Mountain of the gods

There are several reasons the ancient Greeks believed that the 12 gods lived and ruled from mount Olympus. The mountain is the highest in Greece at 2918m, it is very beautiful and has a throne at the top, conveniently located for Zeus to sit on. This post is about this wonderful mountain, which I have had the pleasure of visiting again after a long absence. My first climb was back when I was 11 years old, then in the years that followed I climbed again three or four times and then for various reasons I didn’t go there for a long time. At last, two years ago I had the opportunity to co-guide a group of friends that wanted to climb the mountain for the first time. All of the photos are from this last visit to Olympus, taken with my small Canon point & shoot camera.

Stefani or the throne of Zeus. Mytikas (the highest peak) is hidden behind it.

Stefani or the throne of Zeus. Mytikas (the highest peak) is hidden behind it.

Some background information first. Mount Olympus sits between the Thessaly and Macedonia areas near the eastern coast of mainland Greece, overlooking the Aegean Sea. The highest peak is Mytikas (2918m), the second highest is Stefani or the “Throne of Zeus” at 2911m and the third is Scholio at 2909m. The mountain is usually approached from the east, from Litochoro village. Starting from Litochoro, there are two different routes up the mountain. The first starts some 16km after Litochoro from a parking lot called Gortsies, through Mparmpas Plateau, Petrostroungka, Skourta, Lemos, Muses’ Plateau, resorts (2 are available here) and then the peaks. This is the path we took. The other path starts from further up, from an area called Prionia (one can start walking from Litochoro which is 18Km further down, but there is a paved road up to Prionia), through Spilios Agapitos resort, Skala and then the peaks through Kakoskala or Louki. The second is the most popular route; the first one in my opinion is more beautiful.

The first half of the route is through a wonderful forest (beech forest as far as I have read), which provides shade and good photographing opportunities.

Members of our little group walking up the path towards Mparmpas plateau

Members of our little group walking up the path towards Mparmpas plateau

After Mparmpas (1450m) (translation: uncle) the path continues in the forest but gets a bit steeper and more tiring. Still under the canopy, the atmosphere early in the morning is cool even in the summer and the hiking very pleasant.

Left of the forest path between Mparmpas and Stragkos

Left of the forest path between Mparmpas and Stragkos

After a short walk we got to the location in the photo below, which if memory serves correctly is at or near Stragkos (~1900m). It is a known spot for a great view, but when we got there a low hanging cloud had blocked the view completely. The mist made the scene completely otherworldly. It was as if we were standing on a balcony with nothing underneath. What was even stranger is that where we were standing there was no mist at all!

Standing at the edge of the world! Mmm…Stragkos that is.

Standing at the edge of the world! Mmm…Stragkos that is.

“This is the third time I am checking … there is nothing there!”

“This is the third time I am checking … there is nothing there!”

We stopped there for a short break and after a few minutes the cloud moved on and we could enjoy the view.

Ah! Ok there is something there. Not the edge of the world after all.

Ah! Ok there is something there. Not the edge of the world after all.

A short while later we reached Petrostroungka (2000m) (translation: sheep habitat made out of stone) from where one has the choice of the short or long route towards Skourta. At Skourta the forest ends and the alpine zone begins. The short route is steep and is appropriately called Anathema (free translation: Damn!). Anathema takes about an hour to walk up to and is not recommended unless one is in a hurry (which you shouldn’t be in). I remember taking this route on the way down during my first visit to Olympus. I also vividly remember slipping and starting rolling, which at Anathema is not a good idea at all. I would have reached the bottom in a jiffy, but just 5 meters after the start of the roll I got lucky. A conveniently placed tree abruptly stopped my accelerated tumble. I then had to walk all the way down after all. This time we took the longer but gentler route and after some time (maybe 1,5 hours?) we reached the location Skourta (2480m), where there is no forest and the views turn from nice to spectacular.

At the lower part of Skourta, looking down towards the sea.

At the lower part of Skourta, looking down towards the sea.

Our path will lead us just to the left of that peak in the centre of the picture. I would have liked to get some more of it in the photo but I was already standing right on the edge.

Our path will lead us just to the left of that peak in the centre of the picture. I would have liked to get some more of it in the photo but I was already standing right on the edge.

Same location looking down instead of up. This is Skourta. The walking path is somewhere near the centre of this slope to the right of the two bushes in the centre of the picture.

Same location looking down instead of up. This is Skourta. The walking path is somewhere near the centre of this slope to the right of the two bushes in the centre of the picture.

View from Skourta looking north.

View from Skourta looking north.

View from Skourta looking south.

View from Skourta looking south.

Walking up Skourta is technically easy but physically demanding and when we reached the top at 2480m it was time for a well deserved break. We stopped, had some water and a snack and used the opportunity to take some photos. From there we went on to one of the most spectacular parts of the route, Lemos (translation: neck, in this case: ridge).

Lemos, leading to Kagkelia and then Muses’ Plateau.

Lemos, leading to Kagkelia and then Muses’ Plateau.

The view on both sides of the path while on Lemos is spectacular. In addition, the going is downhill for a while, which is a welcome break after 3-4 hours of uphill walking. This downhill break is short however, only a few minutes later we reached what is the last tiring part of the route, Kagkelia. This is a steep winding trail, which leads to the Giosos’ pass.

Short break at Kagkelia. Some of us are already knackered!

Short break at Kagkelia. Some of us are already knackered!

Giosos Apostolidis (1907-1964) was a mountaineer who discovered the pass between this area (Kagkelia) and the Muses’ plateau (you can see the plateau at the top of the Lemos photo, just left of the peak). I am not sure whether before the pass was discovered the only route up Olympus was from the other side over Prionia, Skala, etc. In any case, it must have been much more difficult to cross from Kagkelia to Muses’ plateau without the pass. The pass is only open during the summer months. Giosos installed a cable which leads to an alternative route for the winter months. That route requires actual climbing though. Giosos didn’t only discover this pass; he pioneered mountain climbing in Greece and led the initiative to build the resort, which is now named after him. He lost his life on Olympus while climbing the Louki (for the umpteenth time) on the way to Mytikas.

Giosos’ pass. Short but narrow, without room for mistakes. Color is not necessary here, you get the message equally well in B&W.

Giosos’ pass. Short but narrow, without room for mistakes. Color is not necessary here, you get the message equally well in B&W.

After the pass we reached the Muses’ plateau, which is relatively flat and offers an easy and enjoyable walk towards the resort. One actually has two resort choices here, on the left the Christos Kakkalos resort and on the right the Giosos Apostolidis resort. We traditionally go to the Giosos Apostolidis resort (at 2760m) so this was our choice this time as well. Back in the 80s these paths were not as popular as they are today and the resorts were used by determined climbers who had personally had a role in building them. I remember taking the keys for the resort with us before starting the climb, unlocking the door upon arrival and starting a fire to drive the humidity out, drying out the blankets in front of the fireplace and cooking our own food (onion soup!). Obviously the grown ups were doing this stuff while I was resting and warming myself in front of the fireplace. Nowadays all of the resorts are pretty much organised at hotel level with more beds, reservation (at weekends recommended), even a menu card for dinner and lunch.

Muses’ plateau as seen from the peak of Prophet Ilias looking east – southeast. The walking path leading from Giosos’ pass to the resorts is visible in the centre of the photo. The Aegean sea in the distance.

Muses’ plateau as seen from the peak of Prophet Ilias looking east – southeast. The walking path leading from Giosos’ pass to the resorts is visible in the centre of the photo. The Aegean sea in the distance.

When we reached the Muses’ plateau, I  went ahead of the others to make sure we would get beds for the group for our overnight stay and after arranging everything, I took the opportunity to walk up to the Prophet Ilias peak (at 2803m) to enjoy and photograph the breathtaking view.

View to the south, Mouses’ plateau and Christos Kakkalos resort from the Prophet Ilias peak. The footpath seen on the right joins the two resorts.

View to the south, Mouses’ plateau and Christos Kakkalos resort from the Prophet Ilias peak. The footpath seen on the right joins the two resorts.

View to the north (partly occluded by clouds) from the Prophet Ilias peak. The peak actually sports a very small church dedicated to Prophet Ilias. From what I have read, this is the highest church in the Balkans.

View to the north (partly occluded by clouds) from the Prophet Ilias peak. The peak actually sports a very small church dedicated to Prophet Ilias. From what I have read, this is the highest church in the Balkans.

View to the west and the majestic throne of Zeus as seen from the Prophet Ilias peak.

View to the west and the majestic throne of Zeus as seen from the Prophet Ilias peak.

Finally, this is the Giosos Apostolidis resort where we spent the night with the Prophet Ilias peak in the background:

Giosos Apostolidis resort and Prophet Ilias peak. Photo shot from the path towards Mytikas.

Giosos Apostolidis resort and Prophet Ilias peak. Photo shot from the path towards Mytikas.

The next morning we woke up before dawn planning to make our way to Mytikas and come down from the other side (Skala – Spilios Agapitos – Prionia). The throne of Zeus, bathed in the red morning light, greeted us as soon as we stepped on the resort balcony.

Stefani or the throne of Zeus bathed in morning light.

Stefani or the throne of Zeus bathed in morning light.

There are two routes to the peak, one is called Louki (translation: drain – waterdrain), the other Kakoskala (translation: bad staircase). Both are relatively dangerous, Louki particurly so and not for the faint of heart. If you slip and fall you don’t get a second chance, you get a commemorative plaque. There are several of those on the way to the peak commemorating both experienced and inexperienced climbers who unfortunately lost their lives there. Louki in particular requires climbing for the last 150 meters or so.

The above photograph of the throne of Zeus was taken from the resort, the route then took us in front and around the throne from the left side having the throne on our right hand and the Kazania (translation: cauldrons) to our left. The path is narrow but easy during the summer when there is no snow. I have passed this part once while it was covered with snow and I wouldn’t want to do it again.

Path to Mytikas from the Giosos Apostolidis resort.

Path to Mytikas from the Giosos Apostolidis resort.

This time we were lucky enough to see some wild goats from quite close up. They were standing right at the edge, no fear of heights whatsoever!

Wild goats near the peak of Olympus.

Wild goats near the peak of Olympus.

This one walked right in front of us!

This one walked right in front of us!

After walking all the way in front of Stefani (the throne) the path turns right (as seen in the photo above). There we left the path, walked around 30-40 meters straight up and reached the base of Louki, where the climb of the last 150 meters to Mytikas begins. From here on it is pretty steep, no kidding:

Start of the climb to Mytikas. The narrow path ends just under the blue marker at the centre of the photograph and from then on it is hands and feet working together.

Start of the climb to Mytikas. The narrow path ends just under the blue marker at the centre of the photograph and from then on it is hands and feet working together.

From this general area one has an incredible view to the south east; mountain side in the foreground and then the Aegean Sea in the background. Unfortunately I didn’t have the right equipment with me in order to take better photographs with the sun right against the camera, not to mention that we were in kind of a hurry to get started towards the peak. Anyway, this is what I got:

View to the southeast as seen from Zonaria, the base of Mytikas (zoomed out).

View to the southeast as seen from Zonaria, the base of Mytikas (zoomed out).

View to the southeast as seen from Zonaria, the base of Mytikas (zoomed in).

View to the southeast as seen from Zonaria, the base of Mytikas (zoomed in).

We then started our climb to the top. I would have loved to have gotten there one more time. Unfortunately, one inexperienced member of our group had a small self confidence crisis and I, having the responsibility to get them all safe down more than to get them all to the top, had to abandon the climb and escort this friend back down. The other members of the group made it to the top.

Not all was lost however. We had the opportunity to take our time going through Zonaria with my friend (translation: belts) and then after having delivered him to a safer area, I was able to go back up and walk to Scholio, the third highest peak of Olympus. Scholio is highly recommended for those that want to go as high as possible but don’t want to risk the climb to Mytikas. The view is comparable with Mytikas, the walk quite easy from a technical point of view, if a bit physically demanding, plus you get the only real opportunity to photograph Mytikas from relatively close up.

Zonaria looking back towards Mytikas from about mid way through. The footpath is visible at around the middle (vertically) of the photo.

Zonaria looking back towards Mytikas from about mid way through. The footpath is visible at around the middle (vertically) of the photo.

Zonaria as seen after having gone through them and reached Skala.

Zonaria as seen after having gone through them and reached Skala.

And here are the photos of Mytikas taken from Scholio:

Mytikas (second from the right), Stefani (middle) and Prophet Ilias (background left) peaks as seen from the Scholio (translation: school) peak. Notice the Giosos Apostolidis resort at the base of Prophet Ilias.

Mytikas (second from the right), Stefani (middle) and Prophet Ilias (background left) peaks as seen from the Scholio (translation: school) peak. Notice the Giosos Apostolidis resort at the base of Prophet Ilias.

Mytikas peak in the middle zoomed in as seen from the Scholio peak. The Louki approach is from the other side, the Kakoskala approach is hidden behind the peak on the right.

Mytikas peak in the middle zoomed in as seen from the Scholio peak. The Louki approach is from the other side, the Kakoskala approach is hidden behind the peak on the right.

A couple of hours later we all met each other at the Spilios Agapitos resort, which is much further down the mountain. There we had a nice lunch break and after that we continued down and left Olympus. Before we left, I took this last photo of the peaks, already feeling nostalgic just a few hours after leaving them and wondering when I will next have the opportunity to visit them again.

Peaks of Olympus as seen from the Spilios Agapitos resort.

Peaks of Olympus as seen from the Spilios Agapitos resort.

So this is the account of my last visit to the magical mountain of the gods. My first visit all those years ago was for me a challenging, jaw dropping and exciting experience. After all of these years, the mountain still awes me and I am grateful every time I get the opportunity to walk its paths. I hope I have been able to share to a small degree my experience, although the sense of greatness cannot be conveyed through small photographs. So if you have the chance, take the time and see it for yourself.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.