CLIMBING MOUNT OLYMPUS

CLIMBING MOUNT OLYMPUS

I have been dreaming about climbing Mount Olympus since I come to Greece six years ago. Finally this year, after a lot of persuasion my friend Lucy agreed to join me. We decided for the classic ascent from Litochoro village through the Enipea valley to the summit and back to Prionia. It was a two-day hike and we spend the night at the Refuge A about half way between Prionia and the summits.

We took the midnight train from Athens to Thessaloniki and got off at Kateriny. In Kateriny we changed for a bus and arrived at Litochoro at around 7 o’clock in the morning. This seemed like a great plan saving us time but in reality, it was a big mistake.

The train was packed and even though we booked our seats we didn’t get much sleep during the six-hour journey. We arrived at Litochoro exhausted but enthusiastic seeing the magnificent mountain for the first time.

Drinking our morning coffee on the pretty central square of Litochoro we had a decision to make. Either we could take a taxi to the car park at Prionia for about 25 euros. Then we would continue the 2 – 3 hour hike to the Refuge A where we booked accommodation for the night. Or we could save money for the taxi and walk the whole way through the beautiful Enipeas Canyon.

According to my guide, the hike from Litochoro to the Refuge A through the canyon should take around 8 hours. We had a whole day ahead of us so we decided for the second option. We had no idea what awaits us!

Climbing Mount Olympus

 Enipeas Canyon

The trail through the valley starts at the top of the Litochoro village and roughly follows the river up toward Prionia. It’s quite long and without a map, it was hard to assess the distance we still had in front of us. The first section was the hardest. The path doesn’t run along the river but climbs up and down on the slopes of the canyon. We climbed at least ten thousand wooden stairs and after an hour our legs were sore and shaking.

However, the valley is stunningly beautiful and absolute must-see when visiting Mount Olympus National Park! The water in the Enipea river is unbelievably blue and clear (and freezing cold). Lush greenery covers the slopes of the valley and after a while, the rocky summits of Mount Olympus start peaking in the distance. And as if that wasn’t enough, there were butterflies and blooming flowers everywhere even in the middle of the Greek summer! The middle section of the trail is the most beautiful with wooden bridges crossing the river and pools and waterfall inviting for a swim.

Once we reached the church of Agios Spileos just before the Monastery of Agios Dhionysios the path got much easier. For those who want to see a bit of the valley but don’t want to completely destroy themselves, I recommend starting the ascent to the Refuge A from here.

We didn’t visit the Monastery but the little church of Agios Spileos is worth the short walk. It was built in a huge cave and there is a spring with some kind of magic powers running from behind the church.

Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus

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Mount Olympus

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From Prionia to the Refuge A

 

Prionia is the most common starting point for hikes to the Refuge A and the summits. It lies at the end of the asphalt road from Litochoro and there is a large carpark, toilets and small tavern. If you want to leave Prionia by taxi and don’t have cell phone reception ask in the tavern to get it for you.

We stopped at Prionia for a well-deserved break and some refreshment before the final ascent to the refuge. This part of the hike should take 2 hours but it took us at least 4! We hardly make it before the sunset.

The highlight of this section was meeting the donkeys descending from the refuge. They are trained to carry the supplies up to the refuge every day all by themselves. It’s pretty amazing for me that there are still places so close to home where people use donkeys for transportation! And not just because it looks cool on the holiday pictures. Hereabouts, it is the only possible way to get the provisions up to the refuge. Let’s hope it will stay that way for many years to come and all the rumors about ski park and heliport up at the mountain are just a false alarm.

Once we got to the refuge we found our bunk beds, took a freezing shower (the water comes from the melting ice on the top of the mountain) and bought some spaghetti for dinner. We discussed our plans for the next day and neither of us believed that we can climb any higher. We were completely exhausted and fell asleep way before the curfew at 10.

Mount Olympus

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Mount Olympus

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From Refuge A to the summits of Mount Olympus

 

Next day we woke at 6 o’clock feeling surprisingly fresh and full of energy. The pain was gone and we were ready for more. We ate breakfast quickly, left most of our stuff on the refuge and started the ascent.

It’s a good idea to start as early as possible to enjoy clear views from the summits. Even on a good day, the peaks start collecting clouds around the noon and hide themselves to a misty whiteness. This may be happening due to the close proximity to the sea or maybe it’s a sign from the Olympians to go home and give them a break.

About 100m above the refuge the view opens and is absolutely stunning! The panorama of the summits and ridges is disturbed only at east by the waste glistening sea. And even though it was still a difficult climb at this point I didn’t mind at all!

At the last section before reaching Skala the trail changed from a comfortable path into a gravel hell! Every step up meant sliding half step back and it was almost impossible to stop for a rest. Anyway, after some struggle, we got through and reached the top of Skala in about two hours after leaving the refuge.

Mount Olympus

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Mount Olympus

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Mount Olympus

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Mount Olympus

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Skala and Skolio Summits

 

Resting at the windy peak of Skala we took the first glimpse of the highest peak of the range (and Greece), Mitikas (2917m). We knew straight away that we are not brave enough or strong enough to climb to the top. The dark rocky cone of the mountain seemed too scary at that time. Therefore, we decided to head for the slightly lower and much easier Skolio summit (2911m).

From Skala to Skolio it is a pleasant walk along the ridge with amazing views on both sides. We reached the top in about half an hour. We just signed the visitor book and were enjoying the view while wondering how to get down to the refuge different way.

Suddenly, we saw an older couple reaching the top from the other side of the mountain. To our great surprise, they were also Czech, living in Thessaloniki. They bought a summer house in Litochoro five years ago and they have been exploring the mountain ever since. In their little notebook, they had the precise description of all their walks, all 108 (!) of them!

Thanks to them we got to see a different, less visited part of the mountain and to avoid the slippery gravel fields on the way down. So, instead of returning back to Skala we continued across the top of Skolio and down to the saddle on the other side. Here we found a fainted path going to the left through the bottom of the valley. It wasn’t very clear at places but still easy enough to follow. There was one slightly confusing section just before joining the main path between Skala and the Refuge A. If unsure, just keep to the left of the valley.

This descent from the Skolio peak was probably my favorite moment of the whole trip. We finally shook off the crowds and were walking through a quite deserted wilderness. The meadows full of colorful flowers kept changing into snow fields and back. The mountain goats were happily grazing on the slopes above us and even higher the summits were peaking through the clouds.

Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus

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Mount Olympus

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Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus is a magical mountain. Maybe it’s the possible presence of the ancient gods. Or maybe the unusually shaped peak of Stefany reminiscent of a huge dinosaur back. Maybe it’s the location of this almost 3000m tall giant growing straight out of the sea. Or perhaps it’s the mixture of visitors from Greece and all over the world encouraging each other during the tough moments of the ascent. Either way, this mountain has its way to get under your skin and it’s just a matter of time when you will start longing for another reunion.

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