Story captured by Amber Chang
Last September, I went on a backpacking trip in the Olympics with a group of girlfriends and I remember catching glimpses of Mount Olympus peeking out between the trees. This planted the seed that eventually blossomed into the goal of climbing it – I just didn’t know how soon it would be before I got the opportunity. So when we discussed climbs for the 2018 climbing season at a Peaks of Life meeting and Olympus came up as an option, I was eager to be a part of it.
On Friday afternoon, our group of four climbers (Forrest, Robert, Ryan and I) caught a late ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and headed to the Hoh River trailhead so we could (hopefully) get a few winks of sleep and an early start on Saturday morning. Anita and Christine started the hike earlier on Friday to break up the 18-mile approach into two days, and we hoped to catch them on the way in. After a pit stop at a gas station for last-minute snacks and a seemingly endless road, we finally made it to the trailhead at 1:30am.
We were awoken by the sounds of an approaching vehicle and the shuffling of gear from our new parking lot neighbors around 5:30am. After bleary-eyed pack rearrangement, coffee, and a chat with our parking lot neighbors, we started on the trail at 6:20am, racing against the impending heat of the day. The trail was flat for the majority of the 18-mile approach and we arrived at the Lewis campground at 9:30am where Christine and Anita were supposed to be camping. We glanced around for their tent, but didn’t see them so we assumed that they had already left camp. Our group of four decided to continue onto the second half of the approach and took a second break at Elk Lake (approximately 13 miles into the approach) where the junction to continue on the incline upward begins.
As Ryan had described to us at our pre-climb team dinner, the elevation/mileage profile of this climb was similar to hiking from Issaquah to North Bend (if it were flatter) and then climbing Mount Si. This was our Mount Si segment. As we arrived closer to camp, there was a ladder slung over a scree slope with a rope handline to assist getting down. Thankfully, after this, camp was just a 10-minute hike away. When we arrived, we expected to be greeted by gales of laughter coming from Anita and Christine.
When we got to Glacier Meadows, there was no sign of the two, so we unpacked our tents, creating mini gear explosions and plopped ourselves down for quick naps. Two hours later, we awoke to the sound of Anita calling out to us. We welcomed the two to the campsite and, with our group now complete, prepared our dinners, discussed our game plan for summit day, and turned in early for sweet alpine bedtime.
Sunday morning, we straggled out of our campsite at 4:00am and trudged towards the Blue Glacier and soon we were rewarded with a gorgeous moonlit view of the glacier as we reached the top of the moraine.
We descended down the scree, donned our crampons and harness, and roped up to cross the glacier. I was on rope with Forrest and Ryan, while the other rope comprised of Robert, Christine, and Anita.
The Blue Glacier is really something else. We could see and hear water rushing deep into the earth in some places. As we crossed, the sound of intermittent rockfall broke the early morning silence.
We headed up to Snow Dome, took a quick break, and continued on towards Crystal Pass.
On our approach on Saturday, we passed multiple groups that attempted the summit that day and most reported the route being out, which definitely made Forrest stoked for the challenge. As we neared the bergschrund that had been reported as “out,” we discovered a small snowbridge that got us over to a rock section before we had to climb out of the ‘schrund. Forrest led, kicked bomber steps up, and set up a picket to belay us up.
We crossed the pass and traversed behind Five Fingers Ridge and ditched our crampons below the false summit. At false summit, we then dropped slightly back downhill and prepared for the climb up to the true summit. Forrest placed gear for the first bit of it to make the route more obvious. We were able to scramble the rest of the way up unroped and were quickly met with gorgeous views all around us.
We signed the summit register, snapped our photos and quickly began the descent before we roasted during the heat of the day.
We were able to join two 60M ropes and do a single long rappel down from the summit to the base of the summit block. As we crossed back over the Blue Glacier, we spotted almost a complete set of mountain goat remains – it looked like it had been swallowed by a crevasse and then spat back out by the glacier – a stunning find!
The hike back up the scree felt like the crux of the day. It was sliding around horribly and we had started on the uphill section a little too prematurely. We finally made it up and back to the campsite where we nursed our beat up feet, chatted with our Mountaineers friends / campsite neighbors and promptly passed out from the exhaustion of the day.
On Monday morning, we packed up camp and headed on our way shortly before 7am. We were all eager to get back home at a decent hour of the day and cruised back to the parking lot – first passing other climbers, which became backpackers, and then day hikers, and then finally families with small children – marking our decreasing distance from the parking lot. We arrived back at the parking lot at 2:30pm, dropping our packs in relief, chugging water, and stuffing our face with snacks as we elevated our swollen feet.
Mount Olympus was such an unique climb and opportunity. The long approach is often a deterrent for many, but it was awesome seeing a group of individuals band together to tackle this beautiful climb for a good cause. In total, our climbers raised over $1600 for Seattle Children’s.
Here's to Climbing for More Than A Summit!
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