The Long Blue March

Page Type
Trip Report
Washington, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Aug 9, 2002
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Created On: Aug 23, 2002
Last Edited On:
My Suunto flashed 7:20 p.m. by the time Barclay and I loaded the newly acquired ropes onto our packs. I'm not even going to get into the story about what we had to do to get a pair of the 9mm drys, but suffice it to say: "CatLu, we love you!"

The rest of our party was camped at Olympic Guard, some nine miles in. Barclay and I were each carrying pack weights in the mid-60 lb. range and it would be getting dark soon.

"Let's boogie," I said, and we were off, hiking as fast as we could. The Hoh rain forest rushed past in a blur of darkened green and mosquito clouds. We stopped only a few times and never more than two or three minutes--a gear adjustment here, a Clif bar for dinner there, and ultimately to pull out a headlamp as the evening grew black.

"Take my headlamp," Barclay said.

"I have one, too."

"No time. I'll follow you."

So from Five Mile Island to our camp, it was just the two of us hiking as fast as we dared behind the glow of a single Petzl, me shouting, "Root! Puddle! Branch! Slug!" just a step or two before Barclay encountered the trail hazard and avoided it. We came across one of our party's wands a little after ten and followed the pink bamboo blazes back to a collection of tents near the river. We set up camp in the dark and retired until the next morning...

...waking up as heroes. Every member of our party congratulated us on the successful rope acquisition mission--really, quite a good story--and offered to carry our gear, feed us breakfast, filter our water, etc. We set out a few hours later for Glacier Meadows and spent a fine day hiking, chatting, and drinking in the marvels of the Hoh (so much nicer than in the dark). A four point deer wandered through our camp and rumors of a bear and her cubs kept the second night interesting, but after reviewing the Blue Glacier route with the three rangers at Glacier Meadows, our party of ten felt confident and hopeful for a successful summit the next day.

Summit day started with a 3:00 a.m. wake-up and unnaturally warm breezes. The hike to the lateral moraine was a short one and dawn broke just as we mounted the ridge above the Blue Glacier. Finally, we saw what we had come to climb...Mt. Olympus. We scrambled/scree-skiied down the crumbing trail to the glacier and put on harnesses, crampons and extra layers to take the edge off of the cooler breezes. Five to a rope and our teams were off across the Blue, echelon formation, jumping crevasses and other icy irregularities as we worked our way to the opposite side of the glacier and the snow slopes that would lead us to Snow Dome. Our team quickly found their rhythm and we moved well, Barclay leading the first team and Tim heading up my rope. I swept. Someone saw bear tracks to our right...

Our group worked our way south and then east up onto Snow Dome. The snow was in good condition despite the warmer than anticipated temperatures. Fingers of rock and ice reached up around us in all directions. We took pictures and sucked down Gu and Gatorade. Clouds cloaked the summit blocks, but the ranger's trail from the previous day was obvious and we climbed across the vast snow fields toward Crystal Pass for more pictures and Gatorade, marching easily around the crevasses as we went. After climbing up and around another moderate snow slope, out teams scrambled through a rocky gap and down into a bowl. The clouds broke from the top as if on cue. Another slope of 45-50 degrees led to the actual summit block--Barclay blasted out a set of monster steps up and to the left and our parties prepared for the technical rock.

Ellen went first, setting the fixed rope for prussik scrambling around to the south of the block. The exposed scrambling was straight-forward with views all around the Olympics and beyond to Rainier. Ellen went ahead and set the second fixed line to the summit while Barclay cleaned up the pro from the first rope. Someone had said that the pitch to the summit was rated 5.6, but most of our party questioned that. Even in plastic Scarpa Invernos it was an easily little scramble up a short chimney and around to the USGS survey marker and summit log. Sun. Gatorade. Gu. It was a perfect day on top of the Olympic Range's highest mountain...

...of course, we were only half-way done with the climb.

We scrambled around down to the northwest face of the block and did a two-rope rappel back to the top of the steep snowfield. Tim went first, followed by Barclay. We regrouped at the base and down-climbed the steep slope facing in toward the mountain, ice axe firmly planted for self-belay with each step down. We scrambled back up out of the bowl and down through the rocks, roped up again on the backside, and made our way back toward the Blue. It was an easy pace and again, on cue, clouds whipped back around the summit behind us. A perfect climb...

...almost. On the last snow slope leading back onto the Blue, the climb leader, Mr. C., blew out a step and landed hard on his shoulder. He asked me to help him adjust his pack. I offered to carry some of his gear.

"No, just help me snap it up." I obliged and we continued down across the cracks and crevasses of the Blue, zig-zagging our way around puddles of ice blue and frosty white. At the base of the lateral moraine, Mr. C pulled aside Jeannie, a physical therapist, and muttered, "I think I dislocated my shoulder."

Jeannie and I crafted a sling to immobilize it for the walk out with a foam pad, oversized handkerchief, safety pins and Ace bandages--as good Mazamas, we had everything we needed for first aid--while the rest of his gear was divided up among the rest of the team for pack-out. The leader moved slowly but surely and an hour or so later we were back at Glacier Meadow. The rangers provided cold packs and offered comfortable accommodations. Pain-killers of varying strengths were offered to dull the ache. And, as serendipity would have it, there was an orthopedic surgeon who just happened to be in camp that night who was able to assess our leader's injuries and prescribe some temporary remedies. Of course. Things were looking up for the 18 mile march out the following day, and the elusive bear and her cubs finally showed up in camp around dinner time until Allison the Edgy Ranger came by and chased them out with harsh words and rocks. (Thanks for letting me chase the bears, too, Allison!)

The leader left early in the morning with an escort and bearing no weight. A rear guard of six of us swept the camp, collected the rest of the gear, and followed him out an hour or so later. Our pack weights varied now, but I figured we were all sporting almost 70-75 lbs. each. (And I thought you were supposed to have less weight on the trip out...?) We set off under huge old growth trees, over rocky paths to the log crossing at roughly the 16 mile mark from the parking lot. Tim and I were talking about something Portland, I think, when--

POP!!! My right ankle turned, rolled and snapped. Instantly my conversation degraded into a series of "F**k! F**k! F**K!!!" I knew instantly that it was sprained. Tim got me to sit down and see if I could move it while I continued my chorus of "F**k! F**k!"

16 miles from the cars.
Heavy pack and no one to dump it on.
A throbbing right ankle.
This was going to suck.

After some more curses, Jeannie once again was taping another injured party member. It was already puffy and swollen. Duct tape, another Ace bandage, and a Motrin/Gatorade cocktail kept the ankle from rolling but still allowed me to walk with the aid of my Leki poles. I refused offers to off-load pack weight with, "No! No f**king way!" and gingerly hobbled along. "I have to keep moving!" Tim shadowed me for a while, then Barclay, then Jeannie and Carolyn, then Glenn. Every step was an exercise in focus and concentration to keep the ankle from protesting too loudly. I tried to focus on short-term goals: Just get over that little rise in the trail. Just get to Olympus Guard. I tried to distract myself with mental games to make the time pass...Journey's "Separate Ways/Worlds Apart" and every other song from their "Greatest Hits" album went through my head approximately 145 times. I focused on breathing regularly. I thought about my daughter Kendall back home. Slowly, so slowly I continued along. Step-hop-breath! Step-hop-breath! We stopped every 60-90 minutes. I did notice that after every break miscellaneous items from my pack would disappear and strangely end up on Tim's pack, or Barclay's...

So it went for seven hours until, blessedly, we came upon packs of pretty-smelling tourists in blue jeans--after many miles on a trail, you begin to distrust those with good hygiene. The path became filled with more and more cologne until finally, blessedly, the glorious sheet of asphalt that was the Hoh Ranger Station parking lot welcomed us back with...dare I say, "Open Arms"...?

Our leader had fractured his shoulder, we eventually learned.

I suffered a class III sprain and took a little bone chip with it and am typing this from the confines of a Western Walker boot cast and crutches.

Almost every other person on the climb complained of foot pain related to the 18 mile march out and I don't think anyone is eager to repeat this mountain in the near future, but you know...

It was still the best climb I've ever done.


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