Feb 13, 2020
Myth and Majesty on Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus, the mythical home of the Ancient Greek Gods, is also home to some of the most jaw-dropping mountaineering trails in Europe.
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Although certainly not one of the hardest climbs on the planet, Mount Olympus is a cultural, historical and geological wonder. As the trails wind their way around the deep gorges and rocky pinnacles, this is a climb that is truly worth your time. Mount Olympus is considered to be one of the world’s most desirable peaks not only because of the diverse range of biology and ecosystems, jaw-dropping trails and unspoiled natural beauty but also because of its deep-rooted connection with history and mythology.
Legends of the mountain
Mount Olympus was the mythical home of the 12 gods in Ancient Greek history. According to the myth, the mountain was created after the Titanomachy, an epic battle between the young Olympians gods and the Titans. When the Olympian gods won the battle, they created their new majestic home – Mount Olympus. The mountain was shrouded from human eyes by clouds which constantly obscured its peaks.
All 12 Olympian gods resided in the mountain; Zeus and his wife Hera, Athena, Artemis, Poseidon, Apollo, Hester, Demeter, Aphrodite, Hermes, Ares, and Hephaestus. They would meet daily in Zeus palace in the Pantheon, to discuss the fate of the mortals. Below the Pantheon was Zeus’ Throne – known today as Stefani – from where he would rule both gods and men, hurling thunderbolts to those who disobeyed him.
Climbing Mt. Olympus
Motivated by the Mount Olympus legends and stories that I’ve heard as a kid, coupled with my love for all things outdoors from a very young age, I’ve been up and around this mountain many times and in all four seasons.
“I had to keep my promise to the waterfall!”
Despite so many ascents, I will never forget the first time I reached the summit. As an active member of the YMCA, I used to participate in their summer camps every year. The summer camp was located in an amazing and private seaside spot in Chalkidiki owned by the Y, and I would be there every August since I was six years old. I was about 16 and getting ready for yet another summer camp when my parents informed me about a brand new mountaineering camp that would be crossing the mountains of Pindus and Olympus for 15 days.
It was guided by two highly skilled mountain guides and the camp would involve a lot of hiking, sleeping in tents under the stars within the two National Parks (they had special permits for this). We would be bathing in rivers and be learning the basic outdoor survival skills while being completely secluded from the rest of the world. Needless to say, I lost sleep over this and could not wait for the day to come. Fast forward to the day of arrival: here we are, a bunch of twelve teenagers, two guides and a bus driver ready for a wilderness adventure. I will skip the first ten days, which we spent entirely on the Pindus Mountain Range and move on to the day we reached the foothills of ‘’the dream’’ – Mount Olympus!
All roads on the west side of Litichoro lead to three distinct routes towards the summit. Our driver dropped us close to the head of the E4 trail to hike all the way up at Refuge A (Spilios Agapitos) in the shadow of Mytikas Peak. The path starts along Enipeas Canyon, to the left of the river, but having walked half the route I crossed the canyon seven times over beautiful wooden bridges. Following the second half of the route, we passed Agios Dionysios Monastery, before we arriving at the spectacular Enipeas waterfalls. The waterfall was demanding that I stop, and the ice-cold water was inviting. After all, it was summer so I dipped my feet in the water and promised the waterfall I would return for a swim.
As we continued up the trail, the route was quite strenuous due to the ascents and descents. However, the varied geological features, the small lakes with crystal clear waters and the sheer mountain slopes kept me going. We then reached Prionia – the highest point which can be reached by car – before continuing to my highlight of the route, known as “the trail of silence”. Hiking through a dense forest of beech trees, I could feel the temperature getting colder. Shortly afterward, the trail crosses a ravine and starts climbing again, passing slopes where the pine trees have been swept by avalanches. From here, I could already see the refuge perched high above on the outcrop. Once in the refuge – a magnificent stone building located on a natural flat surrounded by impressive old pine trees – it was about time to get some rest and enjoy our dinner. Almost everyone went to sleep but I chose to stay a bit longer by the fireplace listening to stories and advice from other climbers, proud that I was now ‘’one of them’’. Summit day was tomorrow and I could not wait nor sleep.
“I was actually walking on the Throne of Zeus!”
I got up around 5:00 am the next morning to enjoy my breakfast, while waiting for the sunrise on the refuge deck. I was in for an unbelievable view, with the sun coming out of the sea painting the towering shale rocks in a golden glow. But It was about time to move on. We packed our backpacks and off we went to head for the summit. Having been on the trail for just 100 meters following the refuge, there is a branch of the trail going to the right. This leads directly to the Muses plateau that lies beneath the intimidating vertical cliffs of Stefani Peak and the Throne of Zeus. I was heading straight for the peak across the base of Stefani, but the trail has steep sections that involve scrambling, so we were instructed to slow down for this part. I remember thinking how many times I’ve read stories about the Throne of Zeus and now, I was actually walking on it trying not to get distracted by the amazing alpine views. A few moments later, I was standing at the top of my world, or at least, this is how I felt at the time. From the top of Mount Olympus, home of the gods, we were treated with unforgettable views across the National Park and the Aegean Sea.
After taking in the views and signing the visitor’s book, we decided to head back down towards the ancient forests and into the glorious Enipeas Gorge. Following the same route back down, when we reached the gorge, I had to keep my promise to the waterfall! I dove in the fresh cold water and tried to take in as much as possible from the natural world. We reached Lithochoro in the late afternoon and needed to get to a campsite to spend the night. But the weather wasn’t looking good. A storm was coming in and camping wasn’t the best plan for the night.
Since that day, many ascents followed up Mount Olympus and around the National Park. Some with more mountain camps, others with friends , but every time has been a unique discovery. A word of advice: Take your time, especially if this is your first time on the mountain. Don’t just rush to the summit. Spend some time to admire the ancient forests that are home to one of the richest ecosystems in Europe, admire the views from different locations and definitely spend a night or two on the mountain.
Equipment and season
Although there are many entry points and trails leading to the peaks around Mount Olympus National Park, which covers an area of 500 square kilometers / 190 sq mi, Litochoro, a small town on the eastern edges of the mountain is the best place to start.
You can climb the mountain year-round, but unless you are a skilled winter mountaineer, it is best to avoid the winter months as conditions can get rough and avalanches are very likely from November to March.
Your experience level may play a role in what equipment is necessary and your gear selection will also depend on the route you’ll follow. Some of the peaks, including Mytikas and Stefani, have routes that feature technical climbing. They are not required for a successful summit and thus are often considered more of a rock-climbing venture than a hike. While a helmet and trekking poles are also not required, they are a good idea. The following is a list of equipment for a summer ascent:
- Trekking poles
- Hiking/mountaineering boots
- Durable pants and jacket
- Sleeping bag
- Toiletries for overnight stays (personal hygiene items, towel,)
- Energy snacks and water
- Sun protection
If you plan on a more challenging ascent during winter, you may need an ice axe, crampons, and climbing equipment for hazardous weather.
To go on your own Mount Olympus adventure, check out these packages on The Outdoor Voyage.