1) Call +30-2310-252578, the Mount Athos Pilgrims' Bureau, in Thessaloniki. Find a date that you can
enter Mount Athos. They will need a copy of your passport, this is best communicated (as a scanned copy)
by email. Be sure to obtain the email address of the person you talk to, this facilitates the procedure
considerably. (I was helped by Alexander Gkikas, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, but do call first!)
2) Once your date of entry has been confirmed, you must reconfirm your plans, still with the Mount Athos Pilgrims' Bureau,
two weeks before your planned visit. This can be done by email.
3) You also need to call and reserve accommodation in one of the monastries or skites. This should be within
hiking distance from the summit. The most convenient is
possibly Agia Annas, but there are a few alternatives within reasonable walking distance.
I called Agia Annas at +30-23770-23320. It was possible to speak english and they made a note
of the arrival day, my name and the fact that I came from Norway. Agia Annas consists of several buildings
across the hillside from fairly high up to quite a bit lower down. This Skiti is about 500 years old and there
are about 85 monks living there. However, accommodation is in one location.
4) The day before your visit, you should travel to Ouranoupolis (see below).
There is a local Pilgrims office there.
They will issue the official "Diamonitirion", the entry permit,
on the same day as your boat departs from
Ouranoupolis to Mount Athos (see below). This permit cost Euro 30 in 2010, only Euro 10 for a student.
Local travel: The nearest international airport is in Thessaloniki. From there, the drive (east) to Ouranoupolis is about 120 kilometer and 2 hours. There are many hotels in Ouranoupolis, from the top of the line Eagles Palace to more standard accommodations suitable for a short stay.
In Ouranoupolis, as you enter town along the main Hwy., look for a gas station on your right hand side. The local Pilgrims office is located one level down, with entrance on the right hand side of this building. Just before you arrive at this point, there is a pay parking lot, also off on the right hand side. We left our car there during our visit to Mount Athos.
The standard boat to Mount Athos leaves at 0945 and serves a place called Dafni. If you take this boat, then you will pick up your Diamonitirion at the local office about one hour earlier. There is, however, a possibly better approach. An early boat leaves Ouranoupolis at 0630 in the morning (2010). This boat serves several monastries, including Agia Annas. Arrival time there is approximately 0930. This is early enough that a strong party can complete the ascent the same day, then stay overnight in a monastry before catching a boat back the next morning. If you plan on the early boat, you should notify the local pilgrim office about it the day before, they will then send a person to the harbor that will give you the Diamonitirion just before you get onboard the boat, around 0600 or a little after.
Returning to Ouranoupolis, there seems to be a boat leaving Dafni around 1200 noon, every day. Another (better) option is a boat at 1000 in the morning from Agia Annas. The regular freight boat costs about Euro 14 (each way) for each person, there are also some faster boats that only carry passengers, they seemed to cost about Euro 20 from Agia Annas and back to Ouranoupolis.
From Agia Annas, take the obvious path uphill to the buildings, steps most of the way. Continue past the buildings, still on steps, then continue uphill on a zig-zag trail that climbs higher with steep cliffs on either side. As you reach about 700 meter of elevation, take the trail that forks right. There is a good viewpoint here, where you can see directly back down to where you started. Follow the trail, now almost horizontally, even slightly down as it contours south then more east to a major trail junction. You will see the local summit Prof. Ilias at 895 m, in front of you while hiking along this traverse.
The trail junction is located in a broad saddle between the Prof. Ilias (895m) summit and the main slopes of Mount Athos. The location is N40:08.035, E024:18.552, elevation about 775 meter. The correct trail forks left and may look as it is the smaller one. There are numerous signs, at least one with "Athos 2033", written with Greek letters. Head uphill on what becomes a very good trail. The trail climbs to a sort of plateau, then contours right into a small valley. The trail is mostly among trees, but there are several places where you get a good view. Next, this valley is followed all the way to a shallow col (or possibly more correct, a shoulder), where there is a big mountain hut. This hut is located immediately below the final slopes that rise another 500 meter to the top of Athos. The trail climbs this slope in numerous hairpin switch-back turns in order to arrive at the well defined summit. The highest point has a cross, otherwise, most of the summit area is occupied by a building complex.
We arrived in Thessaloniki very late on July 3rd. stayed in a local hotel (Athina Palace), got organized and checked out our rental car the next morning and set out for Ouranoupolis. On the way there, we drove by a top a bit south-west of Arnea that might be a P600. We explored a possible dirt road towards the summit, but there was a sign saying "protected by military dogs". Concluding that visitors were likely not welcome, we turned around and continued to Ouranoupolis.
The next 4 nights were booked at Eagles Palace, my wife Heidi certainly deserved some compensation as Pål and I planned to visit a territory where women are barred from entry.
We had told the office the day before that we would leave with the 0630 boat. As we turned up around 0600, a man had already showed up with the documents and a list of names that where to depart this morning. We paid the 40 euros (10 for student Pål) and received the very elaborate Diamonitirions. The ferry ticket to Agia Annas cost euro 14. The ferry left on time and made numerous stops along the coast of Athos. We sailed by the Russian monastry as well as several others, finally approaching Agia Annas. Mount Athos came out of the haze and showed off its impressive size. Somewhat to my surprise, we sailed straight by without stopping. I was told that they had decided to make this stop on the return journey instead. The time was almost 0930 and the day was heating up. A quick look at the map revealed that we could start hiking from the next destination, Katounakia, we arrived there at 0930 and jumped ashore.
Our GPS read exactly 0 meter, we knew that 2033 vertical meter under a hot Greek sun lay ahead of us.
The trail started right up the hill, nice steps as long as we had buildings nearby. Routefinding was pretty easy and we made the key trail junction at 775 meter, by 1045. We continued to the mountain refuge at 1210 and arrived at the summit by 1300, 3.5 hours including a couple of stops to drink water.
To our surprise, busy construction work was talking place at the summit. At least 6-7 workers were busy extending the building that was already there. Another man arrived with mules carrying building material including iron reinforcement for the concrete structures. We relaxed near the cross and observed clouds that drifted around nearby. We had clear views downslope both south-west towards Agia Pavlou and towards Morfonos Bay on the north side.
We left the summit shortly after 1400 and walked quickly back down to the main trail junction at 775 meter. Pål waited here while I explored a possible route to the subsidiary peak Prof. Ilias. However, no obvious trail led up the ridge and I returned to Pål about 15 minutes after leaving. We then continued east and north in order to descend the official trail serving Agia Annas. We reached our accommodations by 1645, the monks greeted us warmly with cold water and a small glass of strong liquor. Dinner was served at 1715, not particularly tasty, but certainly full of energy. Our hosts seemed to live in one of the nicest buildings, a courtyard, flower decorations and a very good view downhill as well as up the slopes above us. From our place, there was also a good view to another church located slightly lower. The weather stayed nice and we had a pretty good sunset across the bay that is formed by Mount Athos and mainland Greece. We went to bed fairly early and we woke up by the bells (in a nearby tower) ringing at 0600.
We attended the morning service and this is truly a pretty strange ceremony as viewed with our beliefs and cultural background.
We left well ahead of the boat departure that was supposed to be at 1000. However, shortly before this, a smaller passenger only boat, stopped by. It would take us back to Ouranoupolis quite a bit faster than the regular coaster. We stopped in Dafni to clear customs, then sailed by the same monastries that we had seen yesterday morning, arriving back in the "modern world" at 1200.
Our summer trip to Greece continued with a visit to Pangaion.