“A traveler in ancient Greece, the story goes, met an old man walking along the road and asked him how to get to Mount Olympus. The old man, who turned out to be Socrates, replied: “Just make sure that every step you take is in that direction.” Unknown
Why This Mountain?
Mount Olympus is an epic mountain in literary lore. It is the home of the Greek Gods. Therefore, it seemed an obvious choice for 52 Peaks as it ties together a love of climbing and books. It was also on Tami’s bucket list to visit Greece. Upon arriving in Athens, we learned that Olympus also has 52 peaks! It was destiny that we are here!
Mountain & Route Facts
Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece and the second highest in the Balkans. The highest peak is Mytikas, meaning nose, at a height of 9,573 feet. The highest peak is extra challenging to get to as it’s considered a Class III or even IV rock scramble over an exposed edge. The goal is to make it to Mytikas, but the Skolio peak is a back-up plan.
In Greek mythology Olympus was the home of the Twelve Olympian gods of the ancient Greek world. It is the setting of many Greek mythical stories. The Twelve Olympian gods lived in the gorges, where there were also their palaces. Pantheon (today Mytikas) was their meeting place and theater of their stormy discussions. The Throne of Zeus (today Stefani) hosted solely him, the leader of the gods. From there he unleashed his thunderbolts, expressing his godly wrath. The Twelve Olympians were Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Poseidon, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Ares, Hermes, Hephaestus, and the twelfth was either Hestia or Dionysus.
It was just one year after the liberation of Greece from Ottoman rule, on 2 August 1913, that the until then untrodden summit of Olympus was finally reached. The Swiss Frédéric Boissonnas and Daniel Baud-Bovy, aided by a hunter of wild goats from Litochoro, Christos Kakalos, were the first to reach Greece’s highest peak. Kakalos, who had much experience climbing Olympus, was the first of the three to climb Mytikas. Afterwards and till his death (1976) he was the official guide of Olympus. In 1921, he and Marcel Kurz reached the second highest summit of Olympus, Stefani.
It is estimated that 10,000 people climb Mount Olympus each year, most of them reaching only the Skolio summit. Most climbs of Mount Olympus start from the town of Litochoro, which took the name City of Gods because of its location at the foot of the mountain. From there a road goes to Prionia, where the hike begins at the bottom of the mountain. Our plan is to go from Prionia to the Refuge A on Day 1 (It’s a day of travel to get from Athens to Prionia). Day 2 will be the summit day returning to Refuge A. On Day 3, we’ll make our way back to Prionia and start the long trip by bus and train back to Athens. We estimate the hike is about 22 miles total with over 6,000 ft of elevation gain.
Historical and Cultural Information
Greek history is one of the longest of any country, dating back to the 7th millennium BC. Greece is considered the cradle of Western civilization, having been the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, Western literature, historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, and Western drama, including both tragedy and comedy. Greece’s population is around 10.8 million. Athens is the nation’s capital and largest city, followed by Thessaloniki. The language is Greek and the currency is the Euro.
The Greeks were first unified under Philip of Macedon in the fourth century BC. His son Alexander the Great rapidly conquered much of the ancient world, spreading Greek culture and science from the eastern Mediterranean to the Indus River. Annexed by Rome in the second century BC, Greece became an integral part of the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine Empire. The first century AD saw the establishment of the Greek Orthodox Church, which shaped the modern Greek identity and transmitted Greek traditions to the wider Orthodox World. Falling under Ottoman dominion in the mid-15th century, the modern nation state of Greece emerged in 1830 following a war of independence. Greece’s rich historical legacy is reflected in large part by its 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, among the most in Europe and the world.
The first Olympic Games are believed to have been in 776 BC. The Iliad and the Odyssey, the foundational texts of Western literature, are believed to have been composed by Homer in the 8th or 7th centuries BC. The Parthenon is a former temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron. Pericles initiated the construction that began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power. It was completed in 438 BC although decoration of the building continued until 432 BC. Over the following 2,500 years, parts of the Parthenon have been destroyed by fires, bombings and heavy looting (most notably by Lord Elgin in the 19th Century who removed numerous sculptures from the Parthenon for the British Museum in London.
During the height of it’s history, Greece engaged in two major wars: The Persian and Peloponnesian War. By 500 BC, the Persian Empire controlled the Greek city states in Asia Minor and Macedonia Attempts by some of the Greek city-states of Asia Minor to overthrow Persian rule failed, and Persia invaded the states of mainland Greece in 492 BC, but was forced to withdraw after a defeat at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. A second invasion by the Persians followed in 480 BC. Following decisive Greek victories in 480 and 479 BC at Salamis, Plataea, and Mycale, the Persians were forced to withdraw for a second time, marking their eventual withdrawal from all of their European territories. Led by Athens and Sparta, the Greek victories in the Greco-Persian Wars are considered a pivotal moment in world history, as the 50 years of peace that followed are known as Golden Age of Athens, the seminal period of ancient Greece that laid many of the foundations of Western civilization.
Lack of political unity within Greece resulted in frequent conflict between Greek states. The most devastating intra-Greek war was the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), won by Sparta and marking the demise of the Athenian Empire as the leading power in ancient Greece. Both Athens and Sparta were later overshadowed by Thebes and eventually Macedon, with the latter uniting the Greek world in the League of Corinth (also known as the Hellenic League or Greek League) under the guidance of Phillip II, who was elected leader of the first unified Greek state in history.
Greek mythology, philosophy, art and literature are prominent in a great amount of culture over the past two millennium. The United States government based its democratic principles on Greek Democracy. Sophocles, Plato and Aristotle’s teachings are still considered essential to philosophy. Stories by Homer, Euripides, and Aeschylus are still considered required reading and the beginnings of the theatre. Euclid, known as the father of geometry, is one of the most influential founders of mathematics.