I am a budget traveller (read: cheap). After a lot of research, I am very pleased to have reached the summit (2918 metres) of the highest mountain in Greece and this is the tale of how I got there – including some tips for you about making YOUR way there and what to expect.
I’ll try to break the trip up into sections so you can skip to the part that suits you. This trip is only about the walk from Litochoro to Mt. Olympus via Refuge ‘A’. There are 9 refuges on the mountain. I met an English father and son on the summit who stayed at a higher refuge and climbed to the summit from a different direction (north?)
Getting to the area:
If you have private transport you can do without this bit.
I came up from Athens having spent a week there. I caught the morning train from Athens to Katerini. I booked my ticket well ahead and all worked well. It’s a pretty standard train trip first through agricultural land and then through the mountains for the last 30 kilometres or so – which is quite scenic looking over the sea to the east. The train passes through Litochoro station but doesn’t stop. I think SOME trains do stop there but they are the very slow local trains.
From Katerini I took the bus to Litochoro. The Katerini bus station is out of town – allow about 20-30 minutes walk from train station to bus station. I was lucky that I asked a couple in the street for directions and the guy promptly took me to his car and drove me to the bus station. He was almost offended when I offered to pay. Train and bus were both on time, clean and efficient. The bus drops you off at the central square of Litochoro (at the fountain) and the old part of the town goes uphill from there. I used an Air BnB for this night and the same place again for another after I got off the mountain.
Getting to the trailhead:
Litochoro town itself, on the side of the hill near the entrance to the Epineas Gorge, is a pleasant town which is flooded with tourists in season and very quiet out of season. It does have an outdoor gear shop if you’ve forgotten any walking gear. You can access the bottom stretch of the Gorge by walking a little out of town down to the river but DON’T cross the bridge, stay on the same side as the town and take the trail that goes past the Walking Club headquarters. The track on the far side just takes you up behind a sports centre and doesn’t allow you access to the river.
I planned to walk the trail up the Epineas Gorge to Prionia (a car park and restaurant at the Mt. Olympus trailhead) a distance of about 13kms according to some blogs. The alternative is to take a taxi or hitch-hike up the road to Prionia. After that I would get onto the walking trail at Prionia and head for the Refuge (already booked some time before).
Thankfully, I changed my mind at the last minute and instead walked out of town along the road, crossed the bridge, stopped in at the National Park Information Centre and started walking and hitching. I got about three kms along the road (in about 30 degree C heat) when a nice couple from Holland in a motorhome stopped for me.
The road would have been a long, winding, uphill walk – it’s about 15kms – so I arrived at Prionia without wasting any energy.
You can get something to eat and drink at Prionia, park your car or van and use the public toilets and get fresh water.
Getting to Spilios Agapitos Refuge (click here)
Telephone: (23520) 81800 or 81329. The staff at the Refuge speak good English.
The trail is mainly uphill from Prionia. No surprise there! Ponies are used to take provisions up the hill to the refuges. There is a small shelter about half way up (after the zig zag section). The trail is well maintained but rocky in places. You can’t get lost. The vistas open up and the Epineas Gorge behind you is visible most of the way.
Refuge ‘A’ is quite a large stone place with beds for about 110. In high season, they run out of beds and there isn’t a camp ground nearby. You should book ahead. They open in mid-May and close again in about October. They do simple and substantial meals for a very reasonable price. I paid about $AU12 (July 2017) for a big spaghetti bolognese. There are two communal eating / sitting areas, each with their own open fire. Bunkrooms have two bunks per room (4 beds) and a heater in each. The Refuge supplies blankets and pillows but it’s best to have your own sleeping sheet or bag. Showers are downstairs and only have cold water.
I struck it lucky with the weather because it had snowed and rained all the day before but only rained for about an hour and a half on my way up. Excellent! There was pink lightning and thunder in the valleys but it wasn’t too cold on the way up. It was very cold overnight but the next day was beautiful, clear, cool and without wind. Apparently it snowed the day after I got off the mountain so I got the best window of opportunity.
Getting to the summit:
Refuge ‘A’ is just below the treeline so after about 20-30 minutes walk (depending, of course, on your speed, fitness, load etc.) you get above the trees and into the open territory. You may see wild deer / goats. The trail is well-marked and well-maintained and not particularly demanding. Some people I passed seemed to be struggling with breathing. At about 9,000 feet this is (sort of) to be expected. As you approach the top ridge, a different trail heads away from the summit and out towards a separate hill. A description of the trails is here. At the Refuge, I had met two retired Englishmen who have made it their goal to summit the highest peak of each country in Europe. They had started early that morning and were using ropes, carabiners and harnesses to make their way slowly across the steeper slope toward the summit. I was travelling light and in good boots so I skipped past them and made my way quite easily across the final rocky slopes up to the summit. Some blogs talk about the danger of the final section so I was expecting something hard. Maybe the Australian trails / tracks I am familiar with are harder than European trails… Maybe it’s more dangerous in different conditions – certainly wind, snow and rain would add to the challenge.
Great views (of course) right up and down the coast, up to Thessaloniki, inland across the low mountains and across the local hills.
There is a very short stretch with this metal rope to hang on to. No big deal but some blogs rave about it… Yes, there’s a steep gully to look down but just walk around the steep bit.
Getting back down:
After about 30 minutes at the summit, Mytikas, (sign the book and take the obligatory photos) I returned to the ridge and made my way back to the Refuge, collected my remaining gear and fairly trotted down the hill because I knew I had to get back to Litochoro for dinner. I planned to walk down the Gorge on the way home. It’s only about an hour and a bit (from memory) from the Refuge to Prionia if you jog most of it.
From Prionia, the start of Gorge trail looks very pleasant and very easy. Don’t fall for it! If you’ve already walked up to the summits and back to the refuge on that day, then down the hill to Prionia, that may be enough for some. The first couple of kms are nice, passing through flowery glades and past swimming pools but after the old monastery it gets a bit steeper and more uppy-downy. As you progress, it gets more difficult and seems to go on forever. It probably felt that way because I didn’t know what to expect. There is also a nice little monastery built on a spring under a cliff / cave a few kilometres short of Litochoro. I think the road must pass nearby because there were some people tending it who didn’t look like they had walked far to get there.
I spoke with a trail jogger coming uphill who said it was hard going and that it didn’t get any easier further down. So. Be warned. The Epineas Gorge is a bit of a surprise after a full day trip to Mytikas.
The bus from Katerini to Litochoro had come by a pretty direct route. My next trip was to Meteora from Litochoro so I needed to catch the train. I didn’t realise that the bus actually has a stop at the highway intersection quite close to the train station. So, I could have caught the bus to this place instead of taking a taxi from Litochoro.
So. Go and have fun 🙂 It’s a great weekend or even a three-day walk if you want to stretch it out.