Mount Olympus 101 – A Basic Guide to Greece’s Tallest Mountain
Mount Olympus, located in northeast Greece between the border of Thessaly and Macedonia, is the tallest mountain in Greece and the 2nd tallest in the Balkans. It has 52 separate peaks spread out across the mountain, which are snow-capped 8 months of the year and are hidden by the clouds the rest of the time. The highest and most difficult of these peaks, Mytikas, rises to 2917m /9570 ft. The mountain is also known to hold strong historical, cultural, and natural significance to Greece
Mount Olympus in Ancient Greek Mythology
Mount Olympus is probably most famously known for its importance in Ancient Greek Mythology, as the mountain was said to be the residence of the twelve principle Olympian gods. When seeing the mountain in person, you wouldn’t be surprised that such a picturesque location was chosen to be the home of Zeus and the other major gods by the Ancient Greeks., As its tallest peaks are often hidden by clouds, this will have only added to the mystery and magic of Mount Olympus.
The twelve principle gods that were said to reside there were: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Hermes, and Hestia. While Hades is also considered a major god, he lived in the realm of the Underworld, and as such is not considered an Olympian.
The heart of Olympus contained the palace of Zeus, which offered a view of the earth every day so that the gods could watch all events below. There was also a large courtyard that was vast enough to fit all the gods and goddesses within the Greek pantheon if there was an assembly of all the gods. The nine muses and daughters of Zeus were also said to reside at the foot of the mountain. Despite the mountain usually being covered in clouds and snow, atop the mountain where the gods resided every day was full of sunshine.
It was said supposedly no human could come near Olympus, and as time went on Mount Olympus became more of a mythical and metaphorical location and stopped referring to the physical mountain.
Mount Olympus National Park
Nowadays, Mount Olympus is one of Greece’s leading attractions and was the first national park in Greece, when it was declared one in 1938. The national park covers 92 square miles of the mountain and its surrounding area and is full of an extensive collection of trails and paths, some of which lead up to the mountain and its peaks. However, others cover the area that is around Mount Olympus and give you a chance to catch some of the native wildlife of the park.
Besides Mount Olympus being famous for its mythical background, it is also very well known for having very unique biodiversity. There are around 1700 known species of plant within Olympus 25 percent of the plant species found in Greece are located within the national park. It is also home to around 32 species of mammals, 108 species of birds, and many reptiles, amphibians, and insects, hence why it’s such a well-loved spot for bird-watchers, hikers, and climbers to visit.
When Was Mount Olympus First Climbed?
While the lower peaks of the mountains have always been ascended throughout its history, the summit of Olympus was first reached in August 1913. The Swiss duo of Frederic Boissonnas and Daniel Baud-Bovy, who were assisted by the Greek mountain guide Christos Kakkalos were the first to successfully make it up the Mytikas peak.
Since then, access has improved and it is estimated that every year around 10,000 people attempt to climb Olympus with most of these only getting to the Skolio summit.
What to do When Visiting Mount Olympus
Of course, the majority of travellers are there to attempt to climb up Mount Olympus, but if that seems too challenging or you want to try a shorter option there are other things you can do with your time there.
The mountain and surrounding area are full of different hiking trails that take you around the beautiful and historic landscapes of the national park, making it a very popular destination for hikers. They are also differing levels of difficulty so are perfect for anyone to try. There are also quite a few rock climbing routes that are available to climbers of every experience level.
Since the area is also well known for its wonderful wildlife, specifically bird species, it makes it the perfect location for bird-spotting which you can do while taking part in other activities or just go there to do on its own.
Where Can You Stay When Visiting Mount Olympus?
If you are mostly going there to try to fully climb the mountain, then you need to know that the climb up Mount Olympus usually takes around two days to complete altogether, with one night spent in one of the available mountain refuges. Of course, factors such as fitness levels and the weather can have an impact on this. Usually, the first day of travel is dedicated to getting to one of the mountain refuges. Before traveling you’ll need to research which one you plan to stay at and their availability in that season.
If you are wanting to camp in the national park, Camping Hellas has a site near to the base of the mountain which is the perfect option for visiting the park as well as nearby cities and locations.
If camping does not seem like your thing, then for a different option, The Hellenic Chamber of Hotels lists some excellent hotels that are in the nearby area of Mount Olympus if you are just planning to go on a day visit or day hikes.
What Fitness Level and Experience Do You Need to Climb Mount Olympus?
While there is no previous experience required to journey up Mount Olympus, it is strongly encouraged you have a basic level of fitness depending on how far up you want to go. The finale of the climb up Mount Olympus is known to be quite tricky. According to the YDS (Yosemite Decimal System) from the summit of Skala, the climb is categorized as a class III climb at 2882m height.
A class III climb states that:
‘Climbing a steep hillside, moderate exposure, a rope may be carried but not used, and hands are used in climbing. A shortfall could be possible.’
Additionally, some of the peaks, such as the highest Mytikas, have routes that feature technical climbing which requires lots of pre-planning and additional climbing gear to complete. Some areas have exposed scrambling which can also be quite scary and daunting if you aren’t used to this before climbing the mountain.
An alternative route and more common route for most climbers to take is a narrow ridge over to Skolio peak mat 19911m, which is less intimidating.
What Are Weather Conditions Like on Mount Olympus?
Mount Olympus has a Mediterranean climate, meaning it is cold and humid in winter and hot and dry summer. As it approaches the autumn and winter months the conditions of the mountain become much more severe. During winter temperatures can go from -10 to 10 degrees Celsius. It often snows throughout the winter months, in fact over the 2000m mark the mountain is usually snow-capped for 9 months of the year between September to May. In the summer the temperature can range from 0 to 20 degrees Celsius. It’s also not out of the ordinary for there to be snow and rain during this season there are chances of torrential rain and hail sometimes starting as early as August.
It’s also important to note that the North Slope receives more rainfall than the northwest slopes, resulting in very different scenery and conditions between the two areas which you need to keep in mind when climbing.
As the weather conditions can greatly affect the difficulty of a climb, with the severity increasing the further up the mountain you ascend no matter what the season, it is necessary you consider all this and plan accordingly before visiting Mount Olympus
The best times of year to visit if you are planning on climbing the summit are said to be June to the end of September. If you are going to just hike around the area any time of year should be considered fine for that depending on the routes you take.