Mt. Olympus is one of my favorite peaks in the Wasatch range for many reasons. With the trailhead literally less than a half an hour from anywhere in the Salt Lake valley it’s accessibility is incredible for a peak of this caliber and that is why I usually climb it a few times each year in every season. I have stood on the summit of Olympus more times than any other peak, so I do have a fondness for this jagged gem that ruggedly rises from the valley floor and seems to draw the attention of anyone looking eastward in the valley.
My favorite and most memorable ascent of Olympus was a winter climb with my good friend Craig. The conditions were ripe to give us more of a technical challenge than usual and it ended up being a truly memorable winter day in the Wasatch. We had both been on the mountain enough to know that a winter ascent can usually be done without crampons or ice axes, but I decided to throw my axe on the back of my pack anyway and Craig wanting to be prepared for the worst, added crampons to his, even though we knew they likely would not be necessary.
We met at the trailhead at 5:00 AM, wanting to get an early start. It was a weekday and ours were the only cars at the trailhead, so we knew that we would be alone on this hike, which is very unusual for this mountain. On a typical summer day the parking lot is completely full with hikers littering the trail, but on a weekday in the winter you can get lucky and have the place all to yourself, which is just what Craig and I like. We quickly got ready and I opted to put on my gaiters, while Craig waited until we reached the snow. While looking at the summit from the valley the day before, I estimated that the snow level was about 7,500 ft. We made good time and quickly set a brisk pace. It was very cold, but within a few minutes we were both plenty warm, as we were pushing our way up the relatively steep trail. The conversation was fantastic and we talked about our future plans for peak bagging and climbing and the time seemed to be moving quickly.
As we started to climb higher, the lights in the valley below were incredible, as the sun had still not made it’s way out and I could not help but think about all of the poor souls mindlessly making their way into the office for another day at work. These are the days I live for and it always puts a smile on my face to skip out on work and get into the mountains. When we finally reached the snow, we took a break so Craig could put on his gaiters and I made some gear adjustments as well. The snow was unusually very hard and icy and there were a few spots where we had to take care, when the slope was a little steeper below, especially when we moved over the rocky areas. Eventually, when the slope got steeper, the trail was really icy and we were slipping all over and the ascent became much more tedious. Craig opted to put on his crampons and immediately his traction improved, while I continued to slip and slide my way up. There was a packed in trail and that is where it was the most slick, so I had to move just off of the foot path to get a little better traction and I was using my ice axe for balance.
Because of the slick trail, the ascent took much longer than usual and it took us about two hours to reach the saddle, where we stopped to take another break. After a quick snack and another gear adjustment, we were off for the summit. The scramble up to the top was definitely the most challenging that I have ever had on Olympus, because the boulders were all covered in ice and were much more slippery than they usually are. We both had to take care not to slip and I was using my axe to help pull me up and over some of the slicker boulders, a technique that actually worked quite well. There were several rocks and boulders to get over that in the summertime are a breeze, but on this day we definitely had to take care on some of these rocks, because they were slick and slippery and while a fall would probably not be fatal, it could probably be somewhat nasty.
The snow got deeper towards the top and it was quite clear that the skies were not going to give us the view that we had hoped for and upon reaching the summit the clouds had enveloped the mountain and we could not even see the North summit. We both called some friends at work to rub it in, as they were stuck in front of their computers, while we were recreating in this beautiful outdoor theatre. We both had a snack and the air began to feel much colder as the cold wind pounded our sweat soaked faces, so we decided to make the summit stay a quick one. The clouds had cleared some and the North summit came into view, but the valley was nowhere to be seen, as the thick clouds still covered the mountain.
We were careful on the descent to make sure of our footing, because of the icy rocks and it took a little longer than normal to get back to the saddle and once there we did not stay long, because we both wanted to make an appearance in the office, so we quickly hiked back down in the snow. The trail was still hard and icy and we had to use caution on several places and I lost my footing a few times and slipped on the snow.
When we had descended past the snow, we were able to make great time and we both pushed really hard to get down quickly. The clouds cleared and the valley below came into view, so we stopped to take a brief break to take in the views, but after a few minutes we both wanted to get moving so we pushed fast to the trailhead. This had been a fun hike and Olympus had given us more than we thought she would and the little extra effort made this a rewarding day to be remembered.