Another stunning trip, this time an attempt at Mt. Olympus. We turned around about 1000′ below the summit because of weather. Super cool climbing partners, beautiful terrain, and the refreshing disconnect of the world from four days. Olympus has it all – it’s isolated (the standard route is a 17mi trail approach), has a super cool glacier to cross, and tops out to a small summit after a short 5.4 rock pitch.
Day 1 – Hoh Ranger Station to Olympus Ranger Station
Left the cars at 10:12am with a great team, high stoke level, and heavy packs. We made good time to the Olympus Ranger Station, 9.1 miles in the trail. The trail takes you through old growth forest with occasional views of the river. Salmon berries and red huckleberries are in season, and they provide tasty snacks throughout. The trail is well developed and there are plenty of spots to take a nice rest. The stream crossings are great, with only one or two minor challenges after 7 miles in. We made it to camp at 3pm, found a great camp sites along the river, and started tucking in for the night.
Day 2 – Olympus Ranger Station to Glacier Meadows
We rose early, ate breakfast, and left camp at 7:26am. The trail continues through incredible rain forest. After about 3.5 miles, the trail crosses the river and starts a steady climb up to glacier meadows. 3000′ and many switchbacks later, we arrived at the washout before glacier meadows. Here the trail descends down about 75 feet by way of a wooden rope ladder and rope next to it. We made our way down, and then back up some scree to the other side and then walked the few minutes to camp, arriving at 2:30pm. We found a great campsite up high along the creek, cooked our hot meals, and turned in early.
Day 3 – Summit bid, then Glacier Meadows to Olympus Ranger Station
Summit bid day! Up at 12:45am for a 2am start. We started under gorgeous, clear skies. The moon was almost full and the stars and planets were out. The first mile or so gains 1000′ along what is mostly trail and the occasional snow field to gain the top of the lateral moraine. You walk along the moraine for a bit and then drop down to the glacier. I’d been warned that getting onto the glacier can be a challenge and to look for the bootpath. We found the bootpath, and then we lost it. We spent about 45 minutes trying to find the way down, and ended up on some steep, hard dirt. No fun. Eventually we decided that just going straight down from where we lost the boot path was the only way, and this turned out to be doable but still not great. We made it onto the snow at about 4:30am. We roped up, put crampons on, and then crossed the blue glacier toward snow dome. The glacier is so cool! Enough snow had melted out that we were walking on blue ice. I had no idea how many striations, pools, and just general coolness there was. I really, really want to go back.
Gaining snow dome was straightforward. The slopes were occasionally steep, and we had to travel the occasional rock bits. As we were climbing we noticed the weather start to change. While glacier meadows and the glacier were above the low clouds in the Hoh river basin at the start, clouds started rising and also coming in from the west off the ocean. We decided to keep going, since visibility was fine and it was just cloudy and windy. Here we met a party of six that had decided to turn around due to the weather. We kept going for about another 10 minutes when the clouds dropped even further and the rain kicked in. Knowing that we wouldn’t be able to make a summit bid with wet rock, and that we were losing visibility of the route, the decision to turn around was easy. I thought it would be more challenging than it was to travel 20+ miles and then turn around when we were so close to the summit, but good to know that I have it in me to make sane decisions.
Even better, Arthur proposed to May and she said yes!! They are such a wonderful couple, and I’m super stoked for them!!
We turned around, down climbed the route, crossed the blue glacier, and then found our way back up to the moraine. In daylight I could see a couple boot paths that traversed, but they ended up in just as crappy terrain as where we were. I bet they worked better when the snow level was higher. Anyways, we went up the way we came and then started down. Back in camp at 12:45pm. A spicy, hot lunch later, we schemed about whether we wanted to stay or wanted to bail. The group liked the idea of walking out some more, and the idea that we’d walk out to the cars started building momentum with Elena and I.
We packed up camp and started down. Our goal was to get to the 13.2 camp sites and make a decision about whether to call it or continue there. We made it that camp. Arthur and May were done, and by then the idea of walking all the way out seemed the inevitable choice to Elena and I. We parted ways (both pairs of people had a full set of group gear), Elena and I continued on to the cars.
We stopped at the Olympus Ranger Station at 9:30pm for a bathroom break and to do some foot care. The first heavy(ish) rains of the trip rolled in, it was dark, and we were tired, so we abandoned our quest out and put up a tent. We were happy to be dry, and were quickly asleep.
Day 4 – Olympus Ranger Station – Hoh River Trailhead
Up at around 6:30am and, after a hot breakfast, left at 8:30am to make our way out. Back out through the same incredible old growth and next to a blue river. With a sun break, we stopped lazily at 5 mile island to dry out, get some more water, and have a snack. We made it back to the cars at around 2:30pm.