After a spectacular view like this one, there are few things more satisfying than seeing the end of the trail in front of you after a good long hike. With the possible exception, of course, of sitting down and consuming an ice-cold glass of your beverage-of-choice at the end of said hike while reviewing its sights, smells and sounds together with your fellow trekkers.
My recent trip up the slopes to the Peak of Ypsarion (“ip-SAR-ee-on”) had equal doses of humor, comraderie, and jaw-dropping beauty. Leaving the village of Theologos (“theo-LO-goes”) we quickly covered the first uphill stretch, winding through the cool forest and olive groves that criss-cross the mountainsides. Cedar, Pine, and Birch intermix with massive Plane trees along the streambed, and the occasional Linden tree gives off its distinctive scent of honey-tea. Hearing the clong of metal bells, we stopped to allow a herd of 100 or so woolly bundles sway past us. “Look out,” Mitch said, “there goes dinner.” “Careful what you wish for!” Kostas, our guide shouted back.
The ease of the forest gradually gave way to a grueling three-hour climb up the rocky slopes of first one, and then another (actually several) razor-edge peaks before we finally collapsed at Ypsarion’s 1204-meter summit. “From Here to Eternity” was pretty much all I could think of to describe the view. With the island laid out below us, and the spectacular blue of the Aegean Sea as its backdrop, we spent a good half-hour taking photos and enjoying a well-earned rest before starting the journey back down. Upon arrival in the village of Theologos, we were greeted by the amazing smell of – you guessed it – roasting lamb. We quickly found a table at (taverna), and ordered those chilled beverages.
But, lets face it, there’s probably anywhere from 3-8 hours of leg-powered travel involved before you get to that “delicious sit-down” at the end of the trail. In other words, you have to start at the beginning.
1. Planning the hike
One of the great things about Thasos is the variety of terrain one can cover in the course of a day’s hike. You can choose your walk based upon degree of difficulty, topography, or thematic considerations like the Kentria cemetery that dates from the early Iron Age. For easy forest walks of any distance, you can usually find a local to give you directions (try your hotel’s reception first). For a more challenging hike, its wise to consult a trekking company or consider going with an organized group. Either way, make sure to describe in detail what you are looking for regarding distance and difficulty, and be sure to tell them about any issues like acrophobia (fear of heights).
If you go with an organized group, they may provide snacks or give you a list of what to bring, especially if technical equipment is required. Definitely take a small day-pack with a water bottle (or two/three if you’ll be gone more than 2 hours), a light jacket, and (as mom would say) Sensible Shoes. There are few detailed hiking maps of the island so try to get as much information as you can about where the trail begins and ends.
I once read in a hiking magazine that the best snack – bar none – for hiking is a banana. Personally, I find the “packaging” a little challenging, and since I have never had a banana-powered hike that didn’t result in my backpack needing a thorough scrub-down to get the goo out of the seams, I prefer a less squishy option. Energy-bars are good but if you didn’t bring a supply with you they are hard to find here. Luckily, supermarkets and the ever-present kiosks have a great stock of easy to carry options. Some suggestions:
Pasteli – honey/sesame/nut bars (amazing, nutricious, portable)
Dried fruits, seeds, and nuts – easy to find in individual quantities
Greek yogurt – a little heavy to carry, but super refreshing + a great source of protein
Kritsini – breadsticks; they come in a variety of grains so choose what you like
Pitakia and other Baked goods – most bakeries have a selection of different pitakia (“pee-TAHK-ya”), little pastries with cheese, spinach, and sometimes meat filling. You can also get them with hot-dogs inside (“loo-kano-pee-TAHK-ya”).
Chocolate. ‘Nuff said.
Almost all dogs you encounter in the woods are herding dogs, and they are trained to defend flocks of sheep and goats. They bark readily, but usually will not get aggressive unless you approach their animals. That said, its wise to keep your distance, so move confidently but slowly away and continue down your path, or wait patiently (without fear) until they take the herd off in the direction it is headed.
If you go without an organized group, make sure to tell the hotel reception desk about your plans and leave your mobile number with them. It may seem a little silly, but sometimes basic common sense comes in handy.