Climbing block #1 - Mount Olympus, WA

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Gary Neben
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Climbing block #1 - Mount Olympus, WA

Post by Gary Neben » Wed Aug 23, 2017 7:55 am

For Mt Olympus we followed the Snow Dome to Crystal Pass route. A link to a useful, detailed Olympic National Park map can be found here. I can also post a spreadsheet of my pack items and total walking weight (37 lbs) if anyone’s interested.

2017/07/22, Saturday (Day 1)
Fly from DIA to SEA-TAC. Drive to Hoh River TH. There were no available sites in the park CG so we backtracked W of the park entrance where you can camp down a number of side roads for free or pay for a spot at an enterprising cafe/gift shop/campground. This last place, which I can’t recall its name, lets you pay for a shower only - useful on the way out. It had been raining off and on as we approached the park and everything out there was quite wet.

2017/07/23, Sunday (Day 2)
Picked up our reserved Glacier Meadows permit at the Hoh Visitor Center next to the Hoh River TH, parked in the long term parking lot, and then backpacked from the TH at ~600’ to Lewis Meadow CG at ~950’, ~10.5 miles and ~350’ of gain. There was no fresh water stream within easy walking distance so we filtered water directly from the Hoh. Thus you probably want to bring a coffee filter to wrap around your intake to pre-filter the silt. (We didn’t have one so we used Kurt’s bandanna with the tie-wrap from our permit to hold it in place.)

The weather was cloudy to partial clearing and humid, but it didn’t rain on us. The rainforest is thick with overgrown vegetation and huge (wide and tall) trees. Compared with what we’re used to in Colorado this is a spectacular change.

At Lewis Meadow we leave a stash of dinner and snacks for the return hike out. In general, the CG’s have “bear wires”. These are metal poles mounted about 10’ off the ground with wired cables running from the top to attachment points at the sides in a loop. You only need bring a stuff sack and then hoist all your smelly stuff to the top.

Our CG’s also had pit toilets so we only needed to bring paper. However, one pit toilet at a CG (not one we stayed at) was destroyed by a tree so it’s a good idea to check ahead.
2017/07/24, Monday (Day 3)
Hiked from Lewis Meadow CG to Glacier Meadows CG at ~4200’, ~7 miles and ~3250’ of gain. Glacier Meadows is 17.5 miles from the TH. Again no rain and now the skies are clear, allowing us our first views of some lower ridges and peaks. While it’s a bit of a grunt getting to Glacier Meadows today, the trail continues to be very good and we’re used to the humidity. Also we’re excited to be reaching our high camp. The steel 50-foot bridge that crosses the Hoh spans high in the gorge and is entertaining.

The wooden and steel-cabled ladder through an eroded section of trail (see photos and topo) was rickety but not too bad. Indeed, getting to and from the Blue Glacier on summit day is mentally and physically much more taxing. :roll:

Glacier Meadows is completely melted out and there is a good source of fresh running water in the creek. I suppose if you are here in early season you would have to melt snow. The CG is below tree line and you can’t yet see the Blue Glacier or the surrounding peaks.
2017/07/25, Tuesday (Day 4)
Mount Olympus 7969
Mount Olympus - Middle Peak 7929
“Panic Peak” 6809

Summit day and we’re all psyched. Another day of perfect weather is expected. I forget exactly but we left camp about 6 AM. Another team of three left long before us and it would turn out another team of two would summit after us, seven total for the day.

We hike up the rocky trail to a level ridge at 5150’ that parallels the Blue Glacier for ¼ mile. From here we can see almost everything! On a cloudy or poor weather day I can understand how this peak could quickly become quite difficult if you’ve never been up it before. But on a clear day such as what we had, we could easily identify almost all of the important features: the Snow Dome area, the contouring traverse to Crystal Pass and Crystal Pass, Five Finger Ridge, and the West Peak true summit. And, as it would turn out, we could also follow tracks all the way up. We do not see the path up from the Blue Glacier towards Snow Dome as this is around the corner of the band of rock to the SW.

Descending the 200’ or so to the Blue is not much fun - pick your best route through the steep hard-pack and loose rock. I carried an extra liter of water which I leave on the snow for the return. It turns out we don’t need this and, if we did want extra water, we could have had our fill from running water along the rocks getting up to Snow Dome.

The start of the Blue Glacier is frozen and none of us feel the need to rope up. We do have our crampons on. We end up crossing the whole thing without roping up. Going up through the rock bands is mostly low angled snow and occasional rock. There’s a short flat section at the top of the rock at which point the snow slope kicks up to its highest angle for 200 feet or so before moderating the final 200 feet to the top of the Snow Dome.
A short distance later we can see some crevasses on the contouring traverse to Crystal Pass. We decide to rope up here and continue that way to the Pass. We un-rope just beyond the Pass and never rope up again for the rest of the trip.
I’ve attached a topo with our GPS tracks and the features clearly labeled. Beyond Crystal Pass the way was pretty obvious, again following the helpful foot prints. I had read you slot through the false summit so, as long as you know which is the false summit, you’re good to go. A quick descent on rock and a short up hill on snow gets you to the summit block.
We had brought two small diameter 30m ropes, slings, and a bunch of ‘biners for glacier travel and we now re-purpose those for some rock climbing. We also had a small rack so we had sufficient flexibility for leading and rappelling. Kurt had gotten a photo from a friend before we left and that, combined with some description I pulled off The Mountaineers website, confirmed our path.

Jim takes off and winds up doing a great job finding and leading two zig-zag pitches to just short of the summit. The first pitch is mostly loose ledges with a 15-foot vertical section of 4th class to a belay (full 30 meters with some rope management). The 2nd pitch is wild, with a short exposed 5.2 section directly on the ridge crest before the belay, again a full 30 meters with rope management. We also led the final easy 25 feet or so to the summit. There was no fixed gear or belays on the “ledges” route we did. The other three guys are sort of still up there but now making their way down the rappel.
It’s quite the summit on a beautiful, clear day. Fantastic. Hiking during the day seemed to alternate between excessively hot and cool depending on whether or not there was a breeze. The cool breeze on the summit necessitated an extra layer or two.
The summit area is basically a short ridge with some flat in between. The rappel is on the opposite side of our ascent. The two 30m ropes, now tied together, easily reach the snow from a large block fitted with many fixed slings and cords. The bottom of the rappel is a small flat area at the top of the snow hill we first started climbing to get to the start of our “ledges” route, maybe 50 feet or so higher (see photo). There is actually a gap at the bottom of the rappel between the wall and snow due to melting, but this was easily negotiated.

We rap down and the three guys are still fiddling around in the snow. At or near the false summit, Jim suggests we go over and check out Middle Peak, a relatively short distance away. Kurt declines and eventually returns to camp with the other group of three guys. We re-gear, Jim and I taking both ropes and making sure we have slings and pro.
We walk easily over to a natural looking starting point just left of the center of the rock face, where some ledges angle up to the left. Once again Jim confidently leads the first two pitches and, again, winds up just short of the summit. As we discover repeatedly during the day, we all have trouble gauging distances in this environment for some reason. So, what looked like many pitches to me from the bottom of Middle Peak to the summit, was actually just a little more than two zig-zag pitches. The 1st pitch we did angled up left on good but loose ledges and then cut back right to the 1st belay. The second pitch then followed the path of least resistance up and right and then straight up. The 2nd pitch was remarkably loose and at one point Jim trundled a large boulder that smashed into the snow slope below. Both pitches were in the 3rd-4th class range. A final 25 feet or so of easy but, again, loose leading deposited us on the summit.

Again, beautiful views and a nice summit register. It was water-logged so we left our own card. We were very happy to tag this second summit! We had no idea how to get off the thing and, again, we were fooled with what appeared to be long distances. In the end we extended and rapped off some old fixed slings and the 30m rap took us to some dirt ledges which we walked, angling down 30 feet or so to a horn which we slung, and then rapped the final 25 feet to very near our starting point. I’m guessing that two 50m ropes would have gotten us back to the snow in one rap.
We made quick work of the walk back to Crystal Pass then continued back to Snow Dome. We decided to do Panic Peak as well and explore the research structure over there. We met the last two guys who summated Olympus after us on the way to Panic and they suggested we contour N around Snow Dome on our return for a nice shortcut (see topo). (They couldn’t take the shortcut because they had dropped their packs on Snow Dome and had to go back that way.)
We got up Panic Peak easily enough and headed back for camp. Everything went quickly. The Blue was now softer in places but we didn’t rope up. Leaving the Blue and climbing back up the ridge was, as expected, a pain, but we were then on our way back down the snow and trail to Glacier Meadows and Kurt, arriving for a late dinner.
Start/End Loc: Glacier Meadows CG, Olympic National Park
Distance/Elevation for Olympus, Middle, and Panic: ~13 miles RT/~5300 feet elevation gain

2017/07/26, Wednesday (Day 5)
Un 6351

Restless Jim is not to be denied, so off we go on another adventure. :D Actually, we had spotted this peak on the return yesterday and I had scoped out a path through the grass and trees (mostly), avoiding the steep manky stuff to gain the ridge. Our ascent started out okay, but then Jim made a beeline to the ridge which wasn’t to my liking. As can be seen in the topo, I descended back to my original contour at 4840’-5000’ and then up steeply on a grassy/rocky slope to the ridge where we happened to reconvene at the same time. From there it was fun and easy hiking to the top of 6351. Another perfect weather day and this time, for this peak, we don’t have to carry up all our shit, er, I mean gear.

Since we came back down more or less my way, you can ask Jim and Kurt which is the better way. I had lost a pole on the way up, so I retraced my steps back to where we had split up earlier. But it was not to be and I returned to Glacier Meadows empty handed.

We pack up and head down the 7 miles to Lewis Meadow CG for the night, retrieving our stash of food. It was a knee-burner of a descent for us.

Start/End Loc: Glacier Meadows CG, Olympic National Park
Distance/Elevation for 6351: ~5.5 miles RT/2813 feet elevation gain
2017/07/27, Thursday (Day 6)

Only 10.5 miles and we’re out, back at our car. We pay for some showers at the place I mentioned above and we’re good to go, driving around the N side of the park this time, getting a hotel in Port Angeles.

2017/07/28, Friday (Day 7)

Jim suggests a morning hike up a local peak before I drop them off at SEA-TAC later in the day, and normally I wouldn’t hesitate, but I say I’m taking a self-imposed rest day before heading to do Mt Adams. So instead we take the winding road S up to Hurricane Ridge and the visitor center. There’s a spotting scope and we get good views of Olympus. Again, another perfect weather day.

We stop in Tacoma for a walk and visit the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. Our adventure ends when I drop Jim and Kurt off at SEA-TAC ticketing.
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