NEWS

Mountaineering in Greece is climbing in popularity

Mountaineering is becoming more popular in Greece. The Alpine Federation estimates there are now more than 50,000 mountaineers, both amateurs and professionals. While most of them hit the mountains in the summer, an estimated 15-20,000 leave the comforts of home in winter to trek through snow at altitudes of hundreds of meters. Many mountaineers from abroad have started coming to sample the attractions of the Greek mountains, professional climbing trainers told Kathimerini. They come in organized groups from France, Italy and Germany, and are led by foreign and local guides. Yet, while winter mountain climbing is becoming established in Greece, the rescue mechanism still lags behind that of other countries, experienced climbers say. In the Alps the rescue response time averages around 30 minutes, compared with 5-6 hours to save a mountaineer on Mount Olympus in the summer. «There is a serious safety deficit. We go out on the mountain but we feel alone and exposed. If something goes wrong, help is very slow to come. In winter it might take up to 12 hours,» Giorgos Voutiropoulos, a professional trainer with the federation, told Kathimerini. He claims that despite making superhuman efforts, even the EMAK rescue team often fails to complete some missions due to lack of training. «Volunteer professional climbers carry out the really tricky rescues,» he said. According to EMAK Director Apostolos Gerocostas, his unit can now guarantee that the rescue system works effectively. It has 65 specially trained mountaineers and in future EMAK will have Puma helicopters at their disposal solely for the purpose of rescue and salvage. He hinted that the failure of volunteer climbers, who overestimate their abilities to comply with rules and safety regulations, has often proved fatal.