This isolated peak rises more than 2000 meters over the northern Egean Sea. Surrounded by the nearby coast it stands alone at the very end of the 60 kilometers long peninsula of "Agio Oros" ( "Holy Mountain" in greek) like a giant lighthouse for Christian orthodox pilgrims and monks. The pyramidal shape op the mountain attracts not only men of God but climbers as well. Nevertheless, the peak is mainly known among greek mountaineers and its top is not very visited, not due to the difficulty of its climbing, but because its very special location within the territory of the Holy autonomous theocratic-republic of "Agio Oros", which requires an special entry permit.
Following ancient traditions of monastic life women are not allowed in the territory of 'Athos'. There are, at least, two known one-day routes up the Mountain: The one ascending by the southern slopes is just a mountain walk (in summer) and it is considered, therefore, as the 'normal route'. The northwest ridge is a long more technical and demanding climb only for people used to difficult terrain. Mount Athos offers not only all the typical experiences of the mountain climbing on an isolated peace of nature, but the possibility of a life-long-to-remember trip to one of the most exotic places in Europe, where the traveler can visit thousand years old monasteries, to witness centuries-old traditions, listen live 'Homeric greek' and see masterpieces of art, all in a unspoiled and wild peace of nature or, as the monks call it, "the garden of the Holy Virgin Mary".
Getting to the Mount Athos is, firstly, a question of getting into the "Agio Oros" peninsula. The traveler will not be able just to walk in: the territory is closed to intruders with a real wall which runs in north-south direction at the narrower north land-bridge of the peninsula which separates 'Athos' from the rest of the world. Male mountaineers who want to visit "Agio Oros" will have to request a permit, if possible, months in advance. You can read more about this procedure under "Red Tape" specifications. See below.
'Athos' is communicated with the world through two ferry lines which run a service from the small greek village of Ouranoupoli (south border) or from Ierissos (north border). The line from Ouranoupoli sails along the southwest coast two times a day every day of the year (except with bad conditions). The northern line is less trustable. From the harbor at Dafni you can go with a bus to the small village of Karies, a short of 'capital' village. From there you can walk to any of the twenty monasteries and other monastical dependencies, any of which were accept you (offering bed and food for free) for one single night. There is a simple network of taxi and small vans which could bring you to the most far monasteries, but all over sandy roads. Motor vehicles are restricted in the whole area. There is a 'secondary' network of ferries and boats that do the service for the northwest and southwest coast and that could bring you to any settlement next to the coastline.
The 'normal route' (south flank) to the mountain top can be started from any of the monastical dependencies in the most southeast point of the peninsula. These are reachable by walk, following a southeast road and coastal paths. Do not underestimate these walks, which can be long day trips, especially with hot mediterranean weather. From the harbor post of Dafni departs a second ferry boat, the Aghia Anna, which does the service till the most southeast point of the peninsula and saves a lot of time and effort when what you actually want is to reach the start point of your climbing: Skiti Aghia Anna or Skiti Kerasia. The Skiti of Aghia Anna is a good starting point. The small settlement of Kerasia, at 600 meters, is a higher start but, being more northeast than Aghia Anna, it is situated further away into the far end of the peninsula.
My advice is to pass the night in one of those dependencies. You will eat the food that the monks will give you and you will have your bed. You are supposed to join the religious services that the community will hold. This means, sometimes, to wake up at 4.00 a.m. to attend the miss! Anyway, an early waking up can be used for an early climb in order to escape the hottest hours of the day.
From the guest houses of Aghia Anna turn right up to the upper slopes of the settlement. You will find yourself walking up a stairway which leads to a pass between the limenstone cliffs over Aghia Anna. Then you will enter a forest and a high path (keeping level at aproximately 700 m altitude) that runs parallel to the sea. It follows a southeast direction with the chapel of Profeet Ilias on the top of a hill to the right. Then, after a short descend and before a sharp bending of the path, comes the crosspoint with the actual path to the top to the left.
This point can be reached from Kerasia too: from Kerasia walk back to the main path and then turn left (southwest) climbing up till the mentioned crosspoint. The chapel of Profeet Ilias should be left. At the place where the path up to Athos begins should be a kind of signpost with the word 'Athos' in greek caracters on it. There begins an oaks forest. Coming from kerasia the path to 'Athos' top is to the right.
As told before, climbing the Mount Athos requires a permit, called 'Diamonitiríon', given by the "Iera Epistassia" or Holy Council of monks who rule the peninsula, which allows you to stay in the Holy Mountain for three consecutive nights and leave on the morning of the fourth day.
Firstly you should contact the Mount Athos Visitors Office in the city of Thessaloniki (tel. nr.: +30 2310 252578). This should be done good in advance since there is a limited number of permits per day extended for non-orthodox visitors. Permits can be requested six months before the visit date.
Once in Thessaloniki you will have to show yourself in the Visitors Office where you will confirm your entrance to 'Athos' and you will obtain a paper that you will have to use for obtaining the 'Diamonitiríon'. A passport is required for this.
In Ouranoupoli (or Ierissos) you will have to present yourself at the Holy Mountain Office to exchange the letter given to you in Thessaloniki for the actual 'Diamonitiríon' after have been paying the fee. You will have to arrange the boat ticket to 'Athos' at the Boat Offices. Because the boats depart so early in the morning this all has to be arranged the day before entering the Holy Mountain or very early in the morning of the entering day.
Women are not allowed to enter Mount Athos.
You are not allowed to stay more than four days (three nights). Nevertheless, you could ask an extension of the permit for two extra days (five nights) once you have arrived to the capital village of Karies.
Video recording is not allowed. You can take photos but if you want to photograph the monks you will have to ask permission to them. For photography within the dependencies of the monasteries, I advise to ask permission too.
Do not forget that Mount Athos is a Holy place. Respect the peace of the place and do not disturb the religious and ascetic mood of the place. Take care of your clothing and your behavior. You are a guest in the house of someone else.
I advise making reservations beforehand for the accommodation in the monasteries. Try not to arrive late at the monastery. Plan your visit: you are only welcomed for one night only at each dependency.
Take care of the nature of the Mountain. Do not start fires.
The summit of Mount Athos is able to be climbed the whole year, but there may be snow from the end of november until march/april.
The best time to enter 'Agio Oros' is Easter. Easter is the time of the big orthodox feast and, therefore, the best moment to live and share the celebrations and traditions with the monks and pilgrims arrived from all over the world. The unspoiled nature of 'Athos' is at its best around these weeks.
The temperatures around Easter are perfect for hiking and climbing the mountain. Nevertheless one should not forget that this time of the year does not assure good weather. At this time of the year might be still much snow on the upper slopes of the mountain, and the temperatures at 2000 meters could be fresh. The mountain is totally open to the sea breeze and can be cold at the top.
In winter the top of the mountain should be treated with respect and I advise to climb it with appropiate climbing material for snow and bad weather.
Climbing the northwest ridge has to be seen as an alpine climb. Full climbing material (harness, rope, slings, express-slings, helmet, etc...) is surely needed.
The monasteries and dependences (Skities) are providing accomodation in the area at the base of the mountain.
On the way to the summit of 'Athos' there is a chapel on a flat area at aproximately 1500 meters high. It is the chapel of "Panayía" (Virgin Mary in Greek). The chapel provides shelter and has some (dirty) bivouac facilities. This point is reached about two hours from the begining of the path at the crosspoint.
On the top of the mountain there is a big iron cross dated 1897 and the chapel of "Metamorfosi Sotiros" (Transfiguration). The northwest ridge ends exactly at the summit of the mountain.
There are two known maps which reflect the geography of the area:
Map nr. 21 "Mt. Athos" ( ISBN: 960-8481-21-X) from the greek maps publisher 'Road Editions S. A.' . They have their office in Athens. Nr. 12 of Arachovis street.
Tel. nr.: 00 30 210 3640723
The map is on a 1:50.000 scale and shows all the main monasteries, other settlemets, main roads and paths. Terrein features, heights, etc...are also shown but not detailed enough to be used as a mountaineering map.
Mr. Reinhold Zwerger, from Austria, is probably the not greek neither monk who better knows the geography of 'Athos'. He has been walking its paths and roads for years and all his knowledge has been depicted on an almost 'hand made' map, which is, nevertheless, very detailed and shows all the extensive network of small paths on the mountain. You can order the map directly with him. Tel.: +43/ 1 / 7265990 or +43/ 2641 / 6026. His address is: Wohlmuthstr. 8 A-1020 Wien. The use of this map for mountaineering purposes is also limited.