Monday, July 31, 2006

I just got back yesterday from a beautiful 5 day climbing trip with the Mazamas to Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park.

The trip started on Tuesday night when we drove up to Kalaloch Lodge on the Olympic coast. Several of us camped at a nearby campsite, but the lodge has cabins for rent and a great restaurant. It looks like it would be a nice place for a weekend on the coast. Wednesday morning the rest of group gathered at the Hoh River visitor Center and at 10am we started our journey.

The approach is a 17.5 mile hike which is mostly flat for the first 12.5 miles then launches up 4000 feet in the last 5 miles. Except for a couple of very bad slides in the last mile, the trail is one of the best maintained trails I've seen and wanders along next to the Hoh River in a dense forest of old growth trees, moss and ferns.

Wednesday night we camped about 9 miles in at the Olympus Guard Station (OGS) campground. We had a perfect site next to the Hoh River. The afternoon was warm so we headed into the river to soak and enjoy the sun. Thursday we knocked off the second half off the approach hike and camped at Glacier Meadows campground about a mile below the Blue Glacier. Along the way we stopped to swim in Elk Lake which was almost as warm as bath water.

Friday morning we woke at 1am and started the climb at 2am. By 3am we were roped up and on the Blue Glacier. The bottom half of the glacier is heavily crevassed and mostly water ice (hence the name Blue Glacier). We crossed most the bad sections in the dark with just our headlamps which made it especially "interesting". Unfortunately none of my night time photos turned out. As we approached the steeper slopes below the snow dome the sun was rising and provided us with some pretty spectacular views. Once on top of the snow dome we traversed a snow field over to Crystal Pass and climbed a short steep pitch of 60 degree snow. A little more snow and some easy scrambling and we arrived below the summit block around 9am.

The summit block proved to be a real bottleneck with two different climbing clubs already on it. One group was off route and a significant rock fall had cut their lead rope. The other group helped the lead climber get to a safe anchor then continued on to the summit. We waited for a couple of hours and after nothing seemed to be happening skirted by the stuck group and finished fixing ropes to the summit. The correct route is low 5th class, maybe even 4th and I'd like to lead it myself when I climb Olympus again.

After helping the rest of the stuck group to the summit and back down, our group finally arrived on the summit around noon. After the obligatory summit photos we downclimbed/repelled the summit block and started the descent back to camp. Along the way we had more beautiful views including a birds eye view of the heavily crevassed glacier we had crossed earlier in the dark. We finally arrived back in camp around 6pm Friday night, after 16 hours on the climb.

The weather up until this point had been warm and sunny with clear blue skies. By the time we reached camp the skies had clouded over, it was colder and there were reports of a 30% change of rain the next two days. We had some discussion about trying to exit in one day instead of two but decided to play it by ear and see how the next day went.

Saturday morning we woke up, broke camp and headed out around 8am. About an hour after leaving camp one of our team fell on the difficult part of the trail and severely sprained their ankle, still 17 miles in and with 4 miles of steep, downhill trail ahead of us. Fortunately our team included 3 Wilderness First Responders, a nurse, a physical therapist, a chiropractor and several Mountaineering First Aid graduates. We almost had too many people rushing in to help. After assessing the situation and doing what first aid we could, we decided to send a couple people ahead to inform the ranger at OGS and inquire about exit options while the rest of us continued on down the trail.

Once we reached the flats at 12.5 miles the trail become much easier and we made good time, arriving at OGS around 4pm. The ranger there had contacted a horse train that was in the area and asked if they could help. They were already booked and the soonest they could help us would be sometime Sunday afternoon so we decided to we'd see how the sprain was in the morning and attempt to head out at easy pace. Shortly after dinner it started to rain so we made a quick plan for the next day and retired to our tents.

On Sunday we woke at 4am, broke camp and left at 5am. Even though it continued to rain all morning, the rest of the trail was basically flat so we made good time and arrive back at the trailhead around 11am. On our way home we stopped by the Kalaloch Lodge for the usual post-climb burger and beer feast.

Except for the mishap on our exit and a little rain on Sunday, it was a perfect climb. The weather was perfect, we had a great team and the views were amazing! The hike in to Glacier Meadows is very peaceful and would make a great 4 day backpacking trip even without the climb. It was my 4th or 5th trip to Olympic National Park and it continues to be my favorite.

My complete photo album can be view here.

Next up... a 3 day climb of Sahale Peak in the North Cascades and getting ready for my trip to Russia to climb Mount Elbrus which is only two weeks away.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Nice report, Chuck. The only thing I wouold add is that on the first day of our hike out, after our "incident" occurred, we encountered a teacher who played the recorder for us. The sound traveled so nicely we had beautiful music for over 20 minutes which really helped keep our/my spirits up for a bit. He played beautiful songs and was amazing!