding clouds have threatened to unload on us. Until now, they have leaked only a few drops of rain. But change is afoot - and soon.

Cool winds gust up the mountain's north face. In the distance, thunder growls like an unsettled stomach, growing louder each time. Lightning flashes repeatedly. It is clear that the elements will cross our path.

As we follow the trail through knee-high grass sprinkled with wildflowers, rain begins to tumble, light at first, then torrentially. In seconds, our clothes and backpacks are ringing wet. We scramble inside one of the huts, where a plastic sheet has been laid over a latticework roof. It will do until the storm passes.

I lie back on the platform, resting my head on my pack. Rain hammers down on the plastic roof, drowning all other sound bar the rattling thunder. Lightning electrifies the sky."

That was a close one," says my wife, Michelle."

Hmm," I mutter, now dozing contentedly. A flash of light, visible through my eyelids, precedes another thunder crack."

That was close," she repeats."

You said that last time."

"I know. But the second one was closer." Another crack, louder again. "Now that was really close."

It was becoming increasingly obvious that we had bunkered down in a minefield. A battle was going on outside, and we were in it, outgunned and outmanned. It was no wonder the ancient Greeks referred to Mount Olympus as the Mountain of the Gods. It created its own weather.

For the three days of our ascent of Greece's highest mountain, we had been blighted by less than perfect weather for climbing a mountain.

On our first day, it was blisteringly hot and humid. The second was the same, frying me like a withered apple that had been left in the sun too long. Today, as if in anger at our resilience, the weather - or was it the mountain? - was throwing all its might into chasing us from its slopes.

Mount Olympus, rising above mainland Greece's east coast, acts as a beacon for hikers wanting to stand on its 2918-metre summit. However, while the route to the top is reasonably straightforward, reaching it may not be.

Because of the mountain's size and proximity to the coast (the summit is less than 10 kilometres from the sea), it behaves as a barometric magnet for the region's worst weather. Summers on the mountain are mostly hot and winters have it caked in snow but at any moment it can change from one to the next.

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Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, January 01, 1970 (00:33:23) (4027 reads) [ Administration ]

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