Trip Report: Climbing Mount Olympus via the Blue Glacier

On July 14, 2007, Tom Romary and I climbed Mount Olympus via the Blue Glacier.

We got a really late start out of Seattle on Thursday night (10pm) and drove to the Hoh Rainforest visitor center at 3am. Whizzing through the little town of Forks on the Olympic Peninsula at 2am, we got a speeding ticket–ughhh!
We car camped at the Hoh visitor center and awoke Friday morning to a wet tent–it had rained… not exactly what you hope for on the start of a climbing trip. After a leisurely morning, we hit the trailhead at 11:30 and started our 18 mile trek up the Hoh river valley to basecamp.
Tom had forgotten his bowl, cup, spoon and fork. I had an extra bowl and cup, but we were facing 2 days of either sharing our utensils or Tom eating with his hands (I wasn’t sure which yet.) Incredibly as we hiked along the Hoh river, Tom found a set of plastic utensils on the ground. I was relieved.
The first 13-14 miles of the approach went pretty quickly–easy, flat hiking. Its a beautiful hike and would be a perfect trail to backpack with kids. Along the way we saw tons of huge sitka spruce and cedar trees.
At about 4pm the trail started to climb. We crossed an amazing footbridge over a rushing tributary to the Hoh River. The river was in a super narrow canyon and about 100 feet deep.
The last 4 miles was absolutely brutal. After hiking 14 flat miles we climbed 4000 feet in the last 4 miles. We arrived at basecamp at Glacier Meadows at 8pm–8 1/2 hours of hiking–completely spent.
We woke on Saturday morning at 5AM to clear skies. On the trail by 6:30, we followed the signs to the Terminal Moraine. Wrong! The Lateral Moraine is the way to go… Anyhow, we tried finding the glacier and ended up at a dead end cliff. We backtracked and finally found the Lateral Moraine trail. Just before arriving at the Blue Glacier, the trail follows a steep knife edge ridge and finally down a scree field to the glacier. We crossed the Blue Glacier and went up a snow chute which is clearly not passable later in the summer with less snow. I think this chute saved us a lot of time, so I’d recommend climbing this route early while snow covered.
Up the chute, through some rock bands and reached the final stretch before the snow dome. WE caught up with 2 other groups at the snow dome and passed them at the bergschrund where we forged a path over a huge snow bridge.
We hiked around the corner onto a south facing slope and climbed the backside of the “5 fingers”. Here we reached a cliff, where we got a great view of the summit. We backtracked a bit and went up and over the 5 fingers through a chute and downclimbed to get to the saddle in front of the summit. We climbed a short steep snowfield and arrived at the summit block at 10:30 (a 4 hour climb).
There are a couple options to climb the summit block. First was to climb a 40 foot 5.6 to 5.7 on good solid rock. The second option was to climb around the back of the block on a 4th class scramble, but with huge exposure (1000-2000 feet?). We basically wimped out. A team that arrived behind us climbed the block via the scramble.
From the peak, the views to the east were amazing. Baker, Rainier, Adams, and St Helens were all in sight along with innumerable jagged Olympic range peaks.
Fun boot glissading on the descent. Tom poked through on the snow chute a couple times so that we could see we were essentially on a flake of snow above the a cliff.
We had a great dinner that night at Glacier Meadows and left the next morning at 8am for the car. The flat section was brutal. Both of us in immense foot pain, we hobbled our way to the car. We arrived at 3 pm after 7 hours of hiking.
Some tips on climbing Mount Olympus:
  1. Be prepared for the summit block if you want to get to the true peak. We had the rope and protection, but our skills were quite rusty and as young dads, our risk tolerance low. 🙂
  2. Mosquitoes–there are tons of them. Bring lots of deet and slather it on.
  3. The approach–we were kind of attracted to the physical challenge of doing the approach in one day. We both felt great about pulling this off, but next time I think I’d save the pain and break it up a bit. Certainly, we could have descended the first 4 miles on Saturday (summit day)
  4. Footwear: We debated this. Tom said that next time, he’d wear a pair of light hiking boots for the approach. I’m somehow totally against carrying mountaineering boots in my backpack, and my foot pain wasnt a result of bad boots, so I’d wear my Scarpa Charmoz GTX boots again. I might consider buying a nicer footsole.
  5. Bring crocs for camp–your feet will love them.
  6. Pack light. Its a long way in.

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