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Ascent of Mount Olympus on 2010-08-24

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Petter Bjørstad
Date:Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Olympus
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:7969 ft / 2428 m

Ascent Trip Report

We climbed Olympus 2 days after our Mt Jefferson (OR) ascent. It is perfectly possible to do this as a 3-day affair (at least one group we met were doing this) but it was convenient for us to split the long (17.5mi) backpack-laden walk-in into two short days, driving across from Seattle and picking up the permit on the first morning.

Note on permits: coming from overseas it seems quite hard in practice to get a permit. The system is to ring the ranger service, leave a message which they return. However they seem to have a policy (although they deny it) of not returning international calls. Best bet may be to email saying you are from overseas and can they PLEASE deal with the enquiry via email. Petter's report may go into this in more detail.

Sun 22 Aug: we left rainy Seattle earlyish and by good fortune were at Edmonds just in time for the 08:50 ferry which we drove straight onto (no queue). We called in at the Port Angeles ranger station (turn L off highway 101, obvious signpost for Hurricane Ridge) (Petter spent a while discussing their permit arrangements with them; I bought the Eiferts' neat little booklet on Olympic NP wildlife), then called at Forks for lunch (there's also a ranger station here apparently) before driving a few miles further S on 101 to the well-signposted turnoff L (E) to the Hoh River trailhead (large busy parking lot).

After organising our gear (3 nights camping, glacier travel and a rock ascent made for uncomfortably large backpacks) we left the TH at 15:00. Signs lead easily to the Hoh River trail, which was quite busy for the first mile or so, then thinned out. The trail is smooth and mostly level, and hiking through the superb stands of old-growth forest with its huge conifers and diverse understory vegetation, is a great experience - taking one's mind off the pack weight, for a while, although but by bit the pack weight and the annoying little ascents / descents became an issue and we were glad to get to the Guard Station after 3h 15 of walking, set up camp, eat and relax for the evening. The seasonal "Mountain Ranger" Sam was on duty and updated us on conditions - pretty good with plenty of snow left after some big April storms, despite an unusually sunny summer. We made use of the bear wires - strongly recommended as the bears can become used to stealing food, thereby becoming a nuisance and sometimes having to be put down. Petter built a fire (allowed at all but the highest campgrounds as there is plenty of dead wood) and this kept the mosquitos away and provided a cheery focus to our little camp. NB we encountered few mozzies during this trip, perhaps because of the dry summer? I did suffer a single horsefly bite, quite painful, more annoying in that the brute got away!

Mon 23: we left camp at 08:00. The weather was cool, as it had been for a couple of days, although occasional stretches of trail were in direct sun and pretty hot. The trail continues fairly flat for a while, starting to climb just before High Hoh bridge, which crosses the Hoh River at a deepish gorge just above where it meets Glacier Creek. We took a few breaks, including 30 mins at the beautiful Elk Lake. Above here the trail zig-zags up steeply, and fine Alpine views open up across the top of the forest canopy. In a while the notorious rock-slide area is reached, where a section of trail has been swept away leaving an ugly loose scar. Here a short loose descent leads to a cable ladder (with hand rope) which descends maybe 20m, then a loose uphill section leads back to the original trail, which descends a little, soon reaching Glacier Meadows campground (15 or so pitches including some group sites; all under talls shady conifers; the site had a fair bit of spare room for the duration of our stay). We arrived at 12:15 - 4h 15 including a few rests.

After setting up camp, we followed the first part of the ascent trail. This leads up past a ranger station to a fork. There is an early-summer route which goes R here to the terminal moraine (ascends a fair bit to 4630ft then there is an uninviting descent of maybe 100ft to reach the glacier). In late summer the L fork is followed to the lateral moraine, climbing steeply but very pleasantly through flowery meadows, beside a stream and (for us) across a couple of snow patches. The moraine ridge sits c. 150ft above the Blue Glacier and gives a fine view across to Olympus: the highest (West) summit can just be seen to the R of Five Finger Ridge and the False Summit. The glacier and Snow Dome look pretty straightforward, as the ranger had indicated, with some obvious crevasses. We watch one party return, at about 4pm, unroped across the lower glacier. They did Olympus in about 7hrs round trip: this fast time may suggest they reversed the final summit scramble instead of setting up a belay. They received a ticking-off from the Ranger as they hasdn't a proper permit but had nevertheless camped at Glacier Meadows in direct contravention of his instructions. Disappointingly they weren't deported nor even jailed ;-)

Tue 24: summit day: our campground neighbours set off at around 01:30 by the light of the full moon (they were planning to descend 3hrs to Lewis Meadows campground afterwards). We left at 05:00, hiking briefly by head torch; by 05:30 were were on the lateral moraine in good light. Following the lateral moraine moraine L to its SE end, we descended the good (loosish) path down onto a steepish snow slope. There had been no frost for some while and the snow was soft enough to descend cramponless; the Blue Glacier was crossed quickly and pretty easily (a few narrow crevasses; some wider ones at the far side needing care). It is possible to go straight up rocky slabs to the Snow Dome but we kept L on the snow; this route cuts back R, crossing a rocky spur (we found running meltwater here), then zig-zags up to the Snow Dome summit (the boot path traversed above a steep drop-off for some distance: probably safest to go straight up instead).

From here, the route led between some crevasses then ascended a little to the narrow gap of Crystal Pass. From here a fine view opened up. The boot path turned R, traversing a slope with a steep drop-off L initially but then easy. We followed the variation which passes L of the False Summit (this avoids some ascent); a small trail dips then rises (some easy YDS 3) to the saddle at the foot of the East Summit itself).

At the saddle (09:00) we met our "neighbours" - just descended from the summit. We climbed the short steep snow slope to the foot of the N face of the summit block, left our backpacks and made a short traverse across steep snow to reach the obvious easy (YDS 2+) wide ledge which crosses the E face of the summit, and left our axes and crampons at the start of the ledge. The ledge rises, then descends slightly befoire rising again to finish abruptly above a vertical drop. Here we scrambled easily (YDS 3) up for 5m to the foot of a steep 2m crack/chimney. This is the crux (and only the hardish move - YDS 4, pretty easy but exposed) and although vertical it has good holds. We roped this for security but then felt a little cheated to discover that above here there is just an easy arete to the summit.

We reached the summit at 10:00. It is marked by 2 USGS plates: a bench mark and a geodetic reference mark. The view was very fine: as well as many nearby snowy peaks, Rainier and Baker were in clear view. We left at 10:30, abseiling the steep N face in 2 stages: 10m followed by 50m. There are slings already set up for each. The Ranger later told us that all the slings were new this year and he had personally removed all the old tat at the start of the season. But not all Rangers are so mountain savvy and each climber will take his own view of re-using abseil gear. Safely back at the top of the snow slope, Petter tidied the gear while I made an interesting scramble along the "moat" (mini-bergschrund) which separates the summit from the snow slope, to recover our axes and crampons. We descended back to the saddle, took a break, packed our gear and headed back down at 11:30. The sun was hot and the snow soft, but the descent went easily. We met the Ranger (again!) just below the Snow Dome, on his way to check on the Panic Peak glacier monitoring station. The Blue Glacier crossing was straightforward and we were soon trudging up the loose trail back to the lateral moraine (13:30); after 15 mins rest chatting to the afternoon's sightseers we returned to camp (14:15), 9h 15 after leaving, for much needed soup, rehydration and rest.

That evening I wandered back up to the moraine ridge to watch the sun set, then on a whim took the R fork from the Ranger Station to check out the Terminal Moraine route. It's a lovely path, ending with a fine view of the end of the Blue Glacier where it tumbles down into the valley; also a forbidding descent route to the galcier, and a little path which leads up to a small steep glacier-worn slabby summit.

Wed 25: we did the walk-out in a half-day starting at 05:45 (first light). 17.5mi isn't that far but the pack weight was oppressive and I was heartily glad to see the trailhead (12:15; several breaks en route). The Olympus experience, particularly the summit day, was however much appreciated.

The Olympus expedition started as it finished - with a meal and a bottle of Alaskan Amber beer at The Lodge Restaurant, Forks :-)

Our trip continued the following day with an ascent of Mt Stuart.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:8005 ft / 2438 m
    Extra Gain:328 ft / 99 m
    Distance:43.6 mi / 70.2 km
    Route:Blue Glacier, Crystal Pass
    Trailhead:Hoh River TH  620 ft / 188 m
    Grade/Class:YDS 4; PD+
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Exposed Scramble, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Tent Camp
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:1 Days 19 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:1 Days 2 Hours 15 Minutes



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