Stairways 2 Heaven: Hiking on the classic ridges of Mount Olympus - Olympus Climbing Mount Olympus On-line Guide

17-07-2018

Stairways 2 Heaven: Hiking on the classic ridges of Mount Olympus

Part 1: Gomarostali

Over more than 50 years, thousands of hikers attracted Mount Olympus’ divine heights start their climbs from two main trailheads: the car parking in Gortsia (1050m) and the car parking in Prionia (1100m), on the road terminus.

From either trailhead, hikers ascend towards the alpine zone and from there challenge themselves with the summits of Skolio (2912m) and Mytikas (2918m), while a small minority pushes a bit more for the attractive, challenging and exposed summit of Stefani (2909m). The very popular East Circuit, is perhaps the busiest network of trails in Greece (https://vimeo.com/79771403) and concludes a loop along the eastern slopes of Mount Olympus. If Zeus and the other deities retract the omnipresent clouds, one can enjoy unique views to the Aegean Sea once on these hikes.


The early morning view from the summit of Stefani (2909m), looking a sea of clouds above the Aegean Sea. Also visible are the lights of Litochoro and the pyramid-shaped Mount Athos in the background. On days like this, the East Circuit of Mount Olympus offers unique views to the east side of Greece (Photo © Mike Styllas)


The operation of four refuges along the East Circuit, of which two are situated approximately at 2000m (Spilios Agapitos & Petrostrouga refuges) and the two others on the Plateau of Muses at approximately 2700m (Christos Kakkalos & Giosos Apostolidis), makes it possible for overnight stays and alternate route variations. In this way, ample time is secured for additional hiking experiences in the hangout of the Gods and a second chance for the summits’ in the case of bad weather.

Despite the ever increasing popularity of the East Circuit, a large portion of Mount Olympus hiking trails still remains obscured to the hikers. Over the last 15 years, the reviving of ancient and other historical trails, opened new doors to the hiking potential of Mount Olympus. Most of these trails were constructed well before hiking and climbing were introduced to the mountains of the world, mainly for religious and commercial uses, as for example for the transportation of timber from the avalanche fed ravines to Prionia, where hydro-powered saws were installed at the turn of the 20th century.

 
Route description
One of the hiking jewels in the heart of the East Circuit is the not-so-popular trail of Gomarostali. The final part of the trail follows a characteristic ridge visible from the town of Litochoro. Goumarostali is the shortest (total length 4.5km), the steepest (elevation gain 1600m) and perhaps the fastest (depending on your pace) trail that one can take from Prionia to the Plateau of Muses. Generally, it is a non-crowded route that offers magnificent views as one exits the forest and enters the skyline ridge.


The last part of Gomarostali train as seen from the town of Litochoro. Once out of the forest and onto the ridge, one gets the feeling of ascending a Stairway to Heaven (Photo © Stephan Demay)
 

Gomarostali trail is marked with blue marks and starts from the car parking of Prionia, across the taverna. In the key points and junctions with other trails, there are labeled signs pointing to the right direction. The path is well maintained as more and more people get to hike along this special route. The trail itself is separated in three main parts. The first part from Prionia parking, ascends through mixed forest and after 1.4km reaches the transversal trail that joins Petrostrouga with Spilios Agapitos refuges. A short, 0.3km long the traverse offers a good opportunity to get the breathing back to normal and to relax the legs from the continuous stair-like ascend. After this short part one encounters the first meadow (Gomarostali in Greek, was the place where the mules – gomaria – used to rest when the loggers would take the trees down, or transported from the avalanche fed slopes).



The Gomarostali trail (blue line), illustrated in the most up to date map of Mount Olympus offered by RouteMaps (https://www.routemaps.gr/en/


At this point a right turn into the grassy meadow is the correct way but may not be easily visible, especially in late spring and early summer when the grassy vegetation is dense and high. By continuing the traverse straight on the trail will eventually lead to the E4 trail (Prionia – Spilios Agapitos refuge).



The first meadow is a key point of the route. A right turn, in the middle of the meadow gets one on the right path. The double peaks of Stavraities (left part of the photo) and ridge of Skala (center of the photo, just left of the pine tree) can be seen. (Photo © Mike Styllas)
 


Early summer views from Gomarostali first meadow (Photo © Mike Styllas)


Passing through the first meadow, the trail ascends through dense Pine forest (Pinus Nigra and Pinus Heldreichii) to successively enter the second and the third meadows. The last (third) meadow marksthe beginning of the final ridge.



The second (middle part of the photograph) and the third (left part of the photograph meadows, as seen from the first part of the Gomarostali  ridge (Photo © Mike Styllas)


Gradually ascending the ridge one does get the airy feeling of ascending a stairway to heaven, but the roughness of the terrain often calls for a stop, or for a slower pace to feed the oxygen starved lungs and the tight muscles.



Stairway to Heaven. The final part of Gomarostali trail, is the steep stair-like ridge that has an airy feeling and offers magnificent views. The ridge past the third meadow…keep pacing yourself! (Photo © Mike Styllas)
 

The ridge itself is a stairway…to the Plateau of Muses. After successive rocky bands in a continuously calve and thigh-burning ascend, the ridge finally flattens out and the feeling of being very close the Plateau of Muses acts like a pain killer. But even if the liberation is only a few hundred meters apart, there is the final rocky obstacle.
 


The ridge past the third meadow…keep pacing yourself! (Photo © Mike Styllas)


The 150m climb through the final cliffs guard the entrance to heaven. The climbing through the final cliff band is a scramble with some steep sections. In the recent years this part has been equipped with fixed ropes, which make the access to the Plateau of Muses faster and safer.



As the last rock band is surpassed, a sense of relief soon overtakes, which makes the breathing easier and the view to the ridge of Anathema and Skourta much more enjoyable. (Photo © Mike Styllas)

 

Useful info
Gomarostali is a hiking route, on the eastern slopes of Mount Olympus. The ascend during the summer period, should include an early start, since once the sun rises above the sea, the temperature also rises rapidly and can make the whole climb a very hot experience. Alternatively, an evening ascend is also favorable during the summer as route is in the shade. In the case that someone decides to do so, make sure to let the refuge managers know of a potential late evening arrival. Passing through the open meadows one may get “attacked” by flies, as naturally open meadows are a very good habitat for mountain flies. The final ridge above the third meadow gets usually windy, especially in the evening hours, so extra clothing is necessary, even if in the lower elevations the temperatures are high.

A reasonable time for the complete ascend of Gomarostali, is between 4 and 6 hours, but it is worthy to see the speed ascend of the route in a little over an hour - https://vimeo.com/101721360.

There is no water along the route, so make sure that you have enough provisions for such an undertaking.
During the fall (late September – early November), extra caution is needed in the last rocky steps, as the northern exposure and high elevation rapidly transform the autumn snow and rain into verglass; an invisible coating of ice that can be very dangerous, if not lethal. The use of the fixed ropes on the final rocky part, definitely adds security but in case when one is not comfortable with the exposure and the fatigue of such endeavor, may need the additional use of harness and slings to be attached to the fixed ropes, and/or the services of a professional mountain guide.

Once you set out to enjoy this magnificent route make sure that you carry a helmet with you, as the last rocky band is prone to rockfall, often caused by the permanent inhabitants of the cliffs, the Chamois.
All in all one of the most exciting hikes of Mount Olympus. Enjoy the steepness, the silence and the feeling of climbing a stairway to heaven.

MS



Once out of the rocky cliffs and into the Plateau of Muses…Heaven is never too far but need persistence and a good pace. (Photo © Mike Styllas)