Mount Olympus (7,969ft)
Eric and Katie
May 26-28, 2017
I had tried to climb Mt Olympus in March 2008, but was thwarted by thick rime ice plastering the summit pyramid, and had to settle for the false summit. In May 2016 Katie and I tried to summit, but had to turn back half way up the summit pyramid. We decided to try again this Memorial Day weekend. The weather looked sunny, which is rare in the wettest part of the continental US, and we drove out of town on Thursday night. By 11pm we found a trailhead pulloff and went to sleep for the night.
Friday morning we picked up a permit at the Quinalt ranger station, and were on the trail in the Hoh Rain Forest by 10:30am. The trail is mostly flat for the first 13 miles, crossing through rainforests with massive 500-1000 year old trees dripping with moss. We made good time, and by the evening reached the Elk Lake shelter.
A hiker warned us about difficult snow conditions on a traverse above Elk Lake, but having been there in March I was fully prepared for the worst possible snow conditions. Another group of 6 guys had just reached Elk Lake and were planning to summit the next day, but given the bad news about the trail they decided to camp there for the night instead of higher up at Glacier Meadows.
Katie and I continued ascending, and soon hit snowline and put on gaiters. However, when we hit the steep traverse the snow had mostly melted away. There were only a few sections that were sketchy, and they were very short. We eventually hit the ladder descent in the washed-out zone, and beyond this point the trail was covered in 5ft of snow.
By 8pm we reached Glacier Meadows and had the campsite all to ourselves. The weather was forecast to be warm and sunny the next day, and we planned to get up reasonably early at 3am to start our summit bid.
At 1am the group of 6 passed through camp, but we kept sleeping in, knowing that they would be breaking trail for us. (We had told them we’d be starting at 4am anyways). By 4am we were suited up and hiking up to the edge of the Blue Glacier.
We followed the other guys tracks down onto the glacier, and wrapped around to the base of Snow Dome as the sun started rising. It was easy climbing up Snow Dome in the other group’s tracks, and when we crested the top we saw them cresting the col between the summit and the false summit.
They had taken the direct route, which often has a gaping bergschrund later in the season. We saw them standing at the edge of the col for a long time, and I guessed they were having trouble crossing. To play it safe, we took the longer, but more reliable, route through Crystal Pass to the left, and then traversed over the false summit to the col.
Here we saw a small snow bridge over the bergschrund, and vowed to take that way on the descent. Five of the other climbers were climbing up the east face of the summit block, and one had decided to not summit, and was instead resting in the col. I wasn’t sure why they had climbed the longer east face, when the north ridge was very short.
Katie and I climbed up a steep snow ramp to the base of the north ridge, and started flaking out the rope. We’d brought a 60m twin rope, and I tied in the middle and Katie belayed me on two strands. The climb was mostly steep snow with some rock moves, and I put in three cams before I reached the belay anchor 100ft up.
I belayed Katie up to here, then belayed here the rest of the way to the summit, only 50ft farther. It was tricky, though, because one half of the ridge was icy snow and the other steep loose rock, and by now the other team was cresting the summit and trying to descend the north ridge.
We figured things out logistically so Katie summitted, came back down, then they all came down, then Katie belayed me up to the summit. I bet Olympus hadn’t seen a single person since last October, and now there were 8 people up there all at once!
We all carefully rappelled down the north ridge, and easily hiked back down over the bergschrund. We followed our tracks back to Glacier Meadows, and arrived by mid afternoon. This year nobody got a sun burn, due to diligent sunscreen and face covering.
That night we went to bed early, and were out early the next morning hiking the long 17.5 miles back to the trailhead.