It was about noontime of a freezing-cold, overcast day we were crossing the bridge over the straits of Euripus separating the island of Euboea from the Greek mainland, heading towards the region of Thessaly in Northern Greece. Our immediate destination was Volos: capital city of Magnesia prefecture, where we were intent on overnighting, before making for Mount Pelion the following day.
The trip, under ordinary circumstances, was expected to last for some 2-2.5 hours… 8 hours later we’d covered but a small fraction of the way and sleeping in the car seemed like a most probable scenario. There were two factors I’d not taken into consideration when making my estimation for the trip duration: 1) The Christmas day was close, and large crowds were breaking away from Athens and other urban centers concurrently with us, congesting the country’s motorway network. 2) A snowstorm was raging violently over that particular motorway we had to take.
Not surprisingly, this bad coincidence led to a bad accident with a number of trucks involved someplace ahead. A many-km-long traffic jam was formed before an overturned truck, denying access to the winter service vehicles. Somewhere there, in the jam, amidst the dark night and the heavy snowstorm, were we also, slowly and painfully drifting and meandering our way past abandoned vehicles along the ice-rink-resembling highway. Not to brag or anything, but I felt deeply satisfied with my driving abilities when, in contrary to my pessimistic expectations, we managed to make our way out from there in my rear-wheel-drive without snow chains, and even made it to Volos by around midnight.
Fortunately, the friends at whose place we were going to spend the night are not of the early-sleeper kind of folks. We were kindly received by them, and after a hot cup of tea and some chat, we tumbled into bed. The advent of a new, glorious day we got to witness as we opened our eyes early next morning. The air was still piercing-cold, but the sky had cleared up and the fair-white slopes of Mount Pelion had made their gracious appearance off the fringe of the city. It was just a perfect day to head up to them.
“What are you up to, guys?”, the friend inquired while we were getting ready for departure. “Going up the mountain. We shall spend the night somewhere up there, in the tent”. “In the tent? Why don’t you go the refuge?”
So we learned about that free, well-equipped hut maintained by the Cultural Association of Agios Georgios village on the southern slopes of Mount Pelion. Hearing of this refuge was quite an unexpected boon; it’s not often you find such huts in Greece, or any other place, to which you can just walk straight in and make yourself at home, without having to prearrange with the respective maintaining authority, especially so when they are supplied with a wide range of provisions. Quite honestly, it sounded to me a little too good to be true. And I had my reservations, however slight, about whether we’d find the hut open, or any hut at all. However, as the best of things are usually to happen when a certain degree of risk is involved, it didn’t take much thinking before we’d decided to go and look for the hut.
In order to reach the place, we’d have to drive for some 20 km to Agios Georgios and then hike another 4 or so. We should make it there before dusk, and we had more than plenty of time to make it, but, of course, we didn’t. What was to be a short morning stroll around the city became a day-long loitering. Only by late afternoon, finally, we got in the car and started driving east and up the narrow, serpentine mountain roads. We drove past one picturesque village after another, and right by sunset time we were parking in that small area, some 2 km to the east from Agios Georgios, where a sign directs towards a tavern named ‘Paliovigla’ up a small, ascending road. We took some time packing our stuff and wondering at the fantastic view offered by the sun plunging behind the wild Pindus Mountains of central Greece, and we started on what was to be a long night hike.
Had it been summer, the trip to the hut should have lasted a mere one hour. As it wasn’t, though, the thin layer of snow which soon grew into a thick layer of fresh snow obstructed our advance severely. Hour after hour, we were strenuously trudging our way up the steep path through the snow, which at times reached all the way to the hip. Profound darkness and showers of silver light were alternating between each other at regular intervals, as the full moon was hiding behind and sticking out from the even-sized bubble clouds which permeated the black sky. So were the figures of the distant mountain ranges and the surface of the Pagasetic Gulf far below changing their hues from coal-black to pale-silver, making the artificial lights of the scattered-around urban centers appear at times brighter and at others fainter as a result of the contrast. About 4 hours after we left the car, a man-made stone wall glistened upon the reception of my torch’s light beam. Finally, there was a hut.
We proceeded to the door. I unfastened the latch, I pushed it, It creaked open. A rewarding moment it was, as it meant we’d not need to walk back all the long way and sleep in the car or in the tent. The hut was a fairly large one; it can accommodate up to some ten people. There is a long bench attached to the walls to be used as a sleeping surface. There is a large wooden table. And it is astoundingly well-equipped with different useful articles: oil lamp, firestarters, medical kit, and even various victuals.
We were carrying plenty of our food with us; and all the rest of the stuff we found there… we could get by without them. But there was that one thing we found there reserved for us which was really indispensable: a good, fat load of firewood. Digging in the snow for firewood in the middle of the night and endeavoring to sustain a good fire with it would have been a challenging business.
A mighty fire was soon burning in the fireplace, gradually diffusing its energy in the form of warmth in the interior of the hut. It was time to relax. We found out the water tap of the hut was frozen, so we boiled up a couple of potfuls of snow and made some hot tea. Next was food. Sausages made in the fire, a tomato salad, and some bread did just fine. Then it was crouching in front of the fire and meditating on how cozy it is to do be doing such a thing. The hours passed by in imperceptible tempo. The hut became as warm as we could hope it to become. The fire was abandoned to perish unfed. We got into the sleeping bags and let that day pass away.
Morning came, but the chills running through my body upon every slight move I made had me reluctant to find out how cold it was outside of my sleeping bag. So I snoozed, keeping myself as still as possible, for a good length of time, struggling to take the big decision to get up. Finally, the decision was forced on me when, at one moment, I heard footsteps outside of the hut, and at the very next one, a knock on the door. It was a group of hikers passing by. We spoke a little, they refused my tea invitation, and they kept on their way.
It was a brilliant morning. Twinkling droplets were rhythmically falling down from the tips of the icicles which had formed off the fringe of the wooden awning. Grim, blackish, leafless trunks of trees scattered around the all-white ground, under an all-blue sky, constituted a thrilling winter scenery. A new, beautiful day had just started. We spent some lazy hours to plentily enjoy the divine serenity of that morning. And by early afternoon, we were on our way back to the car, destined for new adventures.