1782 – Twenty monasteries in seven days : Day 2, The Top

This is the second episode of seven of the  Athos trip done by Goulven Le Goff and his brother Ivonig from Rennes, France made in May 2015. They visited all 20 monasteries in one week and stayed overnight at the summit.  Text and photo’s by G. and I. Le Goff.

day20We expected -rightfully- the second day to be the most difficult of our trek, with more than 2200 meters of positive elevation and a finish on the summit of the peninsula. So we woke up at sunrise, and after a smoke on this peaceful balcony (compared to the crowded one in the archondariki), we walked to Paulou monastery.
1                            2We had to cross the Dionysiou cemetery, where we found, stacked behind a grid, loads of skulls of dead monks, with the date of their death written on their foreheads.3
The path to Paulou is quite the most dangerous we walked. Sometimes its width is less than one meter, with shrubs on and a three meters gap on its side.
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We reached Paulou as several groups of pilgrims were leaving the monastery on their way to the mountain ; Later in the week we would encounter them again. In Dionysiou, we didn’t get a meal in the morning, only dry bread with olives in the archondariki, so we hoped to eat in Paulou. Sadly it was too late, the refectory was already closed. We had to pick up some food from our own reserves.
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A last look on the Paulou valley and we started the long climb to the summit.8 8b
Soon we crossed the Skiti Agia Annis, when we had some rest before the most difficult part of the climb : more than 1000 meters of elevation until the Panagia, with a huge percentage.
9Somewhere above Sk. Anna, we overtook the Russian pilgrims we met at Paulou. None of them had specific hiking shoes and pants, which was quite impressive considering the difficulty of the climb. Further, we saw other pilgrims, Russians, Bulgarians, Serbians, Romanians and even a Belarusian but very few Greeks, though they are the majority of the pilgrims you encounter in the monasteries.
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After a long walk under the full sun, which Ivonig doesn’t bear too much, we entered the first of three forest sections, when we had a little sleep before restarting the walk.
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Soon we got out the last forest and reached a section with shrubs, bushes and a constant view on the summit. The landscape changed progressively until it looked like an alpine one.
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The Panagia shelter at 1500 meters, where most of the pilgrims sleep before starting the hike to the summit the next morning, is a dirty place ; even its water is suspicious. We ate a snack, rested for a while and then we left this disgusting place to reach the summit.15 16
On the windy track, we encountered workers with mule coming from the top, where they were building a new chapel. They advised us against the idea to sleep there, because according to them, the chapel wasn’t open yet.17In fact the chapel who was under construction contained at least six beds, but when we reached the summit together with a Belarusian and two Athenians (noticeable on the photo), the monk sleeping there with three workers didn’t allow us to use the two last ones. Not really christian !
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So we had to to sleep outside, in the only place covered from the powerful wind. Sadly, the evening was colder than expected. We would have suffered severe colds in our tiny and thin sleeping bags if luckily three Bulgarians, who arrived one hour later and who also planned to sleep on the top, found some spare sleeping bags in a box outside the chapel. Again there was an argument with the monk because over his denial to welcome us inside.
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Here are the three Bulgarians, the only real hikers we met on our trip, watching with us the sunset.  After that we slept in rather good conditions.

Text and photo’s by Goulven Le Goff, Ivonig Le Goff, some editing by Herman Voogd

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