Revamping refuges at the home of the gods

Challenging operation to restore three shelters at an altitude of over 2,000 m on Olympus 

Revamping refuges at the home of the gods

The first operation to Mount Olympus took place earlier this month and it involved airlifting photovoltaic panels, prefabricated roofing sections, and bags of sand and bricks to the Giosos Apostolidis and Christos Kakalos refuges, at altitudes of 2,710 meters and 2,660 meters respectively. More materials followed the day after: Mattresses, blankets and pillows headed up 2,050 m to the Spilios Agapitos Refuge, as debris and old mattresses were brought down to basecamp at Litochoro. The helicopter’s back-and-forth journeys lasted nine hours on the first day and six on the second, and continued for a week.

This challenging operation on the “Mountain of the Gods” in northern Greece is being organized by the Hellenic Federation of Mountaineering & Climbing (EOOA) and concerns two of its own refuges (the Kakalos and Agapitos) and a third (the Apostolidis) owned by the Thessaloniki branch of the Greek Mountaineering Club (SEO).

“EOOA owns 16 refuges, most of which were built between 1930 and 1980,” says the federation’s president, Nikos Kontos. “They were very basic at first and expanded along the way to acquire better infrastructure. Maintenance and modernization work is carried out every so often, but we have never tried a radical revamp. Given the large number of visitors to Mount Olympus, though, we decided to embark on this difficult task.”

The issues that need to be addressed are many, some structural and others functional. For example, the kitchens at all three refuges need to be completely redone and the buildings need to be made more energy efficient. The photovoltaic panels that are already there need new batteries, tanks will be installed to collect rainwater and a system to channel water from the kitchen to the toilets is also being set up. The project also foresees a revamp of the refuge’s exterior areas, as well as the replacement of all their bedding.

‘There was no other option than a helicopter, as the mules which make the daily climb cannot carry so much weight. But the helicopters are very expensive’

“Let me give you an example,” says Kontos. “All these years, the refuges had been getting water from the glaciers, but the glaciers have melted because of rising temperatures and the refuges no longer have water. This is a huge problem given that this time of year, and on weekends especially, some 500 people a day drop by each of the refuges and many of them want to use the toilet, which right now is restricted only to overnight guests because they don’t have enough water.”

The challenges of making all this happen are numerous. “First of all, there was no other option than a helicopter, as the mules which make the daily climb cannot carry so much weight. But the helicopters are very expensive – accounting for around 150,000 euros of the total budget of 650,000 euros – and require experienced pilots, as carrying heavy, bulky loads is no easy matter. Just to give you an idea, a helicopter loaded only with people takes three minutes to get up to the refuges but it takes 20 minutes when it’s carrying a heavy load.”

The conditions

Finding the craftsmen is another challenge. “They have to be able to work at high altitudes, in much lower temperatures [on the day of this interview it was 40 degrees Celsius in Litochoro, while at the refuges it was 7C and foggy], and be away for several days. They also need to be inventive, as they won’t be able to work with all the tools they have under normal conditions,” explains Kontos.

The European Union’s Leader program will cover 70% of the project’s cost, with EOOA meeting the remaining 30%. The work on the Apostolidis Refuge is expected to be finished in October and on the other two some time next year. All three will remain open, however, as the work continues.

“We don’t have the luxury of being able to close them [for the duration of the renovations], as Olympus just gets more and more popular every year. We get 150,000 visitors a year – hikers, climbers and nature buffs from every corner of the world. We get people from Japan, China and Latin America, people who come just to climb Mount Olympus. It’s the trip of a lifetime for them,” he says.

And that’s not to mention the “special interest” visitors. “Naturally we get cults that still worship the 12 ancient gods. Just last week we had a group of 30 people from the United States who worship the sun and who sang hymns barefoot on the Muses Plateau.”

A helicopter airlifts materials to the Christos Kakalos Refuge, at 2,660 meters.


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