Ascending to the gods

You don’t have to be an Olympian to climb Mount Olympus — in fact, if you are you probably won’t

By Jens Ourom

Aphrodite. Apollo. Hermes. Poseidon. Zeus. You. One of these individuals is unlike the others. However, all possess the unique opportunity to dwell upon Mount Olympus, whether it is for a night, or eternity.

Surprisingly, if you were to refer to the residents of Litochoro, the nearest town carved into Olympus’s foothills, as Olympians, many Olympians don’t bother ever climbing to the legendary cloud-wreathed ridges and spires.

Nevertheless, to refer to “climbing” Mount Olympus is to misrepresent the activity, fortunately for those without the requisite skills and equipment, and unfortunately for those looking for hardier adventures. While reaching the summit of Olympus’s highest peak, Mytikas, requires an exposed vertical four-limb scramble that has claimed lives in the past (albeit very infrequently), the bulk of the 1-2 day hike is pleasantly gradual.

Litochoro is nearly worth the journey itself. Reminiscent of Rocky Mountain, Italian and Swiss Alp towns — but with superb weather — its twisting, landscape-determined cobblestone streets are quaint (in the word’s most positive connotation) and its people the definition of welcoming. As Litochoro lies near sea level — its train station, a few minutes out of town, is practically on the beaches of the Aegean Sea — and Mytikas stretches to 2,917 metres, the one-day elevation gain is as likely a limiting factor as degree of hiking difficulty. Regardless, you are not necessarily required to, and most tourists do not, cover each of these 2,917 metres by foot. The trailhead, at 1,084 metres is only conveniently accessed directly by cab or car, (and believe me, an effort to hitch-hike was attempted in vain) unless you enjoy a couple hours trudging upwards along shimmering blacktop switchbacks.

There is, too, a silver lining for those of you who don’t necessarily prefer the most adventurous vacations. At 2,059 metres lies the surprisingly well-equipped beacon of hot chocolate, cold showers, and bunk beds known as Spilios Agapitos, or Refuge A, as uncompromisingly creative English translators christened it. “Refuge” hardly describes the immaculate family-run centre that is more chalet-like than anything. Agapitos’s available amenities keep food and equipment requirements on this legendary ascent stripped to a minimum, allowing you to occupy your thoughts with Olympus’s glorious views instead of adjusting ungainly backpacks, and applying moleskin. Equipped with 110 beds, A is a truly remarkable refuge. Though Olympus’s year-round alpine chill makes the cold showers a steely test, fireplaces and hot beverages manage to comfortably return your body’s disposition to blissful homeostasis.

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