Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that Mt. Olympus was a mountain of great mythological significance. Mythology claimed that 11 of the 12 major Greek gods lived within the mountain’s 8 peaks, with the peak of Stefani as Zeus’s throne and the peak of Mytikas (the highest peak of Olympus and all of Greece!) as the meeting point for the gods to determine the fate of the mortals they reined. At 2,917 meters in height, Mytikas’s peak once impressed the ancients and continues to impress trekkers and climbers today. To be honest, the mythology around Mt. Olympus is cool and all, but my true interest was to summit Greece’s tallest peak. It would be our final excursion in Greece before heading into Bulgaria, so its convenient location in the north didn’t hurt either. I lay out below the details of our journey to the mountain and the summit up Mytikas peak.
In order to make the long, hot drive bearable, we broke up the drive from Athens to the base of the mountain into two days. Our first stop was the quiet seaside village of Achillio, which ended up being a true secret of a beach. Not only did we literally park on the beach, we swam in its incredibly warm and calm water. There were at most 5 other locals cooling off in the sea, making it a relaxing and authentic experience.
I awoke to this dreamy sunrise right outside our window, with the sea so calm it could have been easily mistaken for a lake.
Our next destination was Summit Zero Hostel near Litochoro, the base town for Mt. Olympus hikers. Even though we weren’t staying at the hostel, the people who worked there were incredibly friendly and resourceful and gave us tips and route information. We ended up hiking their recommended route (a loop-hike starting from the Gortsia trailhead to Refuge B or C, then up the Mytikas summit, and back via Refuge A to the Prionia trailhead). Unlike the out and back-trail from the Prionia trailhead (which was my original plan), the loop-hike rewarded us with unforgettable views. The loop-trail tacked on an additional 40 minutes to an hour, but I kid you not, the views were worth it. We were told it would take about 10 hours round trip at a medium pace, and we finished in just about 10 hours!
After hanging out at Summit Zero for a bit, we finally headed up to Mt. Olympus. It took about 30-40 minutes of winding and zig-zagging to the Gortsia trailhead, where we scoped out the “parking lot.” The actual parking lot required a drive up a steep, rutted, gravel road our motorhome wouldn’t have been able to handle, so we drove further up the road and found the perfect, wide, and level spot on the side of the road just 500 meters from the trailhead. We bookmarked the location on our map, and we continued driving on the road to the Dionysios Monastery.
It took 5 steep and narrow switchback turns to descend to the monastery, but once below we discovered a huge, paved parking lot with mostly-level parking. Perfect. We decided then and there that we’d spend the night in the parking lot of the monastery. Refreshing air, the sound of a distant spring and chirping birds, surrounded by dense woods and mountains, and no one else around? SCORE! We spent the remainder of the early evening scouting out the monastery and nearby holy cave.
The Dionysios Monastery, which was devastated by German occupation in the 1940s and is now under restoration:
Just a 20-minute walk beyond the monastery along the river is the Holy Dionysios Cave:
Early the next morning we set out from the monastery toward the Gortsia trailhead. Just as planned, we parked along the side of the road ~500m from the trailhead, and at 7:20am we set off to hike up. And up. And up. And up. Needless to say, it was a slow and steady trudge through the dense woods.
Any experienced mountain trekker knows that mountains have their own climate, and Mt. Olympus is no different. As expected, cumulous clouds drifted and soared overhead, filling our trail with fog and parting ways for moments of intense sunshine. Despite having clouds and sun, the high altitude granted us cool, refreshing air throughout the day.
Just emerging from the tree line:
Descending Skourta Peak along the ridge toward Refuge B:
My favorite view of all—the flower-filled Plateau of Muses—the beautiful, flat valley with an incredible view of the Mt. Olympus rock in the distance. (Really? We’re summiting that? How??? I asked myself.) Seeing all that sunshine, I also had high hopes we’d get a clear view from the summit. Ha. Not a chance.
We arrived to Refuge B just under 5 hours from our start time, took a quick break, and set out again toward the potato chip wedge of Mt. Olympus.
Strolling around the base of the massif:
The starting point from where we needed to climb up toward Mytikas became evident when we saw a woman sitting at the base of some rocks, with paint markers visible above her. Looking up, I saw the route to the summit was essentially a vertical shot up. Hoping for another answer, I asked, “Is that the way up?”
“Yes,” she nodded with a smile, and pointed up.
We saw in the distance a man descending the vertical wall of rocks. The woman did not ascend and was waiting for her husband to return from his summit of Mytikas.
“Just follow the paint markers all the way up,” he told us, “and there will be a Greek flag at the top.”
Well, I’m not a rock climber, I’m terrified of heights, and I lose my breath easily at high altitudes, but I still managed to summit. Slowly and steadily. I just never looked down, though looking up was scary too. My biggest fear was grabbing or placing my foot on a loose rock. While losing grip on a rock and slipping wouldn’t necessarily mean death, it would definitely mean a deep plunge down and maybe death, so fucking up wasn’t an option. Pictures don’t quite do this justice, especially conveying the vertical height of rock walls, but I hope you can get a sense of it from the pictures below.
Although I was scared, I had no doubt that I’d summit. It took me about 1 hour from Refuge B to Mytikas. Later I discovered that the route we took is considered a class III climb with some class IV areas. Class IV can be defined as “simple climbing, often with exposure, a rope is often used, and a fall on Class IV rock could be fatal.” Yowza. We even met a couple of friendly guys at the summit from Romania who offered to give us a ride back to the Gortsia trailhead once we returned to the Prionia trailhead. Awesome!
Gorgeous 360º views from the summit:
There was no way in hell I was going to descend the way we came up, so we climbed/slid down the longer, less steep route. Yep, this was less steep:
For about a half hour, we gingerly made our way down all the loose, tumbling rocks and scree. Luckily there were no other hikers on the trail so we didn’t have to worry about killing anyone beneath us. I was thrilled to finally return to a normal trail again where I could walk instead of climb and scramble.
From there, it was all downhill to Prionia. This section of the hike was clearly the most popular–we passed by numerous wrecked-looking hikers on the way down, as opposed to the 2 hikers we saw between Gortsia and Refuge B. After a relatively quick descent and a few short breaks to rest our knees, we made it to the popular Prionia trailhead in slightly under 4 hours. About 6 hours up and 4 hours down, a 10-hour roundtrip hike to summit Mt. Olympus. Not too shabby!
Our new Romanian friends dropped us off at our motorhome where we returned to the Prionia trailhead for a dinner of goat stew and grilled feta cheese at the Prionia Restaurant. Then we returned to the Dionysius Monastery for another night of cool mountain air and tranquility. After a much-needed shower, we both passed out just after 9pm. Another mountain climbed, another summit accomplished, all on July 4, our Independence Day. I was happy.