How to climb Mount Olympus and live to tell the tale

There ain’t no mountain high enough but Olympus is certainly up there.

“I cannot do this anymore!”

My body was in shock. My mind frazzled.

I was frozen and couldn’t move. My eyebrows were raised with my eyes bursting wide open.

I was traversing a mountain via crab crawling and holding on for dear life. I was panting worse than a dog that had exerted itself at the Dog Olympics (yes that is a thing!). Casting my eyes out far to the horizon, I could see the Aegean Sea. In my mind, I was thinking how life would be so much easier if I was diving instead living life under the sea. But here I was over 2600 metres above sea level with only a few hundred more to go. Scarily, looking down below there were plenty of big drops ready to engulf me. A sleeping anxiety in me had awoken. Now was not the time for me to meet a Greek Mythology ending ala Zeus and be swallowed whole by the abyss.

Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus, known as Mountain of the Gods, is not an easy feat (hence the name). Those who are brave enough to take it on and live will tell the tale. Standing at 2918 metres tall, it is located along the Olympus range boarding the Greek administrative region, Thessaly and Macedonia, and is one of mythological importance. According to Greek Mythology, eleven of the twelve major Greek Gods called the valleys of this great mountain home. Impressively Zeus, king of the Gods, claimed Stefani Peak as his throne. Mythology has it that the Gods would come together on the highest summit, Mytikas, to decide on the fate the mortals they ruled.

Fast forward to modern times, the first person to reach the peak and the first absolute conquering and climbing of Mount Olympus was Greek local, Christos Kakkalos, back in August 1913. Today it is estimated that 10,000 people make the pilgrimage each year to climb Mount Olympus, with a majority only reaching the smaller Skolio summit.

Get prepared

One thing that would have made it easier for me to tackle the marathon climb is being equipped with the right attire, mindset and physical strength. The same can be said for any mountain ascent.  As a prelude to my story, my travel buddy Kevin organized this ‘climb of our lives.’ I had done a few mountain treks in my time and in hindsight, I urge you to really know the difference between a climb and a trek as by the end of this, I was on all fours, hugging Mother Earth like I have never hugged her before, pleading that I would make it out alive.

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Kevin and I in happier times!

Kevin had arranged an overnight stay in our two-day feat to conquer the mountain and breathe the same air that the Greek Gods did thousands of years ago as the legend goes. He insisted that this was going to a be a real hike. At first, that made me more excited about reaching the top of Greece’s highest peak. Rookie error on my part as I probably should have Googled the crap out of what it takes to climb Mount Olympus before I agreed to it. He insisted that I bring hiking boots as it was going to be tough.

As I like to travel on the cheap and skimp out on paying for extra baggage, I packed the trusty shoes I wear on an almost daily basis; my converse. Rookie error again; the terrain on the last leg would prove to be intense.

Day One

The first day was literally a ‘walk in the park’ besides capping off the day almost swimming in my own juices. It was summer after all and we embarked on the climb in the 40 degree plus heat. The first leg had easy paths to follow and contours that were manageable. Still, I was very much relieved when it was over.

Day Two

The second day was full on. I didn’t expect to be hanging on for dear life, living out my own ‘Who Dares Wins’ scenario. (Sorry Australian reference here!) I really needed bomber-jacket clad Mike Whitney and Tania Zaetta on the sidelines to cheer me on with this epic challenge. Where was Tania when I needed her to replace me to complete this dare?!

At this stage, the climb now required me to go through nooks and crevasses along the mountain. No longer was I standing on two feet as it was purely rocky terrain. I became Spiderwoman. Even indoor rocking climbing wouldn’t have prepared me for what was ahead. I didn’t have that white magic powder to slap on to re-grip the faces of the mountain. My palms were fast becoming wetter than a slip and slide ride.

This mountain required me to get on all fours, to really hug the damn thing and crab walk my way across it and grab a hold of whatever part of the rock face possible. One step at a time for this ever so impatient soul. This wasn’t the time or place to be the hare. I had to be a turtle, had to take it slow. After all, this was not the Olympics and there was no gold medal waiting for me, just the satisfaction I am standing where the Greek Gods once resided.

I panicked. I wanted to call it quits in the hardest of all places – including the middle of a crevasse in the mountain. Kevin, being the fantastic crab crawler that he was, maintained being upbeat about the whole thing. He gave me words of encouragement and reinforced the ‘you can do it’ mentality. It helped but the longer I looked down to my potential (and literal) downfall, I freaked myself out.

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Greek God to the rescue

Just when I was ready to call it quits, out of the modern day Greek God playbook, my saviour came. He didn’t even need to usher a word as he saw the look desperation on my face. He smiled as if to acknowledge he was going to help me conquer this damn mountain. Damned if I didn’t complete it as I had made it so close.

I spoke to a young woman companion acting as his translator. I had asked her how many times he had climbed this mountain. Sixty was the answer. Wow – this was certainly the Greek God I had been waiting for.

My modern day Greek God started to assist me with showing me step by step on how to vertically climb up the mountain. I was again, on all fours. One wrong footing and I was done for. Meanwhile, I had other climbers literally go past me like they were off speeding down the freeway and I was broken down in the emergency lane.

See other travelling fails – The epic story of how I lost my passport in Greece

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I made it!

I eventually made it to the summit although much later than planned.

Once at the top, I cried tears of joy and relief. I managed to conquer the mountain and a fear.

What immediately struck me was not just the awesome view, but the two memorials that sit atop. Maybe I had sounded dramatic but the memorials reinforced that my fear was not overkilled as people have lost their lives climbing this mountain.

I took a 360 panoramic twirl to really take in what I had set out to do and achieved; be at one with the Gods. Seeing the Pindus range of mountains, Plateau of the Muses and the Aegean Sea from the top of Mount Olympus was a remarkable and literally breath-taking sight to behold.

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After having a casual conversation with other climbers about overcoming nerves and life in general, I cemented my presence on the mountain by signing the visitors’ book that sits at the very top of the mountain. I also had the obligatory paparazzo photos to showcase that I actually did the damn climb. The reward? Unfortunately, not a $100k pay cheque from Mike Whitney but the grand reward of achieving a remarkable physical feat.

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The come down

After all the hardship, it was time to descend the mountain. My modern day Adonis was on standby to help me tackle natures’ beast on the decline.  His son’s girlfriend (my translator) asked me if I would ever do it again and I quickly shot back a confident ‘hell no’. Maybe it’s an age thing showing but the whole scenario made me really think of how I push myself when it comes to going on an adventure of sorts.

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Can you spot me?

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It was literally the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. We started at over 1000m and ended at 2918m. The second-day climb started at 8 am and finished at 6 pm.

The climb down was much easier but still with its challenges. Let’s just say I blitzed the climb down as fast as I could – I wanted out.

I have never been so happy to see a parked car in my life and drive away from that damned mountain. Back in my comfort zone and I could now breathe a sigh of relief. I am still recapturing my breath and my sanity. No regrets – it was an amazing climb that really tested my physical and mental strength but what this climb taught me was to carefully pick your battles. If you want to walk a mile in my shoes and conquer Mount Olympus, just make sure you were the right ones!

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You know, that stock standard mountaintop reflection pose.

Getting there

By car: I got there by car which seems to be the easiest option – find out how here.

Stay

There are four types of accommodation to choose from on the east side of the mountain. These refuges have Greek names and are generally referred to as A, B, C and D. The fourth, Petrostrougka, is only two hours from the Gortsia trailhead.

I stayed at Refuge A – Refuge Agapitos – which is the most popular refuge, housing 110 beds in basic accommodation. Bathrooms are shared. The refuge is located below treeline and is roughly approximately 3-4 hours from the Prionia trail and only 2-3 hours from the almighty Mytikas summit (except we all know it took me longer than that!)

My hot tip is to book ahead as it is busy in the summer and we were lucky to secure a bed! Beds are from €13 per night. You can also camp if you are feeling game enough to lug a tent with you at €4.20 a night.

Food is reasonably priced with generous serves too. Treat yourself to a bowl of spaghetti at €7.00 – you’ve earned it!

Refuges B and C are closer to the Gortsia trailhead and are located within 15 minutes of each other along the Plateau of Muses. They are roughly 1.5 hours from the Mytikas summit.

Litochoro – Prionia – Spilios Agapitos Trail 1. Map credit: Spilios Agapitos

Trail

There are three trails that you can follow, however, I completed the most popular one which starts from the town of Litochoro – Prionia – Spilios Agapitos.

From Litochoro, you can start the hike up the valley to the Prionia trailhead, roughly taking 4 – 5 hours on the first day.

Prionia is the highest point which can be reached by car and is 18 km from Litochoro. There are plenty of parking spaces here. This is where I commenced the trail from.

Day one: Hike from the Prionia trailhead (or even from Litochoro if you are feeling lucky) to Refuge A – Spillos Agapitos.

Day two: Wake up early to commence your hike from Refuge A to the Mytikas summit. After having your fix amongst the Greek Gods, make your way back down to Prionia (or Litochoro).

More information on this trail can be found here.

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