I did not grow up around mountains, and despite the fact that I have lived in Utah for the past few years, they still retain the same majesty that captured me when I saw them for the first time. The most prominent peak in the Salt Lake Valley is Mt. Olympus as the valley floor abruptly transitions from flat terrain to rocky mountainside.
Olympus has a commanding view of the valley from its north face; however, the true summit that is commonly reached is actually a different ridge to the south which is separated by a narrow saddle. There are many routes to the top with varying degrees of difficulty, but the most popular is the Mt. Olympus trail.
I have planned on climbing Olympus alone a few Saturdays this summer, but for one reason or another it never came together. Buying some new approach shoes to be used on an upcoming climb gave me the motivation I needed to get out somewhere and break them in. (Not only that, but Olympus seemed like a good last minute training run to make sure that I am ready for bigger and better things.) I called up a friend, and we headed out early on a cool Thursday morning.
To the Saddle
The trail starts out fairly steep heading straight up, then starts heading south around towards the backside of the mountain. The unrelenting grade pays off as the view into the valley gets more impressive with every step. From the trail we had an unobstructed view of the shimmering lights in the Salt Lake Valley. We encountered some switchbacks along the way, but at this point in the hike, the trail is mainly comprised of long stretches working back into a small canyon.
The terrain in the beginning is arid rocky desert, but as we came further into the sheltered canyon, the vegetation surrounding the trail was lush and green. The weather was unusually cloudy and looked somewhat threatening. The humidity was noticeably higher and would remain so as we worked our way up to the saddle.
A little over a mile into the hike the trail crosses a small stream which is actually a destination for some hikers, but for the rest it is an indication that the real climb has begun. As we crossed the stream we noticed how little water there was, an indication of the extremely dry summer we have been experiencing in the West. After the stream crossing, the trail starts up a steep constant climb to the saddle. Well below the saddle the false-summit game starts as you look up and see light through the trees, and it seems like you are close, but you aren’t. It is an arduous climb and we kept a conversation going to keep our minds off the steep grade of the trail.
We finally reached the saddle and had a tremendous view south towards Big and Little Cottonwood canyons. We admired the towering Twin Peaks, and the narrow saddle that we had turned around from only weeks ago. We reaffirmed our commitment to return and finish the job sometime soon when we would have no time restrictions. The heavy cloud-cover looked ominous, and in the distance we could see clouds forming off of the ridge running from Lone Peak, it was quite a sight to behold.
To the Top
From the saddle the trail heads north to the summit cone. There are trees blown over on either side of the travel, probably the result of intense winter storms. The trail stops at the bottom of the cone and the scrambling section begins here. Just as we stashed our trekking poles to begin the climb, big drops of rain started falling from the churning clouds. The rocks were immediately slick and what is normally a fairly easy scramble turned into a treacherous pull.
We negotiated the climb and stood triumphantly on the top. We admired the 360-degree view and took a minute to catch our breaths. We thought it was interesting how you can look east from the top and see endless peaks and ridges, then look west and gaze upon the sprawled out Salt Lake Valley, already bustling with people just beginning their day. There was nowhere else we would rather be, especially not at work.
The rain stopped after about 15 minutes, and we stayed at the summit longer in hopes that the rocks would dry out for our descent to the saddle. They were, and we were able to quickly make our way down to the trail. As we entered back into the trees, we could feel the humidity surge; it felt like hiking through a jungle in South America. We slowly picked our way down the steep slopes, and back around towards the western side of the mountain. We were pleased not to encounter any rattlesnakes which have become prevalent on this mountain. After our experience on Twin Peaks, we will always keep an eye out on our surroundings.
The climb was a success. My shoes got broken in, and I knocked off another peak in our string of peaks climbed this summer.
"No matter how big a guy might be, Nicky would take him on. You beat Nicky with fists, he comes back with a bat. You beat him with a knife, he comes back with a gun. And you beat him with a gun, you better kill him, because he’ll keep coming back and back until one of you is dead."