Our main goal during our 2019 pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain was to reach the top of Mount Athos. We decided to do the climb in two stages: day one from Kavsokalivia to the Panaghia refuge and day two the climb from the refuge to the top, and then down to Agia Anna and end in the monastery Agiou Pavlou.
Immediately after leaving Kavsokalivia I passed a stable with mules and two friendly who laymen asked me where I was going. “To Panaghia and the to the top” I replied. “Would you like to rent a mule to go up”, they asked me? The be honest I was rather surprised and a bit annoyed by this question. Me, only 62 years old and in a perfect physical condition, would need a mule to go up? And on second thoughts: isn’t it an issue in modern times to use an animal for these purposes? At the same time I realized that mules and donkeys have been used for transportation for centuries and that their bodies are perfectly suited to do this kind of labour. And that in this part of the world there is no alternative to transport heavy loads. So I declined the offer friendly and I started the climb up (regretting that I forgot to ask what it would cost to rent a mule).
The first part of the hike is very steep and goes to the path that comes from Lavra. We started at 172 m and ended at 1477 m above sea level, the hike is ‘only’ 7.56 km. Our moving time was 3 hours, but with the breaks it took us 5.15 hours. For more details have a look here on the Wikiloc site.
I cannot emphasize enough how special the Athos environment is, assuming it is so different from the rest of Greece, because this landscape has been left alone by goats and sheep for hundreds and maybe even for thousands of years. Here nature has been able to develop almost without any influence from humans or animals, and especially around the flanks of the mountain. It is said many endemic plants survived here. To walk here makes you feel small and privileged.
After the stone avalanche we arrived at Kerasia, an area with many kellions and buildings. The first (deserted) kellion is named Timiou Stavros (also on the Howorth map, buy it here: http://www.filathonites.org/ ).
At first the path goes through a forest, but soon the vegetation gets lower and dryer, more bush like, and you reach the point where you’ll have a view over the West coast of Athos and Micra Agia Anna.
I forgot to mention that from Stavros a dog accompanied us in our hike to Panaghia. Sometimes he walked ahead of us and just waited on a shaded spot to follow us again.