Mount Olympus, Elevation 7,965ft
Snow Dome: Grade II, 4th-5th, 30 degree snow
August 2, 2002
Mount Olympus from the Blue Glacier moraine. Part of our climb and descent is in red.
Mount Olympus rises out of all encompassing mountains and forest choked valleys. Priorities always seemed to put me somewhere else. Now though I was resolved to put Olympus on the top of my list. Ben seemed even more focused on going. After equally long days at work, we decided to meet at my place before the long drive to the trailhead. Well by that time it was 7pm and I needed some new shoes and food. After a few stops, packing and a 15-minute nap, I hear the roar a Ben’s diesel as he finds a parking space in the middle of my lawn around midnight.
Four more hours go by before we are finally at the trailhead. Time to call it a day and go to bed, eh? Or, how about we hike 45 miles, summit Olympus, and drive back home? Well, believe it or not, this is how we get our kicks.
Since my new light felt fickle (in other words, didn’t work), Ben took the lead while I followed his glow. Ahead and all around us ancient old growth Cedar and giant ferns reached out fingers of shadow and roots tested our nocturnally challenged balance. Several face plants and a few miles later elk grew out of the undergrowth and paraded all around us! Quite exciting really to be so close and tired minds aside, this is beginning to feel like an awesome trip!
A moment, and tested nerves later, we continued, by which time day was beginning to fill the void. Never-ending meadows led us to our first break, a small ranger cabin. We found a nice seat on the stairs and a small breakfast in our packs. There were a few tents but no one was up and around quite yet. After a half we continued. The pace became hypnotic and the views increasingly encompassing. We passed several groups now on their way to places between. After a quick smile and hello we were past, soon out of sight.
Our next moment of respite came as we crossed the Hoh River. The canyon leering from below tickled kayaking fancies, but the effort involved in exploring them would be epic. "Got any plans tomorrow?" Chanted Ben.
As we continued, he started telling his tale about a recent trip down the Grand Canyon of the Elwha. His story led us past a few small campgrounds where uphill becomes all the more familiar. An exceptional trail makes the effort efficient and before long we are standing at the edge of Elk Lake. One thing this hike doesn’t lack is plenty of markers to keep the mind busy.
Deciding to continue until a stream, we passed an old woman with a string of llama’s. A sign said no animals beyond the lake, so we found it interesting that she was up here at all. Traversing the ridge higher and higher, we soon spotted snow and the lower slopes of Olympus rising out of the forests and valleys. An acceptable stream and some water again weighed our packs before we were off once more.
Jason stops for a break below the moraine.
Moraines and slide alder began covering the surrounding landscape and one final plantless pile of rubble was followed to a viewpoint. Sunscreen led to and an early lunch before deciding an all-out break was in order. Looking around, the full effect of where we were could not be ignored. The Blue Glacier, Snow Dome and the summits of Olympus offered incredible, unavoidable expressions of nature. This is truly a beautiful place!
Jason approaching the moraine below the Blue Glacier.
Jason resting above the Blue Glacier.
Opting to continue was easy, the summit was calling and we were tired of listening. Reaching for my pack I missed the strap and watched it tumble nearly to the glacier. Nice work! Dumbfounded at my lack of care did little to ease the inconvenience of climbing down and back up, especially with Ben laughing all the while. Ten minutes passed before my pack and I followed the ridge to the trail, which leads steeply down to the expansive Blue Glacier. Our light shoes on flat ice encrusted with dust and rocks made the way easy and equally fast.
Jason crossing the Blue Glacier on our way to the Snow Dome.
On the highest rocks, we took another small break before continuing up the Snow Dome. Softening snow lead us up and around towards the saddle and a multitude of summits. There was a group descending who provided us with some advice but we should have trusted our instinct. With what seemed like a roundabout way eventually landed us on rock again.
Jason nearing the Snow Dome.
Jason beside a crevasse with the Snow Dome and Pacific Ocean to his rear.
At the top of a false summit we climbed down from where we were mistakenly led. Ben managed to slip and irritated his ankle. Looking up, I saw a group standing on top of a steep snow slope. By the time I was atop, Ben was halfway up the summit block. This route had a few 5th class moves but I've heard of 3rd and 4th class routes elsewhere. Ben threw a rope down to me and I quickly climbed up on relatively solid rock. We left the rope and climbed the last bit to the summit. And…
Welcome – to – the – OLYMPIC – MOUNTAINS!
Taking in the view reminded me of my first trip here. My little brother was 5 and the twin and I were 8. As with then, I was left satisfied in a journey well done. For me this was a trip into my childhood back to the days when I had no responsibilities, no worries other than the immediate, and everything made sense. At that moment I felt like that child.
Jason climbing the summit 5th class.
After another half, a small blip in the register, and some food we were left with plenty of time to scan the horizon. Those moments were fleeting though. For me I imagined this place in the grip of winter. At that moment I knew we’d be back, but unlike this time, I would have skis.
A quick rap off the back started us on a race against darkness and into the afternoon of our adventure.
A view to the south from the summit of Olympus. Kayak, skis? Perhaps both…
Jason below the summit block.
Now on deep heavy snow, wet feet led us over and around crevasses retracing our tracks back across the Snow Dome. As the slope steepened, we foot glissaded the rest of the way to the glacier. We passed a few groups who questioned, "Where are you guys camping?" Our answer surprised them even more than our shoes and lack of rope. With farewells and good luck we continued to the moraine where we changed into dry socks.
Kids these days…
From this point forward we allowed speed to take over. We'd taken it pretty easy (no running and plenty of breaks) and decided to push a little harder. The next 17 miles went fast. I remember Ben telling me to slow down, but I didn’t listen cause the air was full of BS and I felt strong… that is until the last 3 miles. By then I began to think, "Buying new shoes the night before may not have been a good idea, eh?" My feet wholeheartedly agreed! While ski poles sufficed where my feet could not, I painstakingly made my way to the parking lot.
Only 20 miles to go…
Ever wonder what it feels like to hike 45 miles in a day? Jason will know in another 13…
By the time I showed up it’d been something like 18 hours since we left. As I entered the parking lot Ben pulled my truck up to trail end of the parking lot. By then I felt like what comes out of the tail end of those elk we saw. I threw my pack in the back of the truck and called it a day.
Mount Olympus had provided us with our kick. With some time to heal we’ll be back for more. For now, though, we had a four-hour drive to contend with and it was already 10pm again. "So…your turn to drive Ben?"