Our journey through southern Bulgaria took us past Rila and Pirin National Parks, between them containing the highest peaks in the country (around 2,700m), Alpine scale with some rocky bits on top and even a light dusting of fresh snow on the highest northern flanks. However, the honour of highest mountain in the Balkans goes to Mount Olympus at 2,917m – just a couple of hours south of a hassle-free border crossing. Evidently the gods were far from happy, as thick clouds shrouded the summits.
As we’d driven down from the Bulgarian mountains the scenery had already started to take on a distinctly Mediterranean look, and our first sight of the Aegean (2,500 miles since crossing the North Sea) confirmed we’d crossed a continent. Worth a celebratory swim (delightfully warm!)
After a night on the coast we headed inland for a couple of hours to Meteora (translation: “suspended in air”) – one of those unusual places that is both on the climber’s “must visit” list but also on the Lonely Planet Top 10. This is a chaos of extraordinary conglomerate spires, up to 250m high, six of which have monasteries perched on top (dating back to the 14th century and evidence of perhaps the earliest Alpine-scale rock climbing, as there really is no “easy way around the back”!)
Arriving early afternoon, and with drizzle forecast all day, we consoled ourselves with a plan to recce the nearest route to the campsite (camping Vrachos – great spot!), but took the gear “… just in case.”
Ambari is the big tower above the village of Kalabaka and we climbed the Southwest Ridge – a good introductory taste of the run-out pebble pulling on offer with 160m of climbing and just a dozen bolts. Happily Meteora 5b really does seem to equate to 5b, and it was a really fun scramble to our first summit (and entry in the obligatory log book) with spectacular views of the rest of the massif – not that we lingered long as the threatened rain looked to be finally about to arrive.
Four abs and a ten minute stroll and we were safely undercover on the campsite taverna terrace as the drizzle started. First Mythos (of many, no doubt!) and it feels like we’re moving into holiday-mode 🙂