I’ve been to Olympus three times already and never made it to the summit. Needless to say, this peak is my nemesis. To break the spell, I scheduled a five-day trip with the aim of climbing both Mt. Olympus and Mt. Tom – a rarely climbed peak about as far away from any trailhead as a peak can get.
On day 1, we drove to the Hoh Ranger Station, stopping at the WIC in Port Angeles for our permit and bear canisters along the way. We hiked the Hoh River Trail 15.2 miles to Elk Lake where we made camp at the group site.
Day 2, we hiked up to the lateral moraine, crossed the Blue Glacier, and worked our way up to the rocky slopes on the side of Panic Peak, near the UW research station. There, we met the caretaker, David Skinner, who generously offered to supply us with melted snow for the duration of our stay. David is a fixture in the summer, and quite the friendly host. If you camp there, consider bringing him a pershing donut (his favorite kind) or some other treat to thank him for all the hard work he does maintaining the historic structure up there and melting water for climbers. We made camp on the side of Panic Peak, about 200’ below the summit. There are beautiful campsites there with awesome views of Olympus and Tom. The sunsets, moonrises, and sunrises were out of this world. It can be quite windy there, so factor that into your tent/bivy choice.
Day 3, we were off to climb Mt. Tom. There are three bumps on the ridge just west of Mt. Olympus. The correct notch to pass through is the one between the two bumps on the right. (We made the mistake of going through the other notch and had to backtrack a bit.)
From the notch, we dropped a couple hundred feet down the snow until a notch on the adjoining ridge that leads to arguably the most horrible, nasty scramble I’ve ever been experienced. We divided into two groups (3 people and 4 people) to descend to the snow below. One of our party decided that it was too exposed and too crumbly, so he returned to the ridge to await our return. Total time to get two groups down this section was about 3 hours. It could easily be done in less time with a smaller group of more confident scramblers. Whatever you do – stay close together and move very, VERY carefully! (One party member knocked a large rock loose that almost ended in a double MOFA incident.)
Once we were on the snow, the remainder of the climb went quickly. We stayed left and high to attain the ridge leading to the summit of Mt. Tom. Camp to summit: 8 hours.
After examining the summit register we concluded that we were the first party in 2012 and only the second party in two years to reach the summit. This is truly a rarely climbed peak.
After relaxing for a bit, we headed down. Ascending the loose gully was much easier than going down it naturally, and we were back at camp in no time. Summit to camp: 3 ½ hours. Since we were so close to the summit of Panic Peak, we all made the easy trip to the top to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean and the lights of Victoria come on to the north. This is honestly one of the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen.
Day 4 dawned early and we roped up for an attempt on Mt. Olympus. We reached Crystal Pass in about 45 minutes and the base of the rock not too long afterwards. The hardest part of the climb was getting everyone off the snow and onto the summit block. We rigged a hand line so no one would slip. Then it was an easy scramble to the top. We descended back to camp, where David had pitchers of ice cold koolaid and lawn chairs waiting for us. (This man is my hero!)
We enjoyed a much needed break before packing up and heading back across the Blue Glacier and down to Elk Lake again. A couple logs extend out into the lake and make the perfect diving platform for a plunge in the cool (but not cold) waters. After three days on the glacier, the swim was very welcome!
Day 5, we packed up and hiked 15.2 miles to the TH. All in all a most excellent trip!