What I Learned From Climbing Mount Olympus
What hiking right out of my comfort zone taught me about myself.
When I found out I’d be studying abroad in Greece, I was couldn’t wait for all the excursions and travel opportunities I’d have. The one that stuck out to me the most, though, was climbing Greece’s most famous mountain. Students from previous years spoke highly of this trip and the more I heard the more I knew I had to do it. But I am not a fan of heights nor am I a particularly athletic person. I occasionally go for runs and rarely make it to the gym, so mountain climbing was definitely not on my resume. I struggled to keep up with my friends even climbing our tiny local mountain, let alone a two day hike up Mount Olympus. I knew it would take a lot of effort, both physically and mentally, to get me to the top but I had to try. The first few days in Greece I started taking the 7 flights of stairs to my hotel room for practice, but I quickly grew tired of this after a long day at school and the elevator became my first choice.
The closer it got to the date of the hike, the more nervous I became. A few of my friends had gone on earlier trips and all of them came back looking like they’d walked across the whole country. Even my more able-bodied friends were sore for days, but everyone assured me it was worth it. A week before the hike, we were informed that the weather was going to be too rainy, would make for an unsafe hike, and would be rescheduled for a later (and colder) date. My closest friends, who were supposed to go with me, dropped off the list and chose to do a different excursion. This left me without the comfort or emotional support I had initially planed on. I thought about dropping out too, but I reminded myself that this hike was part of the reason I had chosen to come to Greece and it would be crazy to skip it just because my friends weren’t going. Little did I know, there’d be some new four legged friends to be made on the mountain anyways.
The day of the hike finally came and I geared up. I had packed enough snacks for the whole group and had enough layers and changes of clothes to last me through the winter. Later I’d realize all I had really needed were the two giant bottles of water I’d lugged up and a warmer coat. The first day was difficult but not terrible. We made it to our lodge just before sunset and bundled up in front of hot soup and pasta. I was barely sore the next morning, which surprised me since I’d expected to feel 30 years older. We set out for the second day. Within an hour, breathing had turned to wheezing and I’d dropped to the back of the pack. One of the guides made me stop and said something in Greek over the radio to the guide at the front of the group. I assume it was along the lines of “we’ve got a straggler”. Part of me wanted to just give up and tell them to call the emergency donkeys that bring the injured people back to the base of the mountain, but I knew the regret I’d have over not achieving my goal would be worse than the physical struggles I had at the moment. (I am still curious about the donkeys, though.) So, I kept going and, after a few more strenuous hours, we made it to the top. It was the best feeling looking out and seeing all of Greece stretched out below us, knowing I’d finally accomplished what I set out to do.
With that feather in my cap, I headed back down the mountain. Physically, this portion of the hike was much harder than I had expected. My blisters really started to act up and my knees felt the impact of every step. Once again, I pushed aside my physical conditions and focused all my energy on the fact that I was almost done. Making it to the base was as much of a relief as making it to the top, but at that point, thinking about if I’d quit halfway seemed unimaginable.
Somewhere along the way, I realized the hike had never been as much about saying I’d had this cool experience as it was about proving to myself that I could set out to do something way beyond what I was used to and succeed, even when I felt like I wouldn’t. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be able to say I climbed Mount Olympus, or any significant mountain for that matter. I learned I have a lot more will to achieve my goals than I’d previously given myself credit for. To this day, I still use it as a way to encourage myself when I don’t think I can do something and I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I had skipped out on it altogether. Studying abroad is full of challenging moments, crazy adventures, and unforgettable memories that just can’t be found back home. Whether it’s Mount Olympus, Mount Everest, or just getting yourself on the plane, do it. No matter how hard it is, the things you learn about yourself outside your comfort zone will be the most valuable lessons you ever receive.