Olympus: In the Footsteps of Boissonnas  

The climber, the historian and the Greek hunter who first stepped on Olympus' highest peak.


August 2, 1913, Mytikas, the highest peak of Olympus was officially conquered during the month when the climbing season is at its best. Sometimes, a little snow lingers on its revered peaks, but the climate is the mildest of the year.

The renowned photographer and alpinist Frederic Boissonnas together with his friend and art historian Daniel Baud-Bovy are considered the first who conquered the “Top of Victory” as they had dubbed it.

“So this mythical dream comes true!” writes Boissonnas. “This unique moment, this victory which we did not dare to ponder, the madness which we mentioned in jokes, but which for 10 years now we have been thinking of persistently, to walk upon the sleeping Olympus, it happened, we arrived! What divine joy.” Only, that was not exactly the case.

“A gust of wind rips the opaque veil, making a hole, and there in front of us, just a few meters away, a huge black mass, a vertical wall, higher than us!” A large cloud had hidden Mytikas, Olympus’ highest peak at 2,918 meters.

Undaunted, they continued their ascent.

Was Fred Boissonnas really the the first who conquered Mytikas, the top of Olympus? They themselves give the answer in their descriptions. “We tethered ourselves with the rope of a mule and followed Kakkalos who climbed, barefoot like a wildcat, the sharp, slippery rocks that are covered with sneaky screes, ready to slide into the snow.”

“The renowned photographer and alpinist Frederic Boissonnas together with his friend and art historian Daniel Baud-Bovy are considered the first who conquered the “Top of Victory” as they had dubbed it.”

Christos Kakkalos, a woodcutter and hunter from Litochoro was their guide and companion. “He arrived at the top first, and when we set foot in Mytikas, he recited a poem which he had written during our ascent… while dangling with ropes over chaos, Kakkalos was writing poems:”

Do not cry, Mytikas

And do not sigh

You were walked on by Kakkalos

The first brave man

“He did not want to leave the ownership of the summiting to foreigners.” writes Freddy Germanos in the book “Olympus. Texts and images from two centuries.”

Elsewhere, it’s the father of Kakkalos who is credited as the first conqueror of Olympus. One can easily imagine other anonymous residents of nearby villages in the same position.

Even if Fred Boissonnas was not exactly the first to step on the summit of Olympus, he was certainly the first who took photographs of it, carrying along his heavy photographic equipment with unwavering passion.

Boissonnas had already conquered Mont Blanc in 1902 and photographed it with a telescope. After the conquest of Mytikas on August 2, 1913, the war intervened and they were forced to wait until 1919 to return to the “Top of Victory”. There, they found the bottle which they had wedged between rocks on the first summiting of the peak.

This time, the photographic shoot continues with the full support of Eleftherios Venizelos and the vision of Boissonnas for the tourist promotion of the sacred mountain of antiquity takes shape with the release of a series of albums. In 1930, the book Tourisme En Grece is printed in Geneva in four languages – English, French, German and Spanish and Boissonnas’ photographs travel the world with exhibitions and lectures.

“I relayed that unforgettable night in a small book, which summarized all my good memories of the country of beauty and light, and in which I present a case that should awaken all noble Greek hearts, as it has done in Switzerland: the preservation of the beauty of nature and the creation of a National Park.”

“Even if Fred Boissonnas was not exactly the first to step on the summit of Olympus, he was certainly the first who took photographs of it, carrying along his heavy photographic equipment with unwavering passion.”

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