On the list of iconic mountains of the world, Mount Olympus surely has a place. Not only is it a geographically impressive peak, rising straight from the Aegean Sea to a height of 2,917 m, but it’s also one of great mythological importance. Eleven of the twelve major Greek gods resided in the gorges of the mountain, while Zeus himself claimed Stefani peak for his throne. The gods would come together on the highest summit, Mytikas, to determine the fate of the mortals they ruled.
The first known ascent of Olympus was in 1913. Today, an estimated 10,000 people climb the peak annually, though far fewer attain the ultimate summit of Mytikas. Despite the popularity of the mountain, I had a hard time finding information about climbing Olympus. The best info I found was at the website for one of the refuges, but it only covers the trail that passes by that refuge. Based on the advice of the owner of Summit Zero hostel in Litochoro, I took a loop route, and I’ve compiled here what I learned during my two days on the peak.
The best place to start! Olympus is actually fine to climb without a map, but if you’re a curious hiker like I am, you’ll want a map to track your progress, identify adjacent peaks, find water sources, etc. I just took a picture of the map at the trailhead, which I’ve posted here. Sorry, it’s not the best quality, and the stitching job is poor, but it’ll do the job.
Where to start
The town of Litochoro, at the base of the eastern side of Olympus, is the classic base-town for the mountain. There are frequent buses to Litochoro from Thessaloniki and Katerini to the north. If you’re staying at Summit Zero hostel down on the coast, a frequent local bus will take you into the center of Litochoro for a couple Euro.
You can either choose to start hiking from Litochoro (see ‘trailheads’ below) or drive further up the mountain. There is no bus. A taxi to the Prionia trailhead costs €25.00, or you can hitchhike for free. I and two others chose to hitchhike and were picked up in under a minute–not kidding. Greek hospitality is an amazing thing. If you want to hitchhike, head downhill from the roundabout/fountain in the middle of Litochoro, past the police station, across a bridge with yellow railings, and to the next intersection. All traffic passing you at that point is heading up the mountain.
There are three places on the east side of the mountain from which you can begin your hike.
The first is the town of Litochoro (‘A’ on the map). From there you can hike up the valley (or rather, as I was told, up and down and up and down and up the valley) to the Prionia trailhead. It takes ~4-5 hours to hike from Litochoro to Prionia.
The second is the Gortsia trailhead (‘B’ on the map). There is a parking area and a trailhead map but no water source.
The last is the Prionia trailhead (‘C’ on the map). There is a large parking lot, a taverna serving food and beverages, and a natural spring from which you can fill your water bottles. Prionia is far and away the most popular trailhead for Olympus, though many people are just exploring the local area and not actually climbing the mountain.
Where to sleep
There are four refuges on the east side of the mountain. Each refuge costs €12.00 for a bed, and serves hot food and beverages for pretty reasonable prices (examples: €7.00 for a heaping bowl of spaghetti Bolognese and bread, €4.50 for half a liter of wine, €2.00 for a hot beverage). These refuges have long Greek names, so are typically referred to as Refuges A, B and C
Refuge A – Refuge Agapitos: the most popular refuge, it’s located below treeline, approximately 3-4 hours from the Prionia trailhead and 2-3 hours from the Mytikas summit. The refuge houses 150 people and requires booking ahead in the summer.
Refuges B and C are closer to the Gortsia trailhead. They are within 15 minutes of each other on the Plateau of Muses, a stunning flat portion of the mountain above treeline and immediately below the Stefani summit. Both refuges are ~5 hours from the Gortsia trailhead, and only 45 minutes or 1.5 hours from the Mytikas summit, depending on your route.
Refuge B (Refuge Apostolides) is a large but less frequented refuge, and, in my opinion, the best choice because it offers ample room to socialize, escape or sleep. Refuge C (Refuge Kakalos) is much smaller and cozier, and may be booked full, but if it is, just head up the hill to Refuge B.
A fourth refuge, Petrostrougka, is only two hours from the Gortsia trailhead, making it a poor choice for summiting Mytikas, though probably a great place for a more mild hiking destination.
Which trail to take
So, now that we have three trailheads, three refuges and one summit (‘D’ on the map), how shall we connect the dots?
- Prionia trailhead and Refuge A: Hike from the Prionia trailhead (or even from Litochoro) to Refuge A (Agapitos) on day 1, then from Refuge A to the Mytikas summit, and all the way back down to Prionia(or Litochoro) on day 2. It’s an out-and-back hike, very straight-forward. You’ll probably have a lot of company on the hike and at the refuge. The downside to this approach, in my opinion, is the distance between the refuge and the summit. View-obscuring clouds enshroud the summit early, around 9 am on a clear day, so you’d have to get a very early start to attain the summit in good conditions.
- Gortsia trailhead and Refuge B or C, out-and-back: Hike from the Gortsia trailhead to either refuge in the Plateau of Muses on day 1, then summit Mytikas and head back down the same route on day 2. Advantages are a short approach to the summit on day 2, and easy transportation if you drove yourself to the Gortsia trailhead.
- Gortsia trailhead and Refuge B or C, loop-hike: This option is my favorite. Hike from the Gortsia trailhead to either refuge in the Plateau of Muses on day 1, then summit Mytikas and head back down on day 2. But, instead of going back down the same route, descend via Refuge A and the Prionia trailhead. This is a diverse route that will take you over more of the mountain. If you’re hitchhiking or taking a taxi, Prionia will serve you fine. If you parked at Gortsia, you can hitchhike from Prionia to Gortsia with ease.
And now, for the final challenge, the summit itself! Olympus is covered in various rocky peaks, but the most famous are Skolio, Mytikas and Stefani. Skolio is the easiest to ascend, Mytikas is harder and is the highest point, and Stefani is in between the two in terms of difficulty and elevation. Skolio is the goal for casual hikers, and Mytikas for more skilled mountaineers.
There are two common routes up Mytikas. The most popular is from the Prionia/Refuge A side of the massif. First the hiker ascends Skolio, then descends into a saddle and climbs a well-marked class III route up to Mytikas. For those familiar with the Colorado 14ers, the climbing is similar to that of Long’s Peak, a famous class III mountain. Class III means you’ll be using your hands to help you climb, and there’s moderate exposure. While a fall wouldn’t necessarily mean death, it would be likely. So, don’t let go.
The other route up Mytikas is steeper and more technical, but also quicker. The approach is from the Plateau of Muses. A trail from the refuges cuts around the base of the Stefani/Mytikas massif. About halfway around the massif a climbers trail cuts straight up to the summit via a steep gully. The route is marked with paint. If you stay on route the climbing is sustained class III with some class IV moves. The biggest risk on this route is loose rock–do not climb this route without a helmet. The refuges loan out helmets for free to hikers attempting this route. And, because there is loose rock on the route, every climber has a responsibility to not kill climbers below them. In other words, move carefully and don’t kick down debris.
Enjoy your hike!
Mount Olympus is a great peak to climb. Enjoy, have fun, and don’t forget to bring an offering to the gods!