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Mount Olympus

It was the best of climbs, it was the worst of climbs.

And it all began at 7:00 AM on Saturday, August 2, when Kari Friedewald, Shawn Donley, and Gregory MacCrone left Portland for the long drive to the Olympic Peninsula and the West Peak of Mt. Olympus (7,963'). Five hours later and sufficiently caffeinated, we arrived at the ranger station at the Hoh River Trailhead in Olympic National Park. We divvied up the communal gear, loaded our packs, and began the short five mile trail hike to our reserved campsite alongside the glacier-fed Hoh River.

After setting up camp on the Hoh's silty-sandy banks, we decided to break into the "wine cube" of cabernet/shiraz we had carried in. The next four hours were spent reminiscing of past trips, planning new adventures, and debating the virtues of the wine cube. Even now there are no clear answers to some of our questions - is it best to carry two 1.5 liter boxes of wine or just one 3 liter wine cube? Or does boxed wine promote excessive drinking? We eventually came to agreement that it was better to finish all the wine rather than carrying it another 12.5 miles to camp two.The next morning we regretted our decision.

"Regret" is such a strong word. Nevertheless, our next leg to the Glacier Meadow campsite was surprisingly grueling. We blame the wine cube.

We progressed steadily, if you will, and eventually arrived at Elk Lake at Mile 15 on the Hoh River Trail. Weather was clear with temperatures in the 80s. We decided to take a dip, shedding our packs and boots and wading about the peaty lake bottom. It was "liberating," just like one of the Portland neo-hippie-hikers who got there before us, promised.

After about an hour at Elk Lake (no elk, lots of lotus), we continued on. Perhaps a half mile from the Glacier Meadow campsite, we started seeing (and speaking with) groups of backpackers and day-hikers who had turned around before reaching the campsite. Almost without variation, they told us that the trail had washed out, and (for them) it was impassable.

We moved on and arrived at the washout. The trail was, indeed, a mess, but not overly hairy. We descended sharply down some loose rock and fine soil, around a log, up across a trickling stream of water, and then on to the other side to the trail. We pulled into the Glacier Meadow campsite shortly afterwards and set up camp.

At the site next to ours was guided group of eight from Mountain Madness. We were hoping to leave the next morning before them so as to not to get caught up in a Everest '96-like bottleneck, but when we heard that they were planning on a 2:00 AM departure, we opted for the more leisurely alpine-ish start of 5:00 AM. On the glacier moraine the next morning we were met by an indifferent mountain goat busy licking the dirt. Or something on the dirt. We roped up and cramponed up on the toe of the Blue Glacier. Free from rock fall, the Blue lived up to its name with beautiful aquamarine-like sections. It was heavily crevassed, but luckily most of most of the crevasses down low were narrow and easily jumpable.

After cutting across the glacier, the route switch backed up the also appropriately named Snow Dome. From here the route traversed east, where we got a look at the Mountain Madness group approaching Crystal Pass.

On our route up to Crystal Pass, we came across a snack-breaking party of four we nicknamed, "The Four Tough Hombres"(note: "tough" might equal "stupid"). These guys hailed from Mt. Vernon ("Oh, yeah, tulips," Greg said), and they told us they had just descended from the summit. Geared in cotton t-shirts, sneakers--wait, wait, it gets better--mini-Maglites duct taped to their bicycle helmets, and--hold on, here it comes--hatchets and alpenstocks (in lieu of ice axes), we chatted them up, eager to gather some "beta" on the summit pinnacle.

Shawn inquired if they used any rock pro on the 5.4-ish pinnacle. After a short pause and some confused looks, one of them answered, "No, I don't think so." Shortly afterwards, we moved on allowing them to catch their breath and resume their descent and hike out along the Hoh.

From there it was up and over the false summit. Wait a minute, wait a minute, could the Four [fill in the blank] Hombres have mistaken the false summit for the real summit? Gaining access to the real summit involved ascending a steep 45 degree slope (not something you'd want to tackle in tennis shoes without crampons and with only a hatchet to self arrest with) and also a pitch of technical rock climbing, and the Hombres mentioned none of this. Oh, well, ignorance is bliss.

We caught up with the Mountain Madness group at the top of the steep snow slope just as they were starting on the summit pinnacle. Kari was looking forward to leading the 5.4 pitch, but it'd be a while before they all got back up and down again (most were beginning climbers, including a father-son duo from Oklahoma). So, when their guide offered to put our rope through the rappel ring so we could top rope the pinnacle, we took him up on the offer.

As the Mountain Madness folks shuttled their folks down the pitch, we ascended, which made for a bit of an ordeal in getting past them. The Oklahoman's rappelling mantra was, "Oh, my God, I'm freaking out...I'm freaking out, man," but it all worked out all right.

The three of us tagged the summit and rapped down to our packs for some well-needed hydration. The snow bridge connecting snow and the base of the rock pinnacle was melting away, revealing a moat with no visible bottom. We did not linger long.

The trek out to the Glacier and down to camp was mostly a slog, but it was nice of Greg to keep things interesting by falling chest deep into a Blue Glacier crevasse. That Greg, always the joker.

Thirteen hours after having departed, we returned to camp. As happy as we were with having summitted, we were all dreading the 18-mile, one-day, 50-pound-pack, wet-booted ("vise-like sponges," according to Shawn) hike out to the ranger station the next morning. As this TR bears out, we made it--only slightly worse for the wear--and celebrated with megadoses of Vitamin I (ibuprofen) and hamburgers just 12 miles down the road toward Hwy. 101.

The guidebooks say that after summitting Mt. Olympus you'll be most satisfied not so much from attaining the peak but from never having to hike the Hoh River Trail again. We leave it to you all to make that decision for yourselves on this fun and challenging mixed backpacking/climbing trip.

Gregory MacCrone

Santiam Alpine Club


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