Looking down from near the summit to the Forth of July route, Early Summer Route and the Snow Dome!
Mount Olympus, West Peak 7,965'!
|We had been watching
the weather closely all week, even as two partners bailed because the weather
"didnt look good." Rain was promised on Thursday and clearing skies
afterward. Mount Olympus is a relatively unknown mountain. Its four peaks, West
7,965, East 7,780, Middle 7,930 and South 7,360 have remained
elusive to most folks other than climbers, hidden from view by the surrounding mountains.
Of the "Major Peaks" recognized by the Mountaineers, Mount Olympus is the only
one that is not a volcano.
Doerte and I left the Hoh River Trailhead at 9:00 in a light rain. Our goal was to hike all the way in to Glacier Meadows in one day, so as to allow for two possible summit days. We soon ran into some scouts who had summited on Tuesday which boasted our confidence. People come from all over the world to hike the trail through the Hoh Rain Forest. The hanging moss, ferns and huge trees were seemingly from another world. The Hoh River ran fast and was a glacier blue. We ignored the mud, letting our gaiters and Gortex boots do the job. We had our rain jackets on and off continually all day.
Bill Hooper had told me that the Hoh River Trail gained about 4 feet of elevation in the first 15 miles. That was not far from the truth. The Hoh River Trail stretches for 18 long miles to Glacier Meadows, 4200'. The last eight miles gain 3000' in elevation. Soon after the Olympic Guard Station the trail began to gain elevation up to the Hoh River Bridge, Elk Lake, and finally to Glacier Meadows.
Glacier Meadows is near treeline. Most of the campsites were free of snow, but were very wet from the rain. There were two parties camped already, one of which was going up to the mountain the next day. We arrived at 5:30 pm for an 8.5-hour day with heavy packs. Three more parties arrived later. Two guys were so beat they immediately went into the tent and were never seen again. The three women climbers arrived a short while later.
Six am found all three climbing parties heading up to the moraine. It is 3,500 feet of elevation gain and 4 miles to the summit. There is a view of the Snow Dome from the Meadows, but the first view of Mount Olympus is from the moraine. What a sight! All three teams put on their crampons and roped up to go on the glacier. There was 1-2 inches of new snow over the Blue Glacier so everything looked very pristine. There was no sign of the route from two days earlier. It was fun to be able to break tracks across the Blue Glacier.
The lower part of the glacier had some small crevasses visable, but the snow was firm. We quickly crossed the lower Glacier and headed up the steep route to the Snow Dome, zig zagging around the exposed rock. We found a good place to refill our water bottles and have a breakfast.
Topping out at 6,600 on the Snow Dome we could see our route choices. It was interesting that there were three small teams on the mountain all doing a different variation. The Poulsbo team did the Forth of July Route directly to the saddle between the False and West Summit. They had to cross the ever-widening bergschrund and ascend some really steep snow. Later in the season this route is not passable. The ladies team took the Crystal Pass Route around the left side of the summit ridge. Doerte and Mike did the Early Summer Route to the 7,200 notch between Five Finger Ridge and the False Summit. We had a close-up view of some big seracs and we weaved between some nice crevasses before we could look over to the other side and join up with the Crystal Pass Route.
The five of us all looked over the saddle with the West Peak and decided the route was over the top of the False Summit. We ascended the moderate slope to the False Summit. It had a big flat rocky area free of snow, just right for a break. Doerte and I carefully headed down the snow-covered scree to the saddle. We were left with one final steep snow climb to the northeast side of 120 summit rock.
The Poulsbo team said they had not been on the summit, and would let us go first. The route wound around to the right, then up a harder section to the summit. I climbed up, then belayed Doerte up. The ladies came right behind. The Paulsbo team headed back down. One of the ladies told me that this was rated 5.4. There is supposed to be a class 4 route on the other side, but I am not sure how to get to it. It was 6.5 hours from camp to the summit of Mount Olympus, 7,965, West Peak.
Nearby is the Middle Peak, 7,930, East Peak, 7,780, and Athena, the South Peak 7,350. A traverse of the West, Middle and East peaks, called the Olympic Traverse is a great challenge and would be a huge accomplishment. The first ascent of the West Peak was in 1907 by L. A. Nelson and 10 Mountaineers.
It was about 175 feet back to the snow so Doerte and I rappelled down to a second belay station. The anchor looked fine and I rappelled down to the snow, but it pulled out when Doerte put weight on it causing her to fall several feet. Luckily the second anchor held. Big lesson there! Eve tied the two ropes together to do one long rappel and everyone made it down in good shape. Eve wisely dismantled the second belay station. The rock in the Olympics is mostly of poor quality and broken and cannot be trusted.
The views were as fine as promised. We could see the entire Olympic Peninsula to the North and West, with views of the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island, the Cascades, Mount Baker, and the giant of Mount Rainier. The Olympics have over 100 peaks over 7,000 and I think we could see them all. Mount Tom, 7,048, with its White Glacier lay to the west. The other summits of Olympus were spectacular and of course beckoned us, but would have to wait for another day.
We all descended the Crystal Pass Route, enjoying our time on the inspiring Blue Glacier and the magnificent views. The Blue Glacier got even more beautiful in the afternoon light. We refilled our water bottles descending the Snow Dome. The ice cold water was delicious!
We saw many parties ascending, with no less than five teams planning on camping on the bivy sites or the snow on the Snow Dome. Returning to camp in the sun we found even more parties. We were lucky to have gone up before the crowds arrived.
Climbers camps are always fun. One climber reported seeing a Sow and her cub in the Meadow above the camp. We even heard some yodeling and had to go investigate. Imagine the lost art of yodeling found in the Climbers Camp of Glacier Meadows!
Our hike out was slow and leisurely. We stopped to chat with climbers and hikers, and admire the Alaska Cedar, Mountain Hemlock, Silver Fir, and the huge Douglas Firs. We met one family coming from Elk Lake with a 13-year-old and a 5 and a 6-year-old! They all carried their own backpacks and were quite a treat to talk to, with typical backcountry discussions of "What kind of oatmeal did you eat for breakfast this morning?" "What is your favorite?" "Do you want to trade bandanas?" We all headed for Five-Mile Island for the night. It was fun to get to a campsite and already know people. We were back at the Hoh River Trailhead by 8:30 am on Sunday morning.
Most parties would spend do the spend 4-6 days doing this big mountain. We were lucky to have a strong, motivated team to do this trip in three days and a couple hours and is was a pleasure to meet other climbers who were equally motivated.
The approach is 17.5 miles, then 4 miles to the West Summit of Mount Olympus. The total for the trip was 43 miles, 7,500 gain.
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