Ascent of Ágion Óros on 2014-09-14

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Andrew Tibbetts
Date:Sunday, September 14, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Boat
Peak:Ágion Óros
    Elevation:6660 ft / 2029 m

Ascent Trip Report

Athos is a Greek Orthodox religious enclave, effectively a separate country with its own laws and well policed border. Women are prohibited, although occasionally they have smuggled themselves in (the 1931 Miss Greece; a French journalist); a recent report has four Moldovan women arriving by boat in mistake for the European mainland proper (no ultra-bagging aspirations); they were promptly handed over to the police.

Access as described on Friends of Mount Athos website and more concisely in Petter Bjorstad's report. Andrew made the arrangements involving a few phone calls and emails, a little involved but not difficult.

This was the first summit of a one week trip targeting the 8 northern Greece ultra prominent peaks. We flew into Thessaloniki the previous day and had a look at P600 Ipsizonos Oros late afternoon although without much expectation of summitting. A better choice may have been Astrapokammeno on the peninsula W of Athos, although time was limited.

For Athos we arrive early at Ouranoupolis. There's thunder around in the morning but it comes to nothing. Pilgrims Office (not tourist office!) N40.32738 E23.98043 a former petrol filling station now houses "pilgrim" related businesses including the fast boat service we've booked to use (the early ferry doesn't operate Sundays so this is a way of getting to the peak early enough to summit on the day of arrival. The Pilgrims office is on the ground floor and opens at 0730. We show our passports and pay our €30 each then make the short walk down to the pier N40.32442 E23.97677 where the two boats are being refuelled. The regular ferry runs from here too.

Our passports and permits are carefully checked before we're allowed aboard (although no gender test!). The boat seats about 50 and is half full; €17 each way which we pay on board. It sets off a few minutes after the scheduled 0830 start time, cruising at 22 knots / 42 km/h, and we're soon at Dafni where a few folk disembark, then another stop or two, then Agia Anna pier N40.13732 E24.29114 a few minutes after the intended 0930.

We step ashore at 0937 and head straight up the steps. We avoid a few wrong turns; they tend to be signed or barriered of. I have openstreetmap (from the very useful openmtb website) on my GPSr and it's very accurate. Passing the monastery/skete complex we keep R, the steps giving way to a stony trail at a fairly easy gradient (1 in 4 average). There's low cloud which obscures the view but keeps the ascent cooler, although it's very humid. At one point while we're stopped for a drink, a party of mules comes down the trail. Could have been a little awkward had we been on the trail, as it's pretty narrow.

We reach the Profitis Ilias saddle N40.13393 E24.30925 and turn L, climbing steadily to a building (Panagia) at N40.15042 E24.32673 which seems part shrine part pilgrim overnight accommodation, although currently in use by the workmen at the summit shrine. We stop for a while and cool off, then complete the final 500m zigzag ascent - now in sunshine.

Athos summit is a 3m block topped with a cross, with a couple of easy scrambly ascents, plus a ladder to make the mountain a genuine walk-up. A shrine stands just below it, being extended - as it was in 2010 when Petter visited! We top out 3h03 after starting, not too bad for a 2030m 8.6km ascent (Naismith's rule has 5h; the posted time at Agia Anna from a 350m start is 5h30, a time more for pilgrims than baggers).

Three walkers are already occupying the tiny rocky cross-topped summit N40.15839 E24.32737 so we retire to the shrine area and enjoy spectacular views down the north face. There's also a tatty square concrete trig pillar beside the shrine. It's a remarkable mountain - 1000m higher than anything else on the peninsula.

After 40mins we head down. We get a good view of Profitis Ilias which looks quite impressive, but Petter didn't find a way up and the monks like visitors to arrive by 4, so we carry on trotting gently down, passing a few parties. Some include monks in traditional top to toe black - quite a thought in the afternoon heat.

We reach Skete Agia Anna N40.14025 E24.29672 in 1h55 from the summit. It's in a great location, 350m above the sea with a view down to the pier where we arrived this morning. We sign in and are provided with water, Raki (the local firewater) and Turkish delight, very welcome - as is the chance to wash the sweat away at the toilet block, and to do a bit of informal laundry. We're allocated a 3 bed room with a Frenchman, who's been on the peninsula monastery bagging and walking for over a fortnight although technically the permit allows 3 nights only.

Most other pilgrims are here for religious reasons and the chapel is opened up before dinner so the icons can be seen. Much more than seen - it's odd to see a dozen men crossing and prostating themselves before small glass framed paintings then reverently kissing them.

Dinner is a simple affair of soup, bread, olives and pears. At 6.30 just before sunset an evening "little service" is held with the Orthodox visitors taking it in turns to read (mostly chant) the liturgy. We sit in and are given English (in Andrew's case French!) versions - it's not hard to follow the formalised repetitive structure. It seems rather mechanistic but is good natured and informal. Afterwards we all take tea as the evening light fades.

0600 next morning the bell rings, I wander into the 0630 service; even the devout wander in and out at various times, typically checking in by crossing themselves, lighting a small candle and kissing the Mary and Child pictures at the door. The service (in Greek) is conducted mostly by two voices, a reedy old tenor and a rich baritone, in an anteroom, with clanging of incense at key points. One climax (slow mournful baritone with backing incense percussion) is very haunting. The whole emphasis seems to be on beauty of performance, very different from the low church Protestant individual-response tradition. The monks are dressed in top to toe black, except for one all in white who appears twice, once to bring in a picture presumably of Mary. It seems very long in the humid stuffy atmosphere but can't be more than 30 mins: at 0710 we're sharing sweet Greek coffee, weak tea and dry bread. The seaward panorama is constantly changing with a big thunder head forming, prelude to a showery morning.

In time we head back down the 350m of steps, dodging a few mule trains, and catch the 10:00 fast boat back to Ouranoupolis, with a 30 mins stop in Dafni en route to clear Mt Athos customs: this just means filing through the customs building on the way back onto the boat: nothing to declare, no passport check, nothing to do except try not to look suspicious.

Our pilgrimage continues in more normal less Orthodox fashion with an afternoon ascent of Pangaion.

From the website and other Athos reports we expected to be a little bit pressurised by the monks and the religious setting, but not so: it's all friendly and we're made welcome. Agias Anna is probably well used to "non orthodox pilgrims" given their location on the obvious route to the big mountain. A unique experience - to be recommended.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6650 ft / 2026 m
    Total Elevation Loss:5512 ft / 1680 m
    Round-Trip Distance:10 mi / 16.1 km
    Grade/Class:YDS 1
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail
    Weather:Hot, Calm, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:6650 ft / 2026 m
    Distance:5.3 mi / 8.6 km
    Start Trailhead:Agia Anna pier  10 ft / 3 m
    Time:3 Hours 3 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:5512 ft / 1680 m
    Distance:4.7 mi / 7.5 km
    End Trailhead:Skete Agia Anna  1148 ft / 349 m
    Time:1 Hours 55 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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