Above the tree line, a wiry twelve-year-old named Pericles and his taciturn papous—grandfather—accompany me along the trail that crosses beneath the steep needles of Mytikas, a five-hundred-foot crag that soars to the summit of Olympus.
“You come why?” Pericles asks.
“To visit the gods, of course.”
“All gone,” Pericles insists. “Only Yesus and saints now.”
“Maybe they’ve just changed their names.”
He scratches his head as his grandfather flashes me a gap-toothed grin.
The trail begins a series of switchbacks that culminate at the base of the needles, rising to a height of 9,570 feet into the blue heavens like immense eroded pillars. It’s not difficult to imagine the ancient Greeks, tending their flocks and vineyards on the coast of Thessaly, looking up after a storm at sunlight glittering on these vertical crags and seeing, instead of weathered rock, the divinely sculpted colonnade of a golden palace rising above the clouds, a place where lions roamed, great eagles soared, and squabbling gods interfered in the affairs of mortal men.
Ahead lies a steep cleft in the buttress, a tumble of broken talus forming a precarious, but non-technical route to the summit. Even so, a bronze plaque bolted to the rock wall commemorates a climber who fell to his death on the spot. I squint up the chute. The sharp blocks are exposed but climbable; handholds look adequate.
Behind us, three men approach the cleft and signal to me. “Pros ta pano?” Going up?