climbing mount olympus

for our final weekend in greece, we climbed mount olympus. mount olympus, the highest mountain in greece at 2,918.8 meters, is the legendary home of the greek gods (zeus, hera, poseidon, demeter, athena, apollo, artemis, ares, aphrodite, hephaestus, hermes, and dionysus. the god of the underworld, hades, stayed home). according to the mythology, the jagged peak of olympus, stefani, was zeus’ throne, and the gods threw up obstacles to keep mortals from reaching the heights, but we were not to be dissuaded.

the view from litochoro village.
scenery on the way up.

our group started our ascent on friday from the “village” of prionia, which consists of nothing but a cafe and a bathroom and which sits at approximately 1,000 meters above sea level. the initial day’s climb was 6 kilometers long, but with a gain of another 1,000 meters – definitely a challenge. we were carrying backpacks that included some cold weather gear (because the temperature can be very low at the summit, even though it was in the 80s at the start of the hike), as well as about 2 liters of water each, and i soon realized that, despite having run two marathons this year, i was in no shape for this. somehow, my pack became heavier at each step, and by the the time we reached the hostel at the midway point, i was exhausted. were the gods telling me something?

the hostel is one of many that dot the mountain area, and it was ready for the 100 or so hikers that were on this part of the mountain. (the mountain was also host the next day to the olympus marathon, a 44 kilometer race up and across the face – but not the peak – of olympus, so there were a lot of red cross personnel staying that night. good for us, just in case …)  the kitchen was serving up heaping plates of spaghetti and meatballs, so we ate, drank, and went to bed exhausted and well-fed. we should have dropped off immediately, but the food gave me indigestion that kept me up all night, and abby tripped getting out of the top bunk of the bunkbed and fell face-first into the next bed, giving herself a serious shiner. again, perhaps the gods were suggesting that we were in no condition to continue. nonetheless, undaunted (and armed with a newly-purchased pair of hiking sticks), we set off early saturday to reach the summit.

this time, although the climb was 800 meters, the distance was only 3 kilometers, meaning that the path was much steeper.

how hard could it be?

at the top of the hill, we dropped our packs and found the path leading to the peak: a class 3 free climb down, followed by climb of the same difficulty back up. “class 3” means that the route is steep and requires using the hands as well as the feet, but if you fall, the injury is unlikely to be fatal. (“hi, mom! nothing to see here.”) the way to negotiate it is to keep at least three points of contact – two feet and a hand, two feet and a butt, a full body lean – against the mountain whenever there isn’t a flat path.

upon reaching the top of stefani, we looked out and saw that we in fact were not at the summit of olympus, but that there was one more peak, called mytikas, which served as the pantheon where the gods met and argued about the affairs of men, and that was still one more free climb down and back up. so that’s what we did.


looking back at it, it is amazing that we scaled the mountain. we were scaling the mountain at angles greater than 45° at some points without ropes, clambering hand over foot and using muscles that none of us knew knew we had. and we finished just in time, too: just as we completed the final stretch back to our packs, the mountain vanished as the clouds rolled in, the thunder began rumbling, and big fat raindrops began to fall.

and with that, our greek adventure ends. my next blog post, most likely, will be from thailand, and i even might start using capital letters.

Author: cohn17

Photographer and baker of macarons.

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