Most people come to Mount Olympus with one thought in mind, to climb and conquer the home of the Greek Gods. After talking to my friend, Bryce Bohne, who climbed part of it just a month before, I was convinced I should do it as well. Mount Olympus wasn’t on my original itinerary, but my itinerary is really more of a suggestion anyway. I pulled into Litochoro Square when the sun was starting to go down and a warm orange glow started around Mount Olympus. The bus dropped me off in the center of Litochoro Square and the taxi stand is right there. I grabbed a cab to Summit Zero Hostel, and was glad that the cab driver had heard of it before. Only bad thing was it cost me 11 Euro to get there. I didn’t really see any other options at that time. When I arrived at the Summit Zero Hostel, Peri (the hostel owner) greeted me at the gate. I was really amazed by the location, nestled between the Aegean Sea and Mount Olympus. It provided breathtaking views and a perfect combination of both sea and mountain. I had gotten in pretty late since I had the late start from Halkidiki, and after four buses and a cab, I got in at around 2100. After I was settled in it was too late for me to go to the grocery store and stock up on snacks for the climb, so I postponed my climb a day in order to be better prepared. It worked out better that way anyways since Peri was guiding two people, Susan and Frederic, the next day on a three day climb from the east of the mountain. I was planning on climbing the mountain in two days, and would meet up with them on their second night at Refuge A. The night before climbing to the summit, so I was hoping to join them the last day of the climb.
The next day Peri was heading into town for a stop to the grocery store and invited Susan and I along with him, which was really nice. I needed to pick up supplies for my early breakfast the next morning and snacks for my hike. Afterwards I asked if he could drop me off in the square. He’d be leaving that day for the climb so he wouldn’t be able to pick me up, but instead told me how to get back on the 1830 bus for only 2 Euro. You have to specifically request the Gritsi/Gritsa stop near the port of Litochoro. I walked around and bought adorable tiny ice creams from a gourmet shop, stopped by an Outdoor Shop to buy some supplies, and walked around the quaint town before heading to the beginning of the trail to Mount Olympus. I decided to hike a portion of the trail in order to get familiar with the direction, and started on the concrete path. I kept on the concrete path and walked around snapping pictures of what seemed like every twig and leaf, it was all so gorgeous how could I possibly document this experience properly? I took the concrete path until it reached a dead end and a pretty waterfall. I was a bit confused, but decided to take some pictures of the waterfall before turning back and figuring out where I went wrong. As I looked through the lens to take my shot, I noticed something moving to the left. When I snapped the picture I realized that I had just took a picture of a naked old man. He had been skinny dipping in the cold waterfall! The movement was him scrambling to get out of the water before I noticed him. A little disturbing… but I am actually quite impressed. I only hope that when I’m that old and saggy I am also able to climb the fence to jump and swim naked in an icy cold waterfall. I would definitely throw a fist pump in the air, if my arthritic bones would let me at that age. I pretended like I didn’t see him and turned back down the concrete path to try to figure out the correct direction, when I saw a wooden railing with E4 spray painted on the rock face beside it. I tried walking up the rocky dirt path to see if it was the right one and ran into more E4 signs confirming that it was. I stopped at an opening at the path and looking around, took in the views of the river directly below me, Mount Olympus above me, and the Aegean Sea down the mountain from me. It was such a surreal experience… until a slightly crazy and quite creepy man sitting on top of a boulder like it was a throne shocked me out of my daydream. He kept trying to get me to come up the mountain of rock with him to take pictures. I definitely didn’t want to go to the top of the rock with him on it, especially with how eager he was to have me climb, and I also didn’t want him to come down off of it toward me either. I quickly snapped my photos, made a mental note of the location so I could take pictures there tomorrow, and started down the path at a speed walk until my skin stopped crawling. I made it back to Litochoro Square, had some lunch, walked around a bit more, and got ice-cream before finally taking the bus back to the Summit Zero Hostel.
If you look really closely, you might be able to see the old man behind me dressing
The night before a French guy, Sebastian, had arrived and decided to come with me on my climb the next morning. Which was great for me because then we could split the cost of the cab to Litochoro Square. We used the same cab driver I had used the first day to take me from the square to Summit Zero. He had given me his card, and I had found him to be a really honest cab driver. Natasa from Summit Zero had also given me a list of numbers for cab drivers the night before as well, just incase my cab didn’t answer the phone at the early hour. He, thankfully, did answer and came to pick us up right away even though I could obviously tell he had been woken up and was still at home.
The Holy Cave
Climbing Mount Olympus, you can see why this is said to be the home of Greek Gods… It’s breathtaking and awe inspiring in every way. The sparkling blue and turquoise of the river matched with the dark lush greens of the forest surrounding us as we walked the E4 trail through the Enipea Canyon was the stuff of great stories. Walking under the gorgeous canopy of leaves that seem so perfect in shape and color with rays of sunlight peeking through the small spaces creating such an ambiance that you can’t help but give a little part of yourself to this place. As we cross over wooden bridges, listening to the water rushing down waterfalls and over boulders in the river, the leaves rustling in the sweet breeze like nature’s own wind chimes, and the birds chirping their happy song we lose ourselves to Nature in the climb. Time flies by quickly and even as we rise in altitude and become more tired, the beauty eclipses the fatigue in every way. I feel as though I could strip down and cool off with a swim in an icy pool formed by one of the many waterfalls. Sebastian and I took less than 5 hours to walk from the square in Litochoro to the parking lot in Pritonia. Most people start their climb to the summit of Mount Olympus from this point. There is a parking lot here, and some people are able to reach the summit of Mount Olympus from Pritonia and return in one day. There’s only one restaurant and toilets at Pritonia that you can make use of. I had my lunch at the restaurant, and it wasn’t that great… but I couldn’t really complain, watching Sebastian eat his canned fish in some sort of sauce and bread for lunch. I enjoyed my chicken and fries just fine. There’s an adorable puppy living with the restaurant owner and is more than excited to play with you and eat your leftover scraps.
The second portion of our hike was remarkably harder than the first half. In a span of 4 hours we would climb over 1000 meters in altitude to reach Refuge A. Sebastian being the spry Frenchman he was ended up waiting for me and dragging his feet until halfway through our second leg I told him to go on without me, I didn’t want to rush myself up the mountain just to match his pace and hurt myself in the process. The path we were on wasn’t a treacherous one, just tiring and riddled with disgusting donkey crap swarmed with masses of larger than average flies. There were a few times I stumbled trying to swat away flies following me. The nasty flies really took away from the ambiance I was feeling in the first part of the climb, but are a necessary evil as the donkeys are the mode of transportation needed to bring supplies up to the Refuges. I continued my snail’s pace up to Refuge A and ran into an unfortunate accident. Two very experienced climbers, a mother and daughter, from Austria were climbing Mount Olympus from Pritonia to Mytikas in one day and were on their way back to the parking lot, about a 2 and a half hour walk left. All literally downhill from there, when the mother, who was 70 years old, was handing her daughter a cell phone and accidentally pushed her over the edge of the walking trail. Luckily she only fell a few meters, but it was still bad enough that she needed to be carried up to Refuge A in a stretcher for further medical treatment and to wait for a helicopter to arrive from Athens, the closest helicopter base. Since there was already a big group of people assisting her, I would have just been in the way at this point, I scrambled up a steep portion of the mountain to rejoin the E4 path at a higher point. I arrived to Refuge A at about 1800, after starting that morning from the square at 0800. The Refuge was slightly chaotic when I arrived. It seemed that every person climbing the mountain who was either coming down from the summit or coming up the mountain decided to arrive at that moment, looking for a place to stay while the employees were running around trying to prepare for the injured woman to come into their care. I waited outside talking to Sebastian until everything calmed down. About a half hour after I arrived, Peri, Susan, and Frederic had arrived coming from the far east side of the mountain. This would be the second night on the mountain and they were debating continuing the climb to the summit. I checked in to my room, which was a massive room with mattresses lined up side by side against the walls on a raised platform. I was really glad to see that there were only 4 of us in the room, each of us chose a corner to lay our heads in. I couldn’t imagine climbing during high season. If you turned over too far you might be spooning with a total stranger. Now if I was lying next to Ryan Gosling, I wouldn’t mind this scenario and would actually encourage it… but, sadly, it turns out that most of the mountain climbers do not look like Ryan Gosling… The room cost 12 Euros per night. Once we were all settled in, we sat down to have dinner together. The food at the Refuge was really good, and we all ended up eating the spaghetti bolognese (7 Euro a plate). Once we were done eating, we heard that the injured woman was going to be carried back down the mountain to a clearing for the helicopter to land and pick her up. Peri, being the awesome person he is, volunteered to assist with carrying her down. A few volunteers went with since they would undoubtably need to swap carriers. I was too tired to wait up for the appearance of the helicopter since it was almost 2100, and we had an early start. I was definitely tired enough from the day’s climb and excitement. I heard the helicopter’s blades cutting through the air about 30 minutes later while I laid in bed. It took me a while to get to bed since one of the other guys had the snore of a grizzly bear. I finally managed to get to bed a little before 2300.
Carrying the injured woman down to the helicopter
The next morning, Sebastian and I had breakfast and began our climb around 0700. We would be climbing another 1000 meters in altitude in order to reach the summit, Mytikas, for a total of 2917 meters. As we climbed I became more and more jealous of the older people with their hiking poles. Like Susan said later on, “They’re like a whole different species with those poles”. They walked and climbed with such ease it was as if they were gliding over the ground. To me they were these majestical gazelles, and I had to refrain myself from trying to steal some from the unsuspecting climber. I again told Sebastian to go on without me since it was obvious we were traveling at completely different paces. The climb was steep and I was fine with my 80 year old man pace. I managed to make it to Skala, the third highest peak on the mountain and the peak you pass in order to get to Mytikas, in about 3 and a half hours. Resting on Skala and took in the surroundings. The sight of the mountains and landscape surrounding me while the wisps of clouds engulfed me in a current of its refreshing mist was so amazing.
Looking at Mytikas from the other side of the rocky bridge
Sitting on the edge of the rocky bridge from Skala to Mytikas
After a good rest, I decided I would continue down to Mytikas. In order to get to Mytikas from Skala, you must go to the right of Skala’s summit and down a narrow rocky trail with steep gravely sides which make this crossing an extremely narrow bridge from Skala to Mytikas. Up until the day before, this trail to Mytikas was uncrossable due to the snow and ice covering the path bridging the two mountaintops. There was still a bit of snow and at the very beginning. I was able to climb down to this rocky bridge, but then I took a look at all of the people trying to slide down and off Mytikas. Scooting down on their butts slowly due to the steepness of the climb after the bridge that would take me up to Mytikas… I thought to myself… Do I really want to cross this scary, narrow bridge, climb that steep death trap, to snap a few pictures saying I made it by myself to the summit of Mount Olympus? OH Hell No was I going over there by myself, and it didn’t help that I was the only one headed in the direction of Mytikas at that time. Happy with my decision, since just trying to get back up to Skala from where I climbed down was a great challenge in itself. I couldn’t imagine trying to climb all the way back from Mytikas to Skala. Back on Skala I ran into a Greek dad and son team that I had seen a few times along the trail that day. They had decided not to go to Mytikas too, and instead they were headed to the second highest peak, Skolio. Still kind of shook from Mytikas, I asked if I could join them, and they graciously agreed to let me tag along. The son’s name was Ioannis. His dad didn’t speak much English, but Ioannis told me a bit about him and I was really quite impressed. His father, whom I endearingly refer to as the Mountain Man, has climbed Mount Olympus 3 times before. The first time he didn’t make it to Mytikas but stopped at Skala, which made me feel a bit better about not making it either. His second time he climbing he went with a friend, and made it to Mytikas but his friend didn’t. His third time, he went with the same friend and they both made it to Mytikas. This was his fourth time climbing Mount Olympus at the age of 65. He grew up in a small Mountain Village outside of Delphi and took his two sons climbing around Peloponnese Mountains near their home in Southern Greece when they were young. I was amazed, thinking how my childhood family vacations in the Conversion Van must sound compared to a summer climbing the Peloponnese. Not that I would trade my childhood family vacations for anything, but still. Sounds mundane in comparison, right? We made it to Skolio just in time for me to regain my confidence on the mountain again. At each peak there is a notebook in a metal case that you can write your name, where you’re from, and a short message. I was excited, and made sure to jot down my information. I got my picture taken with my new climbing companions and we took a break before starting our way down the mountain back to Refuge A.
My climbing companions and me at the summit of Skolio (Mytikas in the background)
I ran into Frederic sitting on one of the picnic tables at the Refuge. I was a little confused since it had sounded like they weren’t going to be trying for the summit and would be headed back down to Pritonia that morning. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Susan wanted to see how far she could make it to the summit so Peri took her that morning a couple of hours after Sebastian and I left that morning. Go Susan! Since I had taken a different route down than up, we didn’t cross paths. Susan and Peri were still hiking, so I took that opportunity to rest my feet and get something to eat hoping that there would be room for me to ride back to Summit Zero Hostel that day as well so I wouldn’t have to stay at the Refuge for another night. Susan and Peri made it back down with the victory of Skala under their belts, and took a rest. Peri has climbed Mount Olympus quite a few times, and has made it to Mytikas about 40 times. They ended up having space for me in the vehicle, and our was that Peri would run back down to Pritonia, to call back to Summit Zero Hostel for a ride since there was no cell phone reception at the Refuge (Weird since there is really great reception on the mountain. Mountain Man demonstrated that when he called his wife at the top.), while Susan, Frederic, and I walked back down to Pritonia. This way the ride would be waiting for us when we got there. Really considerate. We made it back down to Summit Zero Hostel for some well deserved and much needed showers and celebratory beers before crashing into a coma like sleep.
Happy to have enjoyed this experience with Sebastian, Susan, Frederic, and Peri of the Summit Zero Hostel, and I am hoping to come back next year to conquer the summit, Mytikas.