17.4-mile approach starting at Hoh River Ranger Station/Trailhead to Glacier Meadows – 578 ft. to 4300 ft.
Roughly 6-mile ascent from Glacier Meadows to West Peak – 7,965 ft.
Allow 2-3 days for full hike and same amount of time out as in.
BRING BEAR CONTAINERS or find campsites with bear lines.
DAY 1 - THE APPROACH
After a wonderful homemade breakfast on July 5, 2011 in Sequim with good friends, EricD
hit the road for the Olympic National Park. We checked in at the ranger station in Forks, WA and the friendly ranger provided us with some good info. He recommended we get our permit at the Hoh River Ranger Station where they can give us more up-to-date route conditions up the West Peak. With that, we left vampire territory and headed to the only temperate rainforest in North America, about a 45 minute drive from Forks.
Gorgeous day on trail in rainforest!
Lots of fresh water sources along trail.
We stopped in the ranger station for permits and trail conditions but did not get too much help from the ranger on duty. After getting time-jacked listening to him, we finally hit the trail with a late start at 2 pm ...under sunny skies.
We were fortunate to have great weather and so the trail was in great shape with just a few muddy spots. No need for bug spray until the sun started to set. The rainforest trail runs along the Hoh River for most of the time and is relatively flat for about 13 miles. There are plenty of fresh water sources in addition to the river, but a filter is recommended.
There are several campsites along the 17.4 mile stretch to Glacier Meadows, which was our original goal for Day 1, some of which with ranger stations, huts, privies, and bear lines. However, as the sun started to set we decided to set up camp at the site right before Glacier Meadows called Elk Lake. A group on their way out helped change our mind by informing us that Elk Lake was swarming with mosquitoes and recommended we stay about a ¼ mile before and 100 feet below at Martin Creek which is about 15 miles into the trail. Turns out this was a great site for camp with a perfect water source that we drank from unfiltered. Others were already camped there too so MissH wasn’t as afraid of a bear stalking her. We got there just before dark around 9:30 pm, averaging about 2.5 miles per hour (3 miles per hour on flat part of trail).
Us at Martin Creek Campsite
Bear lines at campsite provided by NPS
The weather was so perfect that we decided not to use the rain fly on the tent. After setting up camp it was time for dinner. Although we used the Jetboil, this is the last campsite before fires are restricted and there were fire circles already setup with log benches.
DAY 2 - THE ASCENT
Fixed rope across avalanche chute.
We both slept well under a starry sky and gentle breeze in the forest, but morning came too soon for us. After a warm breakfast we started our trek to visit the West Peak of Mt. Olympus around 8:30 am. We still had a couple thousand feet to gain before reaching the moraine after Glacier Meadows and our pace was much slower than Day 1, even with the lighter packs. Most of the trail to Glacier Meadows is maintained although one section was washed out due to avalanches. NPS set up a rope for this section and we found that the only challenging parts of this part of the trail was dealing with trekking poles while holding the rope with both hands! also MissH realized the slight hazard of sending EricD rocks to duck on his way down.
Mountain goats running away
Rock outcropping at Blue Glacier
Glacier Meadows was not much farther but still quite an ascent. We reached Glacier Meadows around 11 am, discussed our route based on the information we received previously and the map at the un-manned ranger station, signed the climbers log to let them know our plans, put on gaiters and crampons, and then made way for the Blue Glacier. Although we found the snow quite soft this late in the day, EricD successfully led the way through the trees with MissH only postholing a few times! Every now and then we could see orange tape in the trees ...indicating the trail? We climbed up the moraine until we reached a rock outcropping and after scouting around to figure out how to get down the other side MissH spotted the long-lost trail along the moraine side and then ridge of the rock outcropping and we followed it to the end. However, while waiting for MissH to climb up the rocks, EricD spotted some mountain goats which we later learned are not natural to the area. As MissH topped out, they were scared away with the awful scraping noise of crampons on rock.
Snow Dome from Blue Glacier
Kick-stepping up Snow Dome
After walking along the rock outcropping we were able to descend it on the north end and traversed the Blue Glacier towards the Snow Dome. The Blue Glacier was a little crevassed with the biggest being about 3 or feet across but only a few feet deep – we found them to be jump-able and opted not to rope up. The Blue Glacier was probably 1 mile wide and took us about 30 minutes to slog through the soft ice to the Snow Dome.
From the Blue Glacier we could tell that many routes to the West Peak were very crevassed and unsafe for a two-person roped team, especially this late in the day. We decided to tackle the 2000-ft (or so) Snow Dome and if time allows make an attempt for West Peak if we see a relatively safe route. We found a direct path up the Snow Dome and began to kick step our way up. It took about 2 hours to get to the top and the view of the Olympics from there was worth it. It was already 4:30 pm so we decided that West Peak was out for us and instead bagged the nearby Panic Peak at about 7,300 feet. Not knowing the name of the peak until after we headed out we lovingly named it Hanric Peak.
Crevasses by West Peak
EricD and Hanric (Panic) Peak
We hung out on the peak, enjoying the 360-degree view the clear day offered and started our descent at 5 pm hoping to return to camp before dark. And we did get back just before dark around 9 pm.
DAY 3 - LEAVING THE RAINFOREST
After the two exhausting days, we decided to take our time and enjoy the morning at camp. So after a warm breakfast, we lazily broke down camp around 10 am and started the long hike out around 11 am, going back exactly the way we came in. We gratefully reached the parking lot around 5 pm with very tired and sore feet but with wonderful memories of our approximately 47-mile journey together.
Tired but had a great time.