Saturday, May 19, 2007

Defying The Gods

In Egypt you can go up Mount Sinai and talk to God. But here in Greece you can go up Mount Olympus and talk to twelve! The highest mountain in Greece is home to Zeus (god of Thunder) and his band of deitic henchmen: Poseidon (Seas), Hera (Marriage and general Queen), Demeter (Agriculture), Artemis (Hunting), Apollo (Light and Music), Athena (Wisdom), Hephaestus (Fire and Craftsmanship), Ares (War), Aphrodite (Love), Hermes (Messenger), Dionysus (Wine and Festivity). Together they sometimes fought against evil and injustice, but mainly squabbled amongst themselves like a large, unruly family, with many petty jealousies, intrigues and plenty of infidelity. Rather than ineffable the Greeks preferred their gods to have human qualities.

It is not hard to see why the mountain was considered the home of the gods, and of Zeus in particular. Rising almost straight up from the sea the 2900m of rock dominate the surroundings and an almost permanent cloud swirls around the top, obscuring it from view giving Zeus et al. some much-needed privacy. The cloudy summit didn't bother me as the conditions change rapidly on mountain tops and I was planning to stay the night at a refuge some 2100m up and scale the final stretch in the morning. The path to the shelter leads through a steep and beautiful gorge full of trees, chattering birds and also the occasional waterfall. Despite the odd bit of drizzle the going was straightforward and enjoyable. As I reached the 1500m mark the deciduous trees (hornbeam, oak and others?) started thinning out to be replaced by fir and pine* (or some other coniferous tree type). Now that I had lost my cover the rain started to really pour, and so by the time I reached the refuge I was well and truly soaked, But that was OK as I had spare clothes and there were wood fires to help dry my stuff. No, the real problems started the next morning. When I woke up it was to see nothing but white outside the window. Initially I thought it was just low-lying clouds, and to a large extent it was, but there was something more sinister afoot. After more than two and a half years of successfully oscillating north and south to maintain myself in clement weather I thought I wouldn't have any more climate problems here in Europe in May. How wrong I was, and so here in Greece, in May, I experienced the first snow storm of my entire trip. (Upon returning to the saner weather at the foot of the mountain I told the lady with whom I had left my large backpack that it was snowing on the top; she was so shocked that she crossed herself in worry.) Obviously Zeus was not wanting to be disturbed and was trying to give me a hint. It was not good news as my shoes have finally developed a hole (in the sole that is, as they've already had quite a few holes round the sides for some time now) and walking on snow would be pretty dicey (I had already experienced snow on a mountain in Pakistan and didn't enjoy it, and so I certainly wasn't planning on repeating the unpleasantness here). I was therefore stuck, with a large gaggle of older Germans, waiting for the weather to clear. By noon it had, but a good deal of powder had already been dumped, especially higher up and so, despite not really wanting to, I had to turn back and cut my losses rather than risk pressing on for uncertain rewards and definite risks. A real shame as I had been looking forward to bagging myself another mythical peak, but at least I know it's not going anywhere and I can try again later.

*I'm not much of a botanist and during the course of my trip I've seen many different plant species, and my combined experience has led me to develop a new, revolutionary classification system for flora that, in my opinion, is far more useful than the classical Linnaean taxonomy. I have split plants into two main families: prickly and non-prickly. The former I loathe and are to be avoided at all costs, whereas the latter are generally OK as long as their branches don't whip into my face as I walk past.