Given that we both love mountains, it seemed fitting to tackle the largest one in Greece: Mount Olympus. Mount Olympus National Park is situated on the outskirts of the town of Litochoro, with a nice welcome center that provides any information that you might need prior to your visit. We mostly used it to get a map and an update on weather for the evening. Oh, and take this photo.
Mount Olympus is a great way to get off the beaten path from the typical tourist places of Greece. It’s definitely filled with tourists, but the great part about it was that many of them are actually from Greece. It’s no surprise many Greeks would visit this beautiful park, as it was the cornerstone of Greek mythology. It is said that Zeus, Gods and Goddesses used Mount Olympus as their home living within the many gorges surrounding its rocky peaks.
There are a few places that you can start your journey up the mountain, but since our time was limited and we already rented a car from Athens, we decided to start at the Prionia parking lot.
Prionia had toilets, a taverna (little Greek restaurant), and fresh water right at the trailhead; it was great. The estimate from most websites for the first part of our 6 km hike was 3 hours, but with our excitement, we made it up to the Refuge in the brisk time of 2 hours. We were quite ambitious to summit the day we arrived so we could relax in the evening, but mountains always have their own plans, so thunderstorms and our late start didn’t make it possible that evening.
At the Refuge, we ordered some spaghetti with meatballs. What a fantastic little cabin in the mountains… if I could have a spaghetti dinner halfway up a summit and shelter from lightning storms, boy oh boy would I quit my job and just climb mountains 365 days a year (or maybe I would do that regardless). Being that we were in Greece, we also managed to have a half liter of red wine with our pasta to top it all off.
Did I mention that there were lots of stray dogs at the refuge as well? And not just any stray dogs, some pretty epic MOUNTAIN ones. This little one actually was taken in by the caretakers of the refuge after she followed them off of the mountain and chased their car for a few miles. She’s been their own dog ever since, but she still lives that rugged mountain woman life by sleeping outside and roaming the forest as she pleases.
At the refuge, there were many different rooms where you can interact with other hikers on their journey to the top. We were fortunate to have a chat with an Israeli sibling pair and Irish guy. One of the best parts of traveling, in my humble opinion, are these experiences where you can learn the perspectives of others from around the world. We all stayed up a bit late as the thunderstorm rolled over chatting about the Israeli armed forces, Ireland’s food and people, hiking, and our various travels. Eventually, after discussing the differences in meal times between Israel, Ireland and the US, it was time for us to hit the hay to prepare for our summit the next day.
Waking up in the hostel-like room the next morning, we gathered what we needed for the day and stored the items we didn’t need for the peak on a shelf at the refuge. We started our journey through the previous night’s cloud cover, allowing a mere 20 feet maximum of visibility. A steady increase in elevation felt great on the legs… we’d had quite a tiresome start to our Greece trip so it was a bit of a reset from our work stresses and the general stresses of travel to be back in nature. Continuing up the mountain, we didn’t encounter anyone else; the perfect kind of day outside. Below you can find a photo of what you might see if you get a clearer day than us.. (this was taken on our way down).
Finally, about 1.5 hours into the hike we made it to the scramble portion. Interestingly, in Greece, the direction along the rock isn’t guided by cairns (stacks of rocks), but by spray painted dots, which made it easier than any other scramble we’ve done to find the way.
Following the red spray paint dots, we started to go down, it felt odd, ‘why are we going down, we need to go up’, but we followed them anyways. We made it to a section where the rocks loomed over us; no wonder the Greeks said the Gods lived here. It was hard not to feel as if there was some celestial presence that resided within the clouds hovering all around us, especially as the wind howled by us. Nonetheless, I thought we’d reached the summit block, but no avail. We made it to the top of yet another false summit.
On a clear day, the path would have been extremely obvious, and I am sure we could have seen our objective, but of course, we received the only cloudy day for the week to have as our dedicated summit day.
As we were climbing, Ben kept telling me “Good job” and “You’ve got this”… he knew the one thing that freaked me out in the mountains when climbing, always, was the wind. The wind was blowing pretty hard and with the clouds surrounding us, I had no idea how far down the drops were or what was lurking in the shadows. I started to get cold, shivering, the sweat was sticking to me underneath my hardshell and was doing nothing for my warmth. No sooner had Ben encouraged me, he turned around to find me in a ball, sobbing. I was so frustrated about the wind and my lack of preparation for the mountains, when I thought all of Greece was sunshine, rainbows, and bikinis. My normal long sleeve sweat wicking layer would have been REALLY nice about now, but of course, I was clothed with a tank top and the hard shell over it.
Ben immediately consoled me, wrapped me in the emergency blanket he had within his bag and for about 5 minutes stayed with his arms around me and the blanket. I started to feel the sunshine peeking through the clouds…. ‘Now you come out,’ I thought.
The wet rocks, exposure, limited visibility and wind ended it for me, so we decided to turn around 40 feet from the summit. I’d let my mind get wrapped around all of the terrible things that could happen to us; rock fall, being swept away, slipping to my death, and the list goes on….
After 1 minute from turning around, I could tell Ben was hesitant, as was I. I was so mad at myself for not reaching our objective just because of my fears. We both looked at each other and I said “Screw it, let’s get to the top”. No more than 10 minutes later, we reached the summit where I cried, again, but this time from happiness for making it to the top.
We celebrated with a summit hug, and while Ben signed the summit log, I took in the scene around me. This time, I actually enjoyed the wind as it pushed away the clouds allowing for the warm sun to come out. While enjoying the fleeting views, I was humbled by the mountains, by nature, and her allowing me to get out of my comfort zone, yet again.
On the way down, we were able to see much more of the landscape and were offered some pretty incredible views.
Not only did we meet some mountain dogs at the refuge, we also caught one napping along the trail. Apparently this is quite common to find these large strays hanging out on the trails. Don’t worry, they’re friendly!
So you want to climb Mount Olympus?
Before you go
- Send an inquiry to Refuge A so that you can have a spot for the night(s) you want to spend there. Use the link below. I’d recommend making the reservation as soon as you know the dates you want to go. http://www.mountolympus.gr/en/booking.php#.Wcg9WK2ZMdU
- Send a confirmation email to the refuge within a week of your arrival. (Your confirmation email should have these details)
- Pack up your things!
- Figure out your transportation:
- Order a taxi from Litochoro
- Rental car – check the fine print if you do a one way car rental like we did … 200 EUR extra!!
Distance from Prionia to Refuge A:
3.75 miles (6 km) with elevation gain of 3280 feet (1000 m)
Distance from Refuge A to Mytikas summit:
1.86 miles (3 km) with elevation gain of 2683 feet (818 m)
Items to bring (in summer):
- Backpack (25-40L)
- 2 liters water bottle or bladder (fill up at Refuge A on way up)
- Moisture wicking long sleeve shirt
- Hiking pants/yoga pants/athletic shorts
- Hiking boots
- Money in case you decide to taxi or potentially hitchhike to/from Prionia
- Toilet paper
- 10 essentials
- Sunglasses & sunscreen
- Extra clothing
- First aid supplies
- Extra Food
- Snacks (dried fruit, protein bars, etc.)