Any DFW fans out there? A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again? Yeah, this trip might get that label. Was it good? Yeah, hell yeah I mean it was great. But I am way to lazy to do this again any time in the near future. We’ll get to that. Regardless, this trip almost didn’t happen for me. I was going to bail the night before since I had a visitor in town staying at my apartment, but being a moderately selfish person and realizing that I was either a) bailing on visitor (lose) or b) bailing on friends with a specifically organized climbing trip (lose) I should just go with whatever I personally wanted (win). And I wanted to climb Olympus. Well, sorta.
There had been several (okay, two) obstacles preventing me from climbing Olympus sooner, or from even really wanting to do Olympus. The drive (5 hours without traffic… add traffic to that and I might have literally died had I driven alone), and the approach (18 mother fucking miles of flat ass well maintained low valley forest trail, which to some is a dream, but to me, is a nightmare). I always assumed I’d do it as a one day trail run when I wa in decent shape. But somehow, my damn friends convinced me it would be fun, and I did have to check it off the list. Apex peak, whatever. We drove out Saturday morning, naturally taking longer than expected. We planned on leaving around 4:30 or 5am, but actually got out around 6. We stopped at Ruby Beach on the way there. you pass Beach 2, Beach 3, Beach 4… what comes next? Beach 5? Nope, Ruby Beach! Seeing the ocean actually almost took my breath away, mostly because I had no idea the drive to Olympus would take us right next to the coast. I miss the ocean constantly, maybe more than I miss toilets when I’m on a glacier.
I started a possibly illegal parking area, ran into the water, got destroyed by a surprise wave, hopped around some logs, stole a bunch of toilet paper from the bathrooms, and we continued on our merry way, blasting Sublime down the national park roads (should I apologize?). My pants were dry within half an hour despite being heavy duty ice climbing pants. The parking lot at the trailhead was packed and we ended up parking in a one-day camping parking lot, but what can you do. We got started on the trail around 12:30.
The trail is… I mean it’s pretty, but it’s tainted by the fact I’m starting to hate approaches. “It’s all about the journey!!!” Yeah, if the journey is above treeline, on rock or ice. If it’s bushwacky, or straight up or off trail or anything like that, great, I’m into it. But 18 miles along a flat forested trail? I was going to go crazy. I haven’t been that stir crazy since the Snow Lakes approach to the Enchantments, which at least had the excitement of new skis. Tedious, I think, is the word for it. At least it was spectacularly green, with the occasional enormous tree or nurse log for us to marvel at. Luckily we were camping at Elk Lake (revised to Martin Creek because we thought we’d have campfires and Elk Lake doesn’t allow any), so we only had to go 15 miles in. Okay Eve, keep reminding yourself that.
The approach trail is the Hoh River trail, which as I’m sure you can imagine spawned more than enough sophomoric humor to sustain me for the first few miles. “Are you enjoying the Hoh?” “Is the Hoh treating you well?” kept the mood light for the first two or so hours, until passing parties became more sparse and there were no more groups to tolerate us giggling as we dropped one-liners left and right. We took a break at the ranger station 9 miles in (which is pretty cool, that there’s a ranger station 9 miles down a trail) to wait for Sam, who was lagging – maybe because he was carrying a splitboard. And that meant an entire extra pair of boots. Three pairs of boots, in fact. Approach shoes, mountaineering boots, and snowboard boots. Yeah, not jealous.
We got to camp around 7. Connor and I claimed the best tent spot, since Haley had to wait for Simon who was carrying their tent and showed up shortly after us. Sam hobbled into camp with his extra boots and snowboard an hour later, tossed his bivvy on the ground, and was unconscious within minutes. The rest of us whipped up some dehydrated meals, completely ignored the campfire that we had been so excited for, and chatted about the summit bid.
It was Connor’s birthday, and Simon and I had brought up cupcakes and even a candle to celebrate. We snuck off to get the cupcakes, and carried them back to the campsite where Connor managed to be the most oblivious birthday boy in the world (or is really good at pretending not to notice and then feigning surprise). We set up cupcakes and candles basically right in front of him and when I said “should we sing!?” he starts singing “What I Got” by Sublime, which was immediately drowned out by Happy Birthday as he lit up when he saw the cupcakes. I know, we’re fucking adorable. Nothing beats mountain birthdays, even if they’re sitting in a foggy misty jungle after a pounding 15 mile approach that didn’t even get you to the fun part. Unless you’re Sam, who confessed the next day that he thought he dreamed we offered him cupcakes but logically thought “why the fuck would they have cupcakes right now” and continued to sleep. The good part of that is that we had an entire extra cupcake, to be devoured post summit.
We got up around 6am, I bitched about the fog and weather, and we started towards Glacier Meadows at 7. Sam got a head start, knowing he’d be slower with his snowboard. The ladder was a hilarious endeavor as Simon’s pants immediately fell off when he started down, and I have to admit it’s a tricky spot to have to have a serious wardrobe adjustment. I believe he has since returned the pants. Falling off in precarious situations isn’t a 5-star experience. Also, why’d they set up the ladder if you have to go back up the gully once you’re at the bottom? Someone hit that with a shovel and dig out a traverse. I’m never doing that approach again unless it’s for a damn good reason but maybe if you drop me in via helicopter I’ll help out.
The further we went, the clearer the skies got, and by the time we reached the meadows, it was a sunny blue sky day. Holy shit. I’m like never wrong with weather and I was so, so wrong. I was torn. I wanted my “I told you so” moment, but I also wanted sunshine. I’l settle for the latter. We had agreed to meet Sam at the ranger station at the meadows, which turned out to be a platform of wood with a sign saying “Ranger Station.” Great! A platform of wood, with no rangers, no Sam, and no signs of Sam. We thought maybe he’d be by the glacier, so we kept moving. Eventually the trail forks and you can choose lateral glacier or moraine. Choose lateral. Moraine might be fine in winter or early season, but this time of year and onward it’s just a lot of walking across a broken exposed glacier. We headed for the side, hoping to run into Sam.
We hit the ridge a little too early (“scenic route!”) and scrambled along it to meet the glacier. I was finally in my element, off the damn Hoh River Trail slog and floating along a steep ridge instead. We finally saw Sam ahead of us. We waited for the entire group to reconvene, Connor tossed me the rope, and I dropped down the ridge to get it all flaked out on the glacier. The glacier looked pretty mellow, but we figured hey, good practice, and better safe than sorry. Connor took the lead, I anchored, and everyone else clipped in in the middle. Anchoring means you get the best pictures because you see the whole team in front of you.
The route goes directly across the Blue Glacier and then turns slightly right to go up a few rocky outcroppings just before a steep snow slope up to Snow Dome. Glaciers are like deserts when it comes to sunshine, and I was baking. No shade, everything reflecting the sun. Like being in a toaster, and you are the toast. “Top Brown” is the dream, but sometimes I end up charred. I had my sweet new nose cover from creme-brulee-ing my face on Rainier the previous weekend, so at least that was under cover, and a new keychain of SPF 50 to be reapplied in motion. We took a lot of breaks which helped fight off the sun. Connor drew out a potential new line up the ice fall, which was awesome. Give me a few years to get up to M7 and I’ll tag along. I’m not tackling any 5.11 rock any time soon.
We reached the top of Snow Dome, where Sam finally bailed on his splitboard. He set it up right there, waiting for the return down. We looked ahead of us at Olympus and saw two routes. One potentially ended in a bergschrund – the Autobahn route, which goes straight from Snow Dome up the face of Olympus right in front of you. The other route wraps around the back of the false summit and then gains the summit scramble. Logic would have told us that the footprints going from the Autobahn to the standard route meant the Autobahn wasn’t doable, but I wasn’t positive until another group confirmed that you definitely had to go around the backside. Great, that’s what we’ll do.
The trail from here is fairly mellow until the climb to the false summit. I recall Simon in front of me, “please say that’s the summit!” I was ready to be the dream crusher, but Connor took care of that. “Nope!” You drop down on the other side of the false summit and then ascend another short slope to start the scramble to the true summit. We left our heavy things on the snow saddle, reflaked the rope for rock climbing (I’ll just mention in passing how five people on one rock rope is… ugh) and headed up to the scramble. Connor and I scrambled along a ledge to a belay station before the tougher scramble began. The ledge is like a class 2 scramble, but with a bit of exposure. From there, you get a few class 3 moves with one arguably low 5th class move. We simulclimbed the section to the rap station, where Connor carried on to the summit as I belayed the other three up to the rap rock. We did use a small rock rack to set up pro and make sure everyone was 100% comfortable with everything we were doing, since Sam, Haley, and Simon had never been on anything beyond low class scrambles before. And despite all of the pro, I will never forget the hilarious image of Simon, Haley, and Sam all clinging to the rap rock, cheeks pressed against stone, snuggling the damn thing for their lives. I get it, I remember my first rock climb. I was like a starfish stuck to a rock.
After they worked out what sounded like a rope nest spaghetti mess (my fault – I clipped them into the anchor in the order they arrived, should have anchored them in the order they’d be heading to the summit) we belayed them all over to the summit, where I made sure to flake out the rope clearly so we wouldn’t deal with the same mess on the way down. I took the most bad ass picture of Haley that anyone’s ever taken ever. More on that later.
We signed the summit register, snapped summit pics, ate summit chocolate, and laughed at the trails of footprints of the pour soul who tried to take the Autobahn route. They had looked at every corner of the schrund trying to figure out a way around it, to no avail. Thanks for taking one for the team, buddy, we’ve all been there. Eventually, we decided it was time to head down. Clouds had been moving in slowly all day, it had taken a long ass time to get everyone up the rock, and we knew it’d take a long time to get everyone off the rock as well. Connor led the way to the rap station and we belayed everyone back across there. I went last, and had the luxury of rappelling first. Rather than walk everyone through autoblocks, we settled on a fireman’s belay from below. I set up at the bottom and held the rope while Connor got everyone else set up on rappel, and eventually everyone was back down at the scramble ledge.
Back on the snow, we grabbed the axes and crampons we had stashed at the top of the slope. Connor tossed his crampons down to his pack, only to watch them fly 10ft and get stuck a third of the way down the slope. Ha! I held on to mine and walked down, literally too lazy to glissade. Upon returning to my pack, I realized I had spilled chocolate all over it. No! Ugh! I dumped it out on the glacier, half melted, looking like rodent poop hundreds of meters above where rodents should be. Sorry guys. I left a trace, I know 😦
We didn’t bother to rope up for the way down, knowing how mellow the glacier was the entire way. We half walked half ran down the slopes, back to Snow Dome where Sam finally got to put his splitboard to use. I took his camera and jogged ahead of him to get photos. There are few things I enjoy more than jogging down snow when it’s soft enough to plunge step, I leapfrogged Connor and Haley glissading between scramble sections laughing like a kid. I snapped a few shots of Sam as he finally passed, and soon enough we were back on the flat section of glacier. We made quick work getting back to the ridge, drank some glacial runoff, and started down the trail back to camp as the sun set.
My headlamp was in my pack and you all know how lazy I am. Actually I had two headlamps, because after cutthroat peak I’ll be damned if I ever forget a headlamp ever again. I put it off until it was officially freaking dark – I had been right near two people with headlamps, stopped with Sam and Connor for a second, and as soon as Simon and Haley were a few steps ahead, I realized just how dark it was and caved. Haley and Simon started yelling for a bear at once point. I thought they were just trying to freak me out (I don’t like dark forests or wildlife) but they swore they heard something huge rustling in the bushes. I’m oblivious, and heard nothing. Maybe bears have literally walked across the trail in front of me and I just haven’t been paying attention. That happened with a deer once.
We got back to camp where I was thrilled to ditch the mountaineering boots and beyond excited to curl up in my sleeping bag. I freaking love bedtime on climbs. Doesn’t matter what time it is. But I needed dinner (Sweet and Sour Pork! Yes!) and we had been talking about that last cupcake for like six hours. We split it four ways, and it was the best 1/4th of a cupcake I have ever had.
Bedtime was amazing as always. It was a little ridiculous having a zero degree down bag in a four season mountaineering tent set up at 2,000ft in a rainforest but I don’t have any true backpacking gear. We woke up to Simon telling us they were ready to leave (false – it took another hour and a half for them to be ready) and Sam again got a head start. We caught up to him quicker than I expected, but to be fair, I wasn’t carrying a million pounds. Really the only heavy things I was carrying were tent, boots, and glacier gear. Connor had rope and small rock rack, and eventually took half of Sam’s splitboard, which he mounted horizontally on his pack. Horizontally. I get it, you want it to be evenly weighted, but it looks hilarious and I was just waiting for him to clothesline someone.
We only had one mishap on the way out. I was setting the pace and crossing a log jam over a river when I stepped on a not so secure log, which slowly started to sink into the water. Haley stood behind me staring. I couldn’t dive off because I didn’t want my entire pack to end up soaking, I tried to jump to another log but just sunk the log further, and finally I just stood there defeated as I sank to my ass in beautiful refreshing blue river. My camera survived because it’s virtually indestructible. My phone wasn’t as lucky. RIP my bank account and the best pic of Haley anyone’s ever taken.
Well my pants dried within a half hour for the second time that weekend, and we were back at the trailhead in around 6 hours. My feet did not want to see those trail runners again. Did I even remember where we had parked? Um… we’ll just walk in a convenient circle. Haley and I ran to the car as soon as we saw it, flying by the grumpy duo that was Simon and Connor, attempting celebratory cartwheels after we dropped our packs. Would Sam find the car? We figured we’d get all of our shit organized (plus I was 90% sure I had torn a muscle in an attempted cartwheel, that must be what it feels like to be 80 years old) and if he still hadn’t arrived we’d drive over to the visitor center (right near the trail exit) and meet him there. It’s pretty hard to miss my bright yellow xterra.
After some celebration chocolate and beer and pirate booty and some extra reveling in the comfort that is flip flops, Sam popped out of the trees. Yay! Everyone was back in one piece, and ready to head back to Simon’s for steaks and drinks and ice cream and fireworks. We stopped at McDonalds on the way (aiming for Carl’s Jr but those are NOWHERE) where I destroyed a big mac, followed by a girly drink pickup at Starbucks, and eventually, a 1lb steak that for the first time in my life I did not finish. I blame the big mac. And you know what? I never have to do Olympus again. Except by now I’ve forgotten the misery of the approach, so maybe I could be convinced. Maybe. I mean, looking back it now those pictures of the forest look pretty nice…