Olympus Mons

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mars_asu_themis_color_olympus_monsImage: Planetary Volcanism

Olympus Mons

  • Location: Mars.  From Earth, travel approximately 34.8 million miles (depending on the position of the two planets’ orbits).  Land on Mars where available, ideally in the Tharsis Montes region, where Olympus Mons is located. A National Forest Service pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required for parking.
  • Agency: International Space Station
  • Distance: 150 miles
  • Elevation gain: 70,000 feet
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Altitude, elevation gain, distance, average planetary temperature of -67 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Suggested time: Up to 10 months each way for space travel; 1 month for the hike
  • Best season: Equatorial summer
  • Recommended gear: Oxygen, hiking poles, head lamps, flag from your country of origin to mark summit
  • More information:  here; Elevation profile diagram here
  • Rating: 8

Towering 14 miles above the plains surrounding it, Olympus Mons is the highest point on Mars and one of the highest prominences in the entire solar system, much taller than Everest or Mauna Loa.  The views of Earth and the surrounding Martian landscape are impressive.  Mars only gets 43% of the sunlight that Earth does, however, so plan accordingly.

Since the human race is yet to set foot on Mars, exact information about the route up Olympus Mons is somewhat hard to come by.  The good news is that as a shield volcano, the mountain’s slope averages only 5%.  It does, however, mean your climb will be longer; Mons covers about as much area as the state of Arizona and even via the most direct approach, the summit is at least 75 miles from the starting point.

From Tharsis Montes, being your ascent, enjoying good views of Earth and Venus.  If visibility is good, you may get a glimpse of Jupiter or Saturn; perhaps even Mars’s small moons Deimos and Phobos.  Depending on your exact route, you may pass by the Pangboche and and Karzok craters.  Because Olympus Mons has relatively few craters, it is thought that the mountain was created relatively recently – about 100 million years ago, whereas many of Mars’s volcanic features have been more or less the same for billions of years.

Finally you reach the edge of the caldera, which is 53 miles across and 2 miles deep.  Here you can get a nice view of the Amazonis Planitia to the north.  A summit register can be found in a small coffee cup near the USGS survey marker.


    1. I first did it myself in 562 B.C. They say the Egyptians first observed Mars in the 2nd century B.C., but you can see my name in the summit register – “April 1st, 562 B.C.”

  1. Can you recommend a good sleeping bag/tent that are rated to -67 F for this hike – as the projected time indicates it will last approx 1 month? 🙂

    1. You know, I’m not sure how many sleeping bags are designed for that weather (not to mention being about 6% of the atmospheric pressure of Earth.) I wonder if REI has a special department for activities in a Martian environment.

  2. Nice one, David!

    Happy April Fools to you too!

    Everything a “go” for your hike to Sandstone Peak on Saturday?



    1. Thanks! Yes, we’re looking forward to Sandstone… should be a little easier than Olympus Mons.

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