Paul, Eamon, Gary and I flew into Thessaloniki, then drove down to Leptokatya, a small seaside resort resolutely stuck in the 80's, catering mainly for Serbs and Poles. We had a lovely hotel however, and the welcome from all was exceptional. As Brits we were made to feel very special, possibly a reflection on the economic situation, and everything was very cheap.
We set off at a relaxed time on Saturday, and drove up to the end of the road at Pironia, where we had a nice meal and filled our water bottles. It was 29c in the valley, but soon dropped to an amenable 18c as we walked up the well maintained E4 path towards the Refuge Stelios Agapitos, named after the original owner and manager. The path is typically Alpine in nature, winding its way delightfully up to the refuge at 2100m, and there is a real sense of history as you imagine the ancient's feet that must have walked here before. The mountain stayed stubbornly in cloud until we had checked in, but we then got a glimpse of the rocky crenellated summit before the rain moved in in earnest.
We had a cracking dorm to ourselves in the newer block, with a dehumidifier that ensured all our kit was dry. The food was typically wholesome at a refuge, and the guardian Marie and her team are flexible enough to allow you to eat at your leisure. We washed it down with some wine, and turned in just after lights out at 10pm, with the rain beating down.
The promised dry start did arrive, and we rose at 05:45, and were away for 07:15. There was only ourselves and two other parties on the hill, which said something for the forecast. We hit the clag at 2500m, and the rain started not long afterwards. The temperature dropped to 1.5c, and it hailed on and off too. Despite the clear way-marking and many signposts, I still found the mist disorientating, and trying to use the unfamiliar Greek map, I was happy for Paul's prior knowledge as we hit the ridge line.
We got to Skala summit, where the steep down-climb led off to the scrambling route to the highest summit, Mytikas at 2917m. I really did not fancy it, exposed to the wind, very poor visibility, loose limestone with downward angled slabs.
We opted to go on to Skolio summit, at 2905m, the second highest, and 'see what we feel like' on the return. As we did this, two lightly-equipped young Germans set off down the gully, making us feel a little insipid. I still maintained it was unjustifiable. We made our way to Skolio (led by one of the refuge dogs, who had accompanied us the whole way!), and then turned to descend the same way we had come. Out of the mist came the Germans - They had quite rightly turned back. It's funny how such things make you feel better about your decision, well, that along with the worsening sleet! We were soon down to the refuge again, to a welcome cup of hot chocolate, before the clammy walk back to the valley, once again accompanied by the other refuge dog - They must just use us as 'walkies'!
The feeling of disappointment dissipated quickly, as the realisation that there would always be another time sinks in, along with the beautiful E4 path, gorgeous whether wet or not. It was well and truly put to bed by the hospitality of the good people of Leptokatya as we enjoyed the rest of our stay with Ouzo, Zipoura and copious amounts of Greek food.
We will be back, and hopefully Zeus will be kind with the weather.