Epic weekend in Mt. Olympus

The Greek myths are an important part of our cultural heritage and as a child I was fascinated by Mt. Olympus, home to the Greek Pantheon of Gods. Climbing it, was a dream of mine since I remember myself. Unfortunately, although I have been to the top numerous times, I haven’t met any immortals yet. Luckily for me though, every time I am compensated with the views towards Aegean Sea which are jaw dropping and the immence feeling of achievement.

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The cultural significance of this mythical mountain undoubtedly stems from its landscape. Several peaks exceeding 2900 m, deep ravines, gorges and plateaus compose one of the most amazing landmarks of the country. After all, it is the highest mountain in Greece and is the second highest mountain in the Balkan geographic region. Olympus’ distinctive characteristics contribute not only to its stunning scenery but also to its remarkable biodiversity, for which it has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The mountain hosts 1,700 kinds of plants, which represent a quarter of all Greek flora.  A Mediterranean climate prevails in the lower levels of the mountain, supporting white rock, scrub vegetation and laurel, pine, and fruit trees; above 2000 m, the ecology turns alpine.

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While for the vast majority of Greeks today, Mount Olympus is important for its ecological value or as a travel destination, there is a significant number of people that they want to stand at its top Mytikas, rising at 2918m above the sea level. By the late 19th century, there had already been numerous attempts to conquer mountain by foreign explorers, scientists, and mountaineers, yet all had ended in failure. The first known climbers that succeeded were the Swiss climbers Fred Boissonas and Daniel Baud Bovy and their local guide Christos Kakkalos in 1913. Since then, the mountain has become a common two or three-day hike for adventure seekers.

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The usual starting point for a trip to climb Mt. Olympus is the small town of Litochoro. From there most hikers drive to Prionia to start the hike, but this time we decided to take an alternative route to the top and climb the mountain from it’s North side. We started early in the afternoon from Athens, and the goal was to overnight in the foothills of the mountain in order to do the climb the next morning. We found a great spot beneath the plane trees and started preparing for the big day with a grilling feast by a crackling fire before crawling into our tents for a deep sleep which was disrupted by an early alarm.

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It was the start of June, but the mountain still had snow, so we were prepared for a long hike as the ambitious goal was to summit and back in a day. We drove at the Training center of Mountain Ski Race, and we started hiking from there. Two hours later, we arrived at Christakis hut and after a steep uphill, we reached a bench with views of jagged peaks rising above billowing clouds. The trail then angled up rocky inclines to the top of Skala, a subsidiary peak, where the route forked. Here, is where the real climbing starts as you have to negotiate some technical scrambling features which present great exposure. We were a big group and there was still snow in some parts, so we had to be extremely careful. After a bit more than an hour we were all standing in the top. The peak of this mountain crests high above the surrounding valleys, lending the eye to soak up a never-ending view towards the Mediterranean far below. This is one of those, “Can I treasure this forever?” with feelings of awe, excitement, achievement. Every time I want to take in, every second I can.

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