Ascent of Mount Olympus on 2014-08-02

Climber: Samuel Hahn

Others in Party:James Barlow
Date:Saturday, August 2, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Olympus
    Elevation:7969 ft / 2428 m

Ascent Trip Report

Officially, this climb took a total of 3 days; however, the preparation began months earlier when, in a moment of despair after realizing that my move back east would keep me several thousand miles away from the Cascades, I sent an email to the indefatigable James Barlow practically begging for a week of Washington peakbagging. Fortunately, James understood my plight and we started amassing gear and organizing routes for an early August ascent of Olympic and Cascade peaks.

Above all, this trip was a series of firsts for me. First glacier traverse, first multi-day expedition, first rock climb to a summit, but more than that, it was my first trip to the Olympics. Needless to say, my insides were a cocktail of nervous and excited energy, as James and I organized our packs the night before our approach hike to the Glacier Meadows campground. Unfortunately, the anticipation gradually adopted a tinge of dread as my crash course in ultralight backpacking finally kept us from being fully packed and ready until midnight, promising only 3 hours of sleep.

Still, our positive energy seemed boundless at 4:30 AM as we loaded up the famous Yaris and headed north to the Kingston Ferry. Not even a nearly 5 hour drive across a generally featureless Olympic Peninsula could put a damper on our high spirits, and as we stepped onto the famous Hoh River Trail, our legs and shoulders feeling strong despite the onerous packs driving them steadily towards the Earth's center, we knew that an incomparable adventure on the monarch of the Olympic Range lay ahead of us.

Little did we realize that the toughest part of the trek would not be the Blue Glacier, Snow Dome, or even the final pitch to the summit, but rather the Hoh River Trail itself. 12 flat, hot, sun-drenched rainforest miles later and we were just arriving at the final climb towards our camp for the night. By this point, I'd long since abandoned my pack’s hip straps, as they slowed me down and caused a dull, nagging ache in my legs, although my shoulders and chest cried out in only milder, more bearable agony.

Channeling strength and reminding myself that the only way to make it to Glacier Meadows was to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I made my way inexorably upward, and 5 miles and 3000' gain later found us in a darkening Glacier Meadows campground. Immediately, we began setting up camp and preparing dinner, knowing that an early start and long day lay ahead of us.

Our limited sleep the night and the long slog the day before equated to a slow start on summit day, but James remained undaunted as usual ("7 hours of hiking according to the beta!") as we approached the Blue Glacier, roped up, and donned crampons for the trek to Snow Dome. Hardly anything eventful happened on that first jaunt across the ice, as the crevasses were well defined and the soft snow easy to spot. And after just a short scramble in crampons over bare rock (another first!) Snow Dome and our summit for the day were now completely in view.

The hike itself to the false summit was as unremarkable gentle (albeit strenuous) as the surrounding vistas were heart-stoppingly stunning. Bergschrunds, savage jagged rock perches, and greener peaks beyond surrounded as we rounded the ridge of the false summit and shimmied down muddy scree to our the penultimate snow climb of the true summit rock. It was there that we met four climbers out for a 50th birthday party whose group leader, with his thick white beard, flowing, open-chested shirt and baggy climbing pants, could easily have been mistaken for Zeus had we been on Olympus' mythical cousin. The King of the Gods was excellent conversation as we prepared for the final roped climb, since the way to the Class 3 section now sported an unmanageable moat. James charged the 5.4 pitch to the Gods' zenith like a refugee on free steak, but I took it slower, as this was not just my first rock climb to a summit, but also my first time climbing in mountaineering boots and with a pack that prevented any head movement above eye-level.

Nonetheless, we both managed to top out at the roof of the Olympics and were rewarded with clear views of the entire range. After lunch and plenty of selfies, we slowly made our way back to the lateral moraine the same way we came, except this time the soft snow and declining slopes permitted skiing on our heels. James and I split up after reaching the trail to suffer through another mile of decline in ruddy mountaineering boots to Glacier Meadows for the night and an eventual long return to the Yaris.

There's little to add about the return trip to the start of our hike; however, the washout near mile 16 is nothing to sweat. Again, the bland and desiccated Hoh River Trail sapped our resolve and patience well before we reached its midpoint, but somehow we pressed through the boredom and fatigue to finally reach the parking lot, puffing our chests out in accomplishment and walking tall above the moss-gawkers; we had just climbed one of the overall toughest peaks in the lower 48 on a summer weekend when the greatest challenge for most is keeping the beer cold in hot sand. And even though no Greek deities heralded our arrival to their rocky perch, we could feel, if not for a brief, fleeting moment, like the Gods themselves as we reached the end of our long journey to a place where few mortals ever tread.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:7396 ft / 2254 m
    Trailhead:Hoh River Trail  573 ft / 174 m
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads

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