Getting ThereClimbed: 3-7 May
Route: Blue Glacier
We met in Seattle, brother Axe and our father Old Guide (more on the name later). Our first stop was at REI for stove fuel and other last minute items. We had ordered a 4 season tent rental for the week since none of us owned one. When we picked up the tent the REI saleperson asked us where we were going. We told him Mt. Olympus was our goal. This provoked a chuckle and the comment that we’d be lucky to get to the glacier this time of year. He then proceeded to ask us to initial the rental form saying if the tent came back excessively wet they would have to charge us extra to dry it. Since we were heading into the Hoh Rain Forrest I asked him if he was serious. He was. So the humor of the trip was started at the REI rental counter.
Heading north we went took the ferry from Edmonds without any problems. A few hours later we were in Sequim where we stayed the night. Our goal was to pack all the gear we brought into our 3 packs and still be able to carry it. We went to Port Angeles to Olympic Mountaineering (no longer in existance) to pick up a water filter for the one I forgot at home. The staff was very helpful and friendly and provided better beta and encouragement than we got at REI.
On the TrailMonday morning dawned rainy and cool. The drive to the Hoy Ranger Station was uneventful. We signed in with the ranger on duty and found out we were the only group on the mountain. Back at the truck we reorganized our gear and headed up the trail around noon.
After 5 miles Old Guide exclaims “I forgot the map!” Considering he told us at the car he was taking his so we didn’t need the other copy which I took out. I briefly calculate the work required to drop my pack, run back to the truck, run to my pack and then catch up. As I said I briefly considered it. So the only map we had was our memory and some photocopies from the guidebook. Old Guide is a name given to dad from his hiking and hunting friends many years ago. Appropriate then and definitely now. We continued on in the rain while the trail followed along the river and through the woods. Since it was early in the season the trail crews hadn't made it very far on the trail. Several sections of the trail were washed out and now part of the river. In some places a 'new' trail was marked. Other areas we were on our own to bushwack throught the thick woods. The lesson learned here was to stay as close to the river as possible while looking to pick up the trail again. Camp was set up in a meadow at mile 10.
After a good night of rest we geared up for the hard part of the hike in. To this point the trail is almost level with a minor 100 foot gain in altitude every mile. The last 8 miles climb from 1100 feet to 4500 feet. The rain continued. As we climbed in altitude we got wetter since less moss was on the trees. In many places along the trail the ground was completely dry due to the size of the trees and the quantity of moss absorbing the rain before it hit the ground.
The last couple miles from Elk Lake the trail was often snow packed with plenty of washouts in the narrow valleys. Most were easy to cross but we did have to pull the rope out once to cross a large washout. The last mile of trail was above snowline. We arrived to a snowed in Glacier Meadow with no recent sign of visitors. After setting up the tent in the rain Axe and I went scouting before it got dark. As we climbed towards the moraine the rain turned to snow. Even with the limited visibility Axe was able to take some photos. Not being optimistic about our options we hiked back to camp for dinner and some well deserved rest. So far we were excessively wet.
The following morning dawned with blue sky and plenty of sun. We quickly packed up and headed to the moraine where we were greeted by the Blue Glacier. After working our way down the moraine we roped up and started heading up stream towards the summit. The blue sky gave way to successive waves of clouds moving across the highest point in the peninsula. It took several hours to head up the slope to the top of the snow dome; a very well named pile of snow! Now we were in the clouds only getting glimpses of the summit group.
Being so early in the season the glacier was very smooth and untracked. We chose to traverse in front of the false summit due to the amount of snow on the opposite side which we couldn’t scout. The bergschrund in front of the false summit was easy to cross on the snow bridges. The push from the false summit to the West Peak climbed a large snow deposit leading us about 50 feet shy of the summit. The summit was covered with snow pack and ice. At this point we had climbed for eight hours. The thought of coming this far and not being able to summit was an option we had to consider. I found a line on the NE section that was a mix of ice and rock. With my trusty axe and sharp front points I started up the short pitch without any issue. The summit was pristine. I tied into a large rock used as a rap station and belayed Axe and Old Guide up before we headed up to the summit. The weather kept us in zero visibility for awhile before it would break for a spell. We never could see farther than the closest section of the Snow Dome.
The summit was only half the trip but 80% of the day, we still had to get back to camp. Our reverse trip went smoothly since we could follow the track we left on the way in. Even being early May the darkness didn’t arrive until we were on the top of the lateral moraine above Glacier Meadows. We arrived back at camp after 14.5 hours on the move. Dinner was quickly prepared and consumed before bed.
The sun stayed with us the next day allowing us to dry out a little. The weather was excellent allowing us great views that were denied on the way in. The Ranger’s cabin at mile marker 9.1 is a great place to stop and dry out an excessively wet REI tent.
ice screws – not taken but could have been used on the summit.