Adventures

Key: 2009-07-24:     2009-07-25:     2009-07-26:    
2009-07-27:     2009-07-28:     2009-07-29:    

Name:
Mount Olympus Summit

Description:
A summit of the highest and most dominant mountain in the Olympics.

Begin Date:
2009-07-24

End Date:
2009-07-29

Distances*:
2009-07-24: 10.74 mi
2009-07-25: 7.7 mi
2009-07-26: 2.73 mi
2009-07-27: 17.45 mi
2009-07-28: 9.04 mi
2009-07-29: 3.26 mi

Total: 50.92 mi

Maximum Elevation*:
7888.4ft (2405.903m)

Minimum Elevation*:
636.32ft (194.835m)

Gallery for this adventure:
Click here

* This is derived from GPS data and can have major discrepancies due to poor GPS reception.

Trip Report:


Day 1 - Trail head to Olympic Guard Station

We left Redmond early in the morning to avoid the almost inevitable Tacoma traffic, and actually managed to do so. On the way down Jason had decided he needed a 4 piece fly rod of his own after comparing the size of the loaner two piece case next to Tracy's 4 piece. So we took a quick detour to the new Cabela’s in Lacey and browsed their wares. He picked out a decent 4 piece rod making very sure it would fit into Tracy’s fly rod case along side her rod. Tracy also picked up some extra flies and leaders (she knew she would be fishing with the world's greatest loser of flies/leaders so she need to stock up) and soon we were off to Aberdeen.

Once in Aberdeen, We made a quick food stop to pick up some final items, including lunch for the day and then headed north on 101. We unfortunately had neglected to pack any Bailey’s for coffee (An absolute necessity according to Tracy) so we made a pit stop in Amanda Park only to find out that the state liquor store at that location doesn't open until noon. No bother, to kill time and since we had to do it anyway, we headed over to the Quinault Ranger station to get our back country permits for the Hoh and the Queets. On the way back through Amanda Park, the liquor store was minutes from opening, and after a quick wait, Tracy had her Bailey's and would soon be a happy camper. The next stop would be the Hoh Trailhead.

We pulled into the Hoh Visitor Center at about 1:30PM and immediately went into the main office to get up to date info on the climbing route and more specifically the summit block. The ranger working the backcountry desk had actually summited Olympus a few days before, so she gave us low down and even showed us a couple pictures she took of the summit block.

Due to a resurfacing of the Hoh parking area, as well as the road leading into the Hoh, all backcountry travelers were required to park on the grass of the park service residences. It was a litte interesting to say the list, especially when we pulled up and were told to park directly on top of the horseshoe pits (Poor rangers, no horseshoes for them). From there we loaded up our gear and made final preparations for the first leg of the hike, about 9 miles to Olympus Guard Station (OGS).

The trail for the most part was flat and roughly followed the river meandering inland a bit only to come right back to the rocky banks. We passed by the typical day hikers up until about 3 miles, being met with the usual comments about our pack sizes and that we must be going a long way. We were even asked several times if we planned on going on a glacier. What gave it away? The ice axe? The helmet? The snow picket? They were all nice people though, enjoying the outdoors so we didn't mind them too much.

We were trying to stop about every hour for water and snack in an effort to at least maintain a respectable pace. We weren't used to our packs being so heavy, and we were certainly feeling the extra weight of the climbing gear. In fact, with everything all packed, including water Jason’s pack weighed over 70 pounds while Tracy was carrying about 60.

The scenery was nothing new to us, consisting mostly of the typical windward Olympic lush undergrowth and giant old growth trees, but it was very refreshing all the same.

Here is a pic of the Hoh:
The Hoh River.

At about 7:30PM and after what seemed like 15 miles we finally rolled into OGS. We visited with the ranger on duty there and he graciously gave us a run down of the decent campsites also mentioning that he would be heading up to Glacier Meadows the following night and would be on duty when we got up there to climb. We headed down the small side trail as the ranger had said and quickly found a near perfect campsite in the grass near a small branch of the river, complete with relative privacy and a beautiful view of the sunset/moonset.

The moon setting over the Hoh in the late evening hours:
Sunset at Olympic Guard Station.

Day 2 - Olympus Guard Station to Elk Lake

We awoke to a beautiful sunny morning, and fixed a rather expiremental breakfast of dehydrated eggs, which were met with mixed results. Shortly after we packed up and hit the trail. After about about a mile, and near a site (Lewis Meadows) that we would be staying at on the way out, we decided to leave a food and gear stash of things we would not need during the climb. We were both looking to drop as much weight from our packs as possible as later that day, we would start climbing elevation. We took great care in making sure the stash was properly hung since it would be there for a couple of days with no one to check on it. Then it was back on the trail.

The trail from there continues along the Hoh River for a couple of miles before finally making a rather sharp right hand turn and finally begining it's ascent up the long ramparts of Olympus. Shortly after we reached the appropriately named High Hoh Bridge where the trail actually leaves the Hoh river, and begins following a large and very noisy creek called Glacier Creek.

The Hoh River from the High Hoh Bridge:
More Hoh from the bridge.

From there the trail continues at a decent grade, winding its way up the side of the mountain. Our original destination that night was supposed to be Martin Creek due to Elk Lake being supposedly full. However upon reaching Martin Creek some generous campers decided they would rather stay at Martin Creek instead of Elk Lake, so we decided to take them up on their offer and push onto Elk Lake. We weren't sure what to expect from Elk Lake, but it turned out to be one our favorite spots on the trip. The notorious bugs there were actually less than Martin Creek and the swimming was surprisingly refreshing!

Later that evening after settling into camp, Jason went and had a chat with a couple of climbers who had apparently left Elk Lake at 3am for the summit the night before and were just getting back around 5 pm. That seemed extremely long to us, especially since Rainier only took around 7 hours from Muir, but we tried not to dwell on it too much.

Day 3 - Elk Lake to Glacier Meadows

As the weather the last two days had come with an extra dose of heat, and since we wanted to have as much time as possible to get ready for the climb that night, we forced ourselves out of bed and got an early start. Tracy, not wanting to carry anything extra up the mountain decided two pairs of boots were not needed and that she could go the next little distance in just her mountaineering boots and stash her hiking boots nearby.

The trip to Glacier Meadows was a pleasant one after getting through the initial elevation push. It started with a series of switchbacks that offered great views of Elk lake below and the Hoh Valley beyond. Shortly after, the trail flattened and Olympus makes its first grand appearence, although we really didn't know what part of the mountain we were looking at until later on. It was still magnificent all the same.

The west edge of Olympus, Glacier Creek and the east edge of Mt Tom in the center:
First look at Mt. Olympus.

Shortly before we reached Glacier Meadows we met the much talked about avalanche chute that has completely taken out the trail leaving a 100 foot gap of loose rock and dirt. The park service however, has so kindly provided a rope ladder you can take down, which certainly isn't fun, but is far better than not having anything. After passing that last obstacle, we knew Glacier Meadows was near.

We arrived at Glacier Meadows just before noon and much to our dismay, discovered the black flies were worse there than anywhere else. Not fun at all but we would have to deal with them all the same. We visited for a few with a work party who were rebuilding the old emergency shelters and they suggested a couple of good spots near by and so we took their advice and setup camp. After lunch, we headed over to the Ranger Yurt to get a low down on the route and registration, and to see if there was anything we really needed to know. Unfortunately, he wasn’t feeling too well but he still came out to visit with us. That afternoon we rested, played cards, and of course made a couple of new friends. They were actually kind enough to share their happy hour with us, including providing the cocktails (since our bourbon was hanging in a tree about 8 miles back and they felt bad). We aren't ones to turn down free booze, especially with the circumstances so the night cap was just enough to help us relax and get some sleep before we would leave for the summit. So with that, we retired at about 6:30PM.

Day 4 - Glacier Meadows to Lewis Meadow via Mt Olympus summit

The alarm so rudely awoke us at around 11:00PM and we were greeted with the all too familiar feeling of "Why do we do this to ourselves". Luckily we didn't have too much time to ponder as we had a lot to do and it was almost midnight at which point Tracy would be the birthday girl. We took to our normal preclimbing routine and were ready to hit the trail shortly after under a star lit sky and a surprisingly warm air temp.

We made our way as quietly as we could (Tough for Jason with his noisy climbing boots) through the now packed Glacier Meadows camp (Every single site was filled that night) and up by the ranger's yurt. Beyond that the trail climbs steadily over about a mile up through a couple of nice meadows and small rockfields before reaching the edge of a very impressive moraine. It is actually a bit shocking because once you reach the moraine it is a pretty nasty 300 foot sudden drop down to the now visible blue glacier. We continued along the knife edge of the moraine, finding the trailmarker that most had warned was hard to find (We didn't think so) and began the descent to the glacier.

Up ahead we could see a party of about 5-6 people ahead of us at the edge of the glacier strapping on crampons for the crossing. Not knowing exactly where it would be best to cross, we simply made our way toward them as they begin the traverse. We didn't realize it at first but after a little while it became apparent to us that we thought was a rockfield along the edge of the glacier was actually the glacier itself just covered with a thin layer of rock. We also begin to realize just how big the ice was, as it took us a good amount of time to reach the point where we had seen the party in front of us prepping. Its funny how mountains can do that to you, our minds just don't traditionally think that big and without anything to put it in perspective, it can be deceiving.

Once we reached a point that we decided would be good to venture out on to the open ice, we strapped on our crampons, threw on the harnesses, and tied ourselves in. On to the strangely beautiful ice we went. Though there were a great deal of crevasses, most of them weren't more than a couple of feet deep at which point they turned to solid ice, so we weren't too concerned about that. Also since the glacier was completely dry (Meaning no snow cover) the danger was even further diminished. It honestly felt like we were walking across a giant ice cube, just being carefule not to twist ankles as the ice was still very uneven. Something worth mentioning here, when crossing the Blue Glacier, we noticed amazingly warm air currents, literally around 70 degrees that would rush down the mountain and hit you in gusts. At first we both thought we were imagining it, being on a glacier in the middle of the night afterall, but we confirmed it with other groups and they too felt it. Strange things happen in the mountains, and this was no exception.

After about an hour of stepping over pools of melting glacier and the streams that filled them, we finally reached the snow on the other side of the glacier and prepared for the climb up to the top of the snow dome, which at this point started to look like a miniature Rainier from our vantage point. It wasn't something that brought back fond memories. The night was however giving way to the morning sun, and we really wanted to make it to the top of the snow dome by then, so on we pushed.

Our efforts payed off as we did reach the top of the snowdome just as the sun was reaching the horizon. This was despite it being a rather steep climb and also being very icey making for some nervous steps on our way.

The snow dome is a very interesting place. It is almost completely flat with the edges slowly heading down on three sides and the the summit ridge and consequently the summit on the other. We could just see the party ahead of us pushing through a small gap in the ridge called crystal pass on the far side of the dome, and although we weren't catching them, they really weren't pulling away either. Not too bad for a couple amatuers like us we thought.

Sun rising on the snowdome:
Watching the sunrise from the snow dome.

Another strange thing to mention here. Ice worms. They are worms that live their entire lives on or in the ice. So that begs the question, what do these worms eat? Well we didn't really know, but whatever it is, there is a lot of it, because these little guys (They look like squiggly pine needles) were everywhere. Actually, Jason looked into it later on and it turns out they feed primarily on snow algae. Like I said earlier, strange things happen in the mountains.

We followed the tracks of the team in front of us (As to help with any hidden crevasse danger) across the top of the snow dome to a gap in the summit ridge known as Crystal Pass. Along the way we passed by a couple of crevasses that the rangers and some other climbers we passed along the way seemed deeply concerned about, however we didn't think they looked to bad at all and had no problems getting over them. Shortly after the cravasses we reached Crystal Pass, took a short break, and admired our new view through the gap. From there the route moves along the opposite east side of the ridge until it reaches the crest between the west summit(highest point) and the central summit.

Looking east towards the central peak & the true summit:
Looking towards the Central Summit.

West Summit 7962 ft.

Once we reached this ridge we had a little bit of difficulty finding the easiest route to reach the saddle in the ridge to reach the notch in the summit pyramid. We ended up climbing up and over a small peak with a very small notch which turned out to be a lot harder than we had hoped but got us over to saddle without too much suffering. It was apparent that people had been there before, but in hindsite, it wasn't the easiest way.

We crossed the saddle and headed up the steep snow slope that hangs on the side of the summit pyramid and after crossing a small moat were finally on the rock. We had talked it over before and being that we both didn't have a lot of experience on rock and that the final pitch is a very exposed climb of which most people fix a rope, we settled on that as the summit (In reality it was about 50 feet short of the true summit). That would be as high as we would make it this trip, but neither of us felt too bad about not actually setting foot on the summit. We both put a check mark on our mountain lists next to Olympus and both consider it completed.

The way back down from the summit was rather uneventful aside from one little hitch. As we were making our way down the front of the now iceworm free snowdome (Apparently the little guys don't like the sun and burrow into the ice) we punched through a small hidden crevasse. It really wasn't large enough for either of us to go completely in, but it was sobering and helped to remind us that crevasses are a very real threat even in late summer.

Looking at Olympus from the side of the snowdome:
More ice falls.

We finished making our way back off the snow dome, across the Blue glacier and then back up the very steep and dusty morraine and were still pushing ourselves as the heat was picking up and we still had a lot of trail ahead of us. We were however, pleasantly surprised to find our friends from happy hour the day before waiting for us there. We took some time and explained what we saw and how the trip went before finally heading back into glacier meadows at about 2:30PM for a much needed break and to pack up and once again hit the trail.

From there we reluctantly threw on our now very heavy packs again and made our way back down the glacier creek and Hoh drainages picking up the things we had left along the way and trying not to think about our aching feet. Needless to way it was a very long and very hot descent back to the valley floor, but we did eventually make it back to Lewis Meadow and our waiting bottle of bourbon. Unfortunately, Lewis Meadow leaves a lot to be desired in that there aren't a lot of spots anywhere near the river and the ones that are, aren't all that inviting. At this point however, we were thrilled just to be off our feet, as not only did we just summit a large mountain, but we had shattered our longest trail day by about 4 miles, covering somewhere around 17 miles. Not too shabby for the birthday girl and her big fiance.

Day 5 - Lewis Meadow to Mt Tom Creek

We awoke to yet another beautiful blue sky. Neither of us being too surprised about how well we had slept, but that was more than understandable. Slowly but surely we packed up and hit the trail that would take us 9 miles to Mt Tom Creek. Much to our dismay, the record high 100 degree weather that was in Seattle during the week didn’t escape us in the mountains. That meant a lot of breaks and a lot of water fillups, but it wasn't bad, we weren't in any hurry and neither of us felt like pushing at this point. Slow and steady was the theme for the day.

We arrived at Mt Tom Creek and were again a bit dissapointent at the accomodations but as always would make do. We decided to camp out on the river shore but since the sun was still running on high, we rested in the shade of the forest for as long as we could put up with the bugs. It was a cruel game that nature was playing on us, endure the raging sun or put up with the insescant flies. We tried our best at both, waiting until we could no longer take the bugs and then moving out to the beach where Jason managed to set us up a make shift sun shade. After that we did some laundry, took much needed bathes and just relaxed while the sun gradually made its way toward the horizon. We also did try to fish a bit, but sadly the Hoh River was simply too full of silt from glacial runoff for there to be any chance of success. We kept our fingers crossed that the Queets would be in much better shape since that would be our next stop after we left the Hoh.

Day 6 - Mt Tom Creek to the Trail Head

The last day went about as you would expect, we were up early, eager to hit the trail before the sun would be in full force. We also were very much looking forward to the change of clothes and more than anything, to get rid of our outrageously heavy packs once and for all. When we finally did get back to the car, we both let out a sigh of relief and also a bit of sadness for work was over, but so was the adventure. No worries though, it would just be a quick a pit stop in Forks and then we would be on our way to the Queets for another couple of days of fun. So with that, we said our goodbyes to the Hoh, started the car, and hit the road.