I got invited to an expedition to Mt. Olympus for Labor Day, 2007. Mt. Olympus is a long way from my home in Medford, Oregon so I started a few days early with the plan of tagging Grays Harbor County Highpoint as a warm up hike. On Wednesday afternoon I left Medford and drove all the way to the Copper Creek trailhead. This is about an 8 hour drive, mostly freeway except for the last 45 miles.
It was dark and getting late as I drove past Wynoochee Lake on my way to the trailhead. I found the last turn where you go straight off the main road to the trailhead and followed this up until it started getting rough. I backed up a little to a wide spot where it looked like others had parked and crawled in my Tacoma Hilton for the night.
Early the next morning I got ready and headed up the road towards Copper Creek. I was surprised that it was so close. I almost drove into it the night before. This is a BIG washout about 100 ft across and 20 ft deep. I found a trail to the left down through the creekbed and up the other side. On the other side I found the continuation of the road, wide and level heading northwest. The road had lots of grass growing on it and it was pleasant walking. I wondered why it wasn’t climbing, but I was enjoying this easy hiking. I kept going. I followed the road for about a mile before it ended. How did I get on the wrong trail? No option except to back track and find the correct road.
I went all the way back to Copper Creek and then noticed a much smaller road that was gravel covered, somewhat overgrown, and was just east of the one I was on. These two roads branch right at Copper Creek and I just took the first one I came to. I should have looked around and taken the road that actually goes uphill.
The correct road gains elevation steadily as it makes one long switchback and climbs up from about 1,625 ft to 3,000 ft. The road then loops around the end of a ridge and winds up to a small pass at about 3,500 ft. Here I found the spur road to the right and followed it until it ended. Well, the other route descriptions I read said to just climb this steep slope to the top. I turned left and headed east up a little creek area that was covered with tall wildflowers, grass, and small trees. The route became steep in a hurry. I was only a half mile from the summit, but had to climb 1,400 ft. I opted to head for some trees on the west ridge to avoid the brush that was getting thick. It took an effort to bushwhack about 200 ft over to the trees. It was easier climbing under the trees, but it was still very steep.
I climbed up to about 4,000 ft and where there was a large rock wall blocking the way on the ridgeline proper. I decided to go right and try to climb the ridge from that direction. This was a big mistake I made it up to about 4,300 ft before becoming cliffed out. I had already climbed about 100 ft up Class 3 stuff that may have been Class 4. I had to climb back down to 4,000 ft and go left around that large rock wall. It was still steep on this side, but at least it kept going and it wasn’t Class 4 stuff. There were a few areas where I had to use the vegetation to get up to the next level. It is nice for Mother Nature to provide vegetable belays for peakbaggers.
I kept climbing, seeking the easiest route, but having difficulty. I knew I had to get to the top of the western ridge at some point, so I kept looking for ways to do that. When I got on top of the ridge, the climbing wasn’t much easier, because there were still lots of boulders and some brush. I kept going until I saw a little cairn ahead of me in the middle of a flat spot on a boulder. That’s a strange place for a cairn. I hadn’t seen a cairn all day. I had to investigate. I climbed up on the boulder and the cairn contained the register for the Grays Harbor County Highpoint.
Finally, I reached my goal for the day. It had taken me forever because of two wrong routes and lots of route finding once I left the road. The views from up here are fantastic. I just sat and stared at Mt. Olympus and the Olympic Mountains. Such a clear beautiful day. I ate lunch and relaxed. I also scoped out a better way down. There is a little bowl on the northwest side of the highpoint and it looked like I could get down there without too many problems. From there, it looked like I could head west, straight down to the spur road that I could see below me. The key words here are “straight down”.
When I had rested I made my way down to the bowl, and then headed west and a little south. I didn’t want to go all the way back over to the west ridge, so I tried to find a more direct route. I was following this little creekbed and then it came to a steep cliffy area. This is actually really steep and I wouldn’t be able to climb up it, but going down there was lots of brush and branches. So, I headed down using vegetable belays to lower myself down about 125 ft before I could get some good footing again and not use the vegetation.
I followed the creekbed back to the spur road and safety. I had survived and felt grateful that I only had to follow the road back to my truck. I got back to the truck 9 hours after I had started, covered 10.7 miles on this 7.5 mile hike and had over 3,800 ft of elevation gain. I was tired and beat up from the brush. I don’t know that there is an easy route to the highpoint of Grays Harbor. I don’t know if snow on the ground would have made the climbing any easier, because it would still be steep and there are some cliffs and rocks that snow might make more difficult. The good thing is that I can check this one off my list and I never have to go back and do it again.