Mt Olympus first ascent Centenary 1913 – 2013
The Hellenic Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing (Ε.Ο.Ο.Α) in cooperation with Pieria Regional Unit, the Municipality of Dion-Olympus, the Management Agency of Olympus National Park, the Holy Monastery of Saint Dionysios, Litohoron Mountaineering Club and the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Athens is organising many important events throughout the year 2013.
Click here to see the events calendar
A very important celebration will take place in the year 2013 for Greek and international mountaineering alike. More precisely,on August 2, 2013 we will be celebrating the centenary of the first Mt Olympus ascent achieved by Christos Kakkalos from Litochoro and then the famous Swiss Frederic Boissonnas, photographer & editor and Daniel Boud-Bovy writer and art critic. There had been about 25 unsuccessful attempts by foreign mountaineering and scientific expeditions since 1780.The event of the first ascent triggered the interest of foreign mountaineers. Following the circulation of the books written by the two outstanding Swiss, groups of mountaineers started visiting Greece and Mt Olympus by scores. Most importantly, the two Swiss wrote and published accounts of their travels praising the incomparable beauty of Greece and Mt Olympus. Since 1913 over 150,000 mountaineers from 115 countries and all the continents have climbed to the top of Mt Olympus , and as a result contributed in the development of tourism in the area of Pieria and Larissa Prefectures.
Mt Olympus is considered and referred to internationally as one of the mythical mountains of the globe, a real symbol, since it used to be the «home» of ancient Greek Gods according to mythology. The Olympian Gods were the core of Greek mythology, which considerably shaped ancient Greek thought. For the reasons mentioned above, we believe that the First Mt Olympus Ascent Centenary should be celebrated and commemorated with a variety of events worthy of the symbolism and the value of the mountain.
Perhaps today, the efforts made by several foreign travellers and scientists to climb Mount Olympus might not look so impressive great (Olympus is a small mountain compared to the Alps). In order to evaluate the efforts made then, and more precisely the first ascent, one should consider the long period of the Turkish Rule in Greece, the delimitation of the Turkish-Greek border on Mt Olympus (1881-1912), the permits needed for the foreign expeditions to visit, the lack of adequate maps and information, the difficulty to ensure military escort and mule owners to carry their equipment, the frequent military fights and finally the presence of so many bandits up until 1926.
A brief history of the first ascent
In July 1913, the Swiss Frederic Boissonnas (1858-1946), photographer and publisher and Daniel Baud-Bovy (1870-1958), author and art critic,arrived in Thessaloniki after having toured the liberated Epirus region to attend and take photographs of the warfare,following an invitation of the Greek Government. The two Swiss, wanting to take advantage of the eight days between two compulsory cholera vaccinations, decided to explore Mt Olympus, thus fulfilling an old dream.
The two Swiss mountaineers arrived by boat to Litohoro from Thessaloniki and hired Christos Kakalos(1882-1976), a wild goat hunter, to be their guide.On the following day, they set off for St Dionyssios Monastery where they arrived at noon. That same day they follow the old path uphill to the north of the monastery and make camp in Petrostrouga.
On July 30, after leaving Petrostrouga and its burnt forest, they climbed up towards Skourta and after having crossed the «saddle» they reached the edge of the current «Plateau of the Muses,» which they immediately named «Meadow of the Gods.» Then they climbed up to Prophet Elias summit and explored the foot of Mt Stefani. They named Stefani «the Throne of Zeus», while giving Skolio the weird name «Black Top» (because at that time the side facing Megala Kazania (Big Cauldrons) was very dark.
From the plateau the climbed down steep scree and in two hours they reached the edge of the forest, where there was a hut used by woodcutters. At this point there is now the small clearing, north of the refuge «Spilios Dear», which functions as a heliport. In the hut they realized what exactly is the «path» to the top of Mt Olympus.
On July 31, while the team had decided to return to Litochoro,they changed their minds near the monastery and attempted to climb the highest never conquered summit of Mt Olympus. So they returned to Prionia, where they were faced with a terrible storm. The following day, although quite tired they climbed up Mavrolongos and in the afternoon and reached the hut previously mentioned where they stayed overnight.
Before dawn they set off in rather extreme weather conditions with severe fog, hail and strong winds. After a laborious ascent through small gullies, scree and steep slippery rocks, they reached a narrow ridge (from the description it seems that climbed up straight from Zonaria). They climbed in the mist, with Christos Kakkalos leading the climb barefoot followed by the two Swiss tied with a rope.They eventually reached a slender eroded peak which they named «Victory Top» (in honour of the victory of the Greek troops at Sarantaporo), thinking it was the highest peak of Mount Olympus. The Swiss climbers wrote a few words about the climb on a small card, put in a bottle and carefully placed it under a pile of stones to protect it (it was found 14 years later and was sent to Switzerland but today and it is exhibited in the Hellenic Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing Museum (E.O.O.A-HFMC) in Athens. However, when the sky cleared up for a while they saw another more impressive peak above the place they were and realised they had made a mistake. More than frustrated they climbed down from the craggy peak they then callad «Tarpiia Stone.» But, as Boissonnas wrote later, in the heart of every mortal there is a spark of Prometheus” fire.
Christos Kakkalos with his head lowered, was silently climbing down the steep ridge. Then he stopped. Before him lay the «vertical couloir» leading to the highest peak. »Shall we go up?», he asked. The two Swiss climbers nodded. It was the secret decision the three of them had taken earlier, each one for himself, without exchanging a word. They shared the same thought and the the same feelings. Without uttering a word Kakkalos left this photography equipment at the base of the couloir and scrambled up in the most decisive way through smooth and dangerous rocks, followed by the two Swiss. He had soon reached the top,It was the top of Mount Olympus.
So on August 2, 1913 (the Swiss already used the same calendar), at 10 hours and 25′ am the group conquered the highest peak in Greece, the untrodden then summit of of Mount Olympus. The summit was conquered by Christos Kakkalos, Frederic Boissonnas and Daniel Baud Bovy. Christos kakkalos later became the first official guide of Mt Olympus and he last climbed the highest peak, Mytikas in 1972.
The climb and the conquest of this peak, which was then dubbed «Venizelos Top» (It was named Mytikas later) officially became known in 1919 following the publication of the book «La Grèce Immortelle».