Friday, August 12, 2011

Summit success on Mount Olympus

Distance: 47 miles

Elevation gain: 7,969 feet

Location: The Olympics

Mount Olympus has a bum rap. Many dismiss it as a worthy climb because it’s much lower than other mountains in the state but they’re ignoring the fact that it’s one of the 10 most technical climbs in the country outside of Alaska. Others shy away from the challenge because, well, it’s 47 miles roundtrip and that’s a lot. Either way, those folks are missing out because this is one heck of an experience.

Our group of five drove to the Olympics Friday morning and managed to hit the trailhead by 11 a.m. It was an easy, breezy hike 10 miles through the rainforest to Lewis Meadows, where we pitched our tents right on the riverbank and sat on the logs sipping tea and admiring the natural beauty.

We slept in a bit the following day knowing that it would be the lightest day of the trip, with only eight miles to go with about 3,000 feet elevation gain. We chit chatted with the ranger when we passed the station, hoping for an update on the incoming storm and tips on how to navigate the glaciers. Then we kept hoofing it to Elk Lake, a serene body of water covered with Lillie pads. As soon as we girls dipped our hands in the tepid water, we decided to take an impromptu swim to wash away the building sweat and grime.

In another 2.3 miles, we arrived at Glacier Meadows, which serves as base camp for climbers. The temperature had dropped quite a bit and snow hindered our quest for a good campsite but we managed. Bedtime came early since our start time Sunday morning would be 4:45 a.m.

It was still pitch black out when we started toward Blue Glacier, trekking up a valley and over a moraine with headlamps lighting our way. A mountain goat was the only other living thing we saw for hours. We carefully picked our way around the goat and dropped about 150 down the berm, crossing the glacier and keeping our eyes peeled for crevasses. It wasn’t long before we decided to rope in together as a safety precaution.

Just as we started up Snow Dome, the sun peeked through the clouds and shed light on the beautiful landscape we were exploring. Craggy peaks rose in every direction, partially hidden by the clouds. The glacier glistened. There was no better place to be.

We continued our ascent, wound our way across a moat and began traversing around the false summit, which was a nasty pile of rocks blocking our final destination. We left our crampons on and donned helmets to pick our way down the boulders. As we came down the other side, the summit came into sight and our relief and excitement peaked.

There was one last snow hill to scamper up and then we turned our attention to the class 4 rock scramble. The first part wasn’t particularly difficult but the last climb provided a brief dilemma. We shied away from climbing a trickier rock and decided to scramble up an easier but more exposed path. Our strongest climber went up first and belayed the rest of us up one by one.

And then…. Summit success!! The summit was pretty small, an opening on top of the rock with a metal box dating back to 1939 that held a sign-in book. We snapped a few pictures of the glorious view and then set up an anchor to rappel down.

All in all, the expedition took 12 hours. Once back at camp, we broke everything down and hiked another seven miles (in the dark, again) to return to the camp we stayed at the first night. Then the next morning, it was another 10 miles back to the car before we could blessedly put our feet up and indulge in salt and sugary snacks!

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