Mount Olympus, Washington (part 2)
This newsletter is the second part of my quest to climb Mount Olympus in Washington. You can find part 1 in my August 10, 2023 newsletter, which covered the first two days.
Day 3 started about 4:00 AM to be ready to hit the trail at 5:00 AM. I discretely snuck back to my tent after spending the night in the emergency shelter, to escape a snoring member of my group, lest one of the guides rebuke me for using it for non-emergency purposes.
The first hour or so was on trail and mildly uphill. However, that all ended when we came to the moraine. If you’re not familiar with the word, a moraine is a big pile of rocks created by a glacier. This was easy to descend, but getting back up later in the day would be another story. It was at this point, where the hard part began, that one of the five clients in our group turned back to await our return at camp.
At the bottom of the moraine lay the Blue Glacier. Here we affixed crampons to our boots, got out our ices axes and put on gloves and helmets. The part crossing the glacier was one of my favorites. One could hear rivers of water flowing under the ice. There were many cracks, crevasses and holes to walk around or jump over, many that seemed endlessly deep. Once I threw a rock down one and never heard a splash or a crash. It seems to fall into an abyss.
After the Blue Glacier, we stopped for a break and the guides spent about an hour going over how to hike on ice. This included what to do if you or another member fell in a crevasse. We then created two ropes teams of three people each.
I was part of the faster of the two rope teams. This section was not only steep but also alternated between being on rock and ice. Sometimes we removed our crampons for the rock sections and sometimes we didn’t. I hate the sound of metal crampons scraping on rock but it’s also a time-consuming fuss to remove and put crampons back on.
The next section was the “snow dome,” on which we spent at least two hours. This was not as steep as the previous section but was a long hot slog. Yes, it was hot with no cloud cover and the sun reflecting off the snow. For some reason there were also bees up there bothering us. What business a bee has up there I have no idea as there is no vegetation – just rocks and snow.
After the snow dome, we made our way through an opening in the rock, climbed up a nearly vertical ice wall and then did another long section like the snow dome. The guide was pushing us fast, so it was making for a tough hot and long day already.
Then we got to another rock section. This was one was long, steep and lose up and then back down. After this unpleasant section we could finally see the summit.
At this steep section of snow my rope team guide went up first and threw down a rope. The other client and I then took turns going up, tied to the rope in case we fell. When I climbed Mount Hood a climber in another group fell on a section like this and slid down hundreds of feet into rocks, to his death.
The next and final part was the hardest but also the most memorable. This was nearly vertical rock but with good hand and footholds. My guide put it at class 5.4, for those familiar with rock climbing terminology. I’m normally a class 5.8 climber, but that is with proper climbing shoes as opposed to alpine boots. The guide went first and set up a rope for safety reasons. I was nervous about this part as we waited for another party to descend it but once I got started, I enjoyed the challenge. It was the perfect climax to a great adventure.
After some exciting class 5 climbing I was on top! The summit was small and rocky, but the views were outstanding. One could easily see the Pacific Ocean, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker and Puget Sound. On top there was a sign-in register and two geodetic survey markers. I was the first of our group up as the first guide stayed a little lower to hold the rope for the other climbers. Of the four clients who set out past the moraine, three of them made the summit and of course both guides. The other client I think got nervous at the site of the near vertical rock climbing at the end, but he was on the other rope team, so I wasn’t there at the point he stopped just short of the finish line. The five of us who did make it signed the register and took pictures of each other and headed back down.
From the summit, the guides top-belayed us down the rocky section. It was then just retracing our steps in the same rope teams. Back at the moraine we had to scramble up an enormous steep rock pile. Here the guide on my rope team and the other client got ahead of me. It got to a point where I couldn’t see them any longer. Here I made the incorrect decision to go too high up when I should have traversed the moraine. Eventually it got too steep, so I had to descend. To be honest, I was rather irritated at the other two for ditching me at the difficult and unpleasant part of the trip. As I was trying to make my way up and across the moraine the guide eventually came back and helped. I snipped at him for abandoning me. Although he didn’t apologize, he was very helpful getting me back on track and I think he did feel badly about it. The rest of the trip he was especially nice to me.
All things considered, day 3 was a 15-hour day on our feet, from 5AM to 8PM. It was probably one of the top ten toughest days I’ve had mountaineering. Not that I’m complaining. I do these things to challenge myself. Two of the other guests arrived about two hours after I did, making it a 17-hour day for them. One of them didn’t even make it to hit tent but collapsed in the emergency shelter I mentioned earlier.
Days four and five we simply retraced our steps. With lighter packs and going downhill, we could afford to take longer breaks. We arrived back at 9-mile campground around 2:00PM on day four so had a rare chance to relax and do what we wanted for several hours.
On the morning of day 5 we left around 6AM to be back to the parking lot around noon. Here we said our goodbyes and the usual offers to stay in touch, which are almost always quickly forgotten. My first stop in civilization was Sully’s Drive In where I enjoyed a much-deserved cheeseburger meal.
In closing, I’d like to thank my guides Brian and Adam with Northwest Mountain Guides. Besides Mount Olympus, they also lead climbs of Mount Baker, Mount Olympus and various mountaineering courses in the pacific northwest. Compared to other guide services I have used, I found them informal and easygoing, as opposed to being bossy and rigid followers of a schedule. They felt more like part of the group than paid guides. Despite getting cross with one of them on the moraine, I would be happy to use them again. In fact, I am already thinking of doing just that to climb Glacier Peak in the next few years.