Sometimes when you’ve been wanting to attempt a summit for over five years you’ll make certain concessions to make the trip woke. In this case after our 4 day trip got rained out in May Damien, Ivan and I decided we would do a Mount Olympus in a grueling 3 day instead since we were running low on PTO. We knew it would involve physical and mental endurance to the extreme.  The climb and approach are not technically difficult, but the length and pack weight would test us. It would be 44 miles total with 50+lb packs. Let the suffering begin!

On Thursday I left work early and drove to the Peninsular to pick up the permit for the climb. We needed to begin the next day before the ranger station opened due to the 17.5 miles we had to trek so this was a necessary step.  I slept in my car at The Hoh Rain forest Ranger Station waking up to greet Damien and Ivan when they arrived around 11pm. We were up and moving at 5:30am, ready tp begin our journey.

The approach is along the Hoh River Trail which is so long and flat the elevation gain of 1200 feet is hardly noticed. The trail follows the silty Hoh River within the shadows of the mossy Hoh Rainforest. It is very unlike the cascade mountain and truly a unique environment. We made pretty good time except for the fact the the trail was so lllllllllllllong and after awhile we were growing weary of looking at moss. We wanted to get into the alpine!

We passed The Olympus Ranger Station, stopping briefly at the nearby gravel bar for a longer break and snack at 9.1 miles thinking that the climbing would begin right after we reentered the rainforest from the meadow. However, we had to wait until about mile 12.5 for switchbacks to begin! By then our feet hurt from the flat hard ground and the upward motion was most welcome! It was what we had been waiting for all day!

Slowly we rose out of the rainforest. My feet were killing me and I had ro soak them again at a creek. Al of us were beat from the weight of the pack and milage we already out in. We pressed on pushing our bodies upward until we reached Elk Lake. Elk Lake is at 2670ft. We rested again here near the shelter feeling envious of all the backpackers for which this lake was their final destination. But we were climbers and the approach was not yet over. We hoisted our packs once me and once again melted into the trees.

We switch-backed upward and out of the rainforest passing a mountain goat on the side of the trail as if there to greet us as we moved into the alpine. The trees thinned as we hiked along a ledge with the earth fall steeply below us in the abyss of the basin below. We followed along this ascending ledge until abruptly we found ourselves looking down into a 150ft  gorge. We had been waiting to reach this section. A few years ago the trail got washed out by a slide. Now instead of a simple skip across a creek there was a rope and wood ladder leading down into the deep ravine. The good news was that this washout is very close to the Glacier Meadows Camp. Thew bad news was that we had to loose elevation.

I descending first to test out the ladder There was one wooding step missing, but other than that it was all surprisingly stable. When we were all down we walked to the fall wall and followed cairns up the gorge and eventually back on the trail and into the forest. It wasn’t long until we broken out of the wood and into a meadow: Glacier Meadows. We passed the Blue Glacier cutoff and a few wooden shelters. It seemed like the only camp left was the best one, all the way on the end with private across to a creek. Excellent! It was kind of cramped though and truly only meant for one tent. We made too work though. After filtering water and dinner we were visited by two large bucks. A peaceful animal and we too finally felt a peace after a long day on our feet. We turned in before dark to get whatever sleep we could… and wow did we all sleep hard!

We were walking once more at 4:45am. From camp we headed up the signed Blue Glacier Trail passing the ranger station which was really just a fancy tent platform. Soon after there is a junction. We turned left and headed up to the lateral moraine over continuously more rocky ground until we reached the upper moraine ridge and our first full view of Mount Olympus. Olympus stuck us as a mountain that should exist in a place like Iceland or Alaska. The mountain is a massif more than anything else and with icefields and seracs sprawling out for miles.  We followed the ridge until it terminated and then we plunged down the steep side of the moraine to the very blue Blue Glacier below.

We roped up, Damien in the lead, Ivan in the middle (so he couldn’t run away) and me in my normal back position. First we crossed the lower ice field which was mostly devoid of snow and flat. It was riddled with narrow crevasses and melting blue pools. We skipped over the obstacles and finally reasched the snow on the other side of the field were the elevation began to slowly rise. The goal is to climb directly up to a rounded dome like feature called “Snow Dome” corssing between rock islands as needed. As elevation is gained the grade increases, the steepest part being the final 300 feet. At the top of Snow Dome we headed left and did a rising traverse to Crystal Pass which is fall left of the impressive looking rock formation that look like 5 fingers. Crevasses were dotted throughout, but not on the boot pack. On the other side of the pass we made a sharp right and climbed up a steep bump and them straight up the slope. Here we had to leap over a larger crevasses, but it wasn’t really that sketch.  few more yard up we aimed to the right up a steep snow slope and them climbed left over a few mixed steps and onto the false summit. We unroped here on the flat, rocky surface and chilled for a bit. The summit and final rock pitch were crowded so we figured we’d just hang out and wait.

We headed over about 20 minutes later. We descended loose rock and snow to a saddle and them climbed very steeply up snow to the North Face rock route. After speaking with some rappelling climbers we opted to climb the final 80 ft using the 5.4 west route just around the corner. I would lead and Damien and Ivan would follow on two skinny ropes. We all tied in and I gathered up my tiny rack of slings, 3 cams and 4 tricams. It was supposed to be easy. The first 40 ft was class 3. Damien soloed and I Belayed Ivan up the last few feet which were a bit trickier. From a good rock ledge Damien out me on belay and I left he filem40 ft. I slug one horn and placed one green dmm cam in a crack. There really wasn’t a good place for much else. The moved for fun, especially in mountaineering boots which spiced things up a bit! The pitch ends with a big mantle next to a fat horn with about ever sling color on it. I belayed Damien and Ivan up. We then untied and scrambled the find few feet to the summit where this a geo survey marker and register.

The clouds moved in and out, but we were afforded great views from the top of the mountain we had all wanted to climb for so long. And we were the last climbers of the day with the luxury of having the while summit to ourselves. I’m not sure how long we stayed, but at some pointed we moved back to the rapp station and did a double rope rappel with two 40m ropes (could have use 1 60 or two 40s). Back at the false summit we once again roped up and I lead the same route down reaching the bottom of the Blue Glacier just at the mountain got socked in with heavy mist.

I was a little nervous about a possible thunder storm since the air was a bit heavy so we hurried up to the moraine. We weather held though and we walked back with painful and tired feet back to Glacier Meadows. My feet hurt so much form being swollen and squished into tight shoes that after i got them off i couldn;t stand for about 20 minutes. Luckily it was Damien’s turn to filter water that night.

We decided to get a very early start at 3am on Sunday to make sure we got home at the reasonable hour and to get the death march over-with. I was happy to find lots of amphibians on the trail in the dark! But even my exuberance over catching toads and salamanders could not distract me from what was going on inside my shoes. Pure agony. After Elk Lake we all agreed to walk at our own pace and meet at the Olympus Ranger Station. I pretty much hobbled into the meadow, barely able to limp. Damien told me to take off my boots and switch to crocs. I have weak ankles which is why i never wear approach shoes, but the ground was level along the river and i really couldn’t wear my boots anymore. They no longer fit my feet and i was developing blisters on my toes (the toes that were already taped fyi) and bottom of my foot.

After switching shoes I felt increasing better… well maybe not better, but I was able to ensure more. We split up again,though Ivan and I mostly walked the same pace and met 5.7 miles from the TH. Damien was playing a game with himself to see how fast he could be to he was always ahead of us more about 30 minutes. In fact he was running! Ivan and I preferred to walk. And for better or for worst we all eventually turned up at the Trail head. Ivan and I were a bit bummed that we hadn’t included the walk from the TH to the car in our calculations for mileage left to walk.

We did it. We walked 17.5 miles, 8 miles and 17.5 miles. We walked with heavy packs and sore, blistered, swollen feet. We walked a lot. We walked so much that summit day was our rest day! And it was all worth it.

 

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