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Krysten

[TR] Olympic Peninsula - Mt. Olympus Standard Route 07/13/2022

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Trip: Olympic Peninsula - Mt. Olympus Standard Route

Trip Date: 07/13/2022

Trip Report:

On not summiting Mt. Olympus & other reflections

My trip to Washington began with a deal: If I helped my parents stack some 200 hay bales in the loft of their barn, they would care for my dogs while I was out of town. So, not long after an uneventful nine-hour drive from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, I found myself in a spot I hadn’t occupied for at least a decade: sweating, itching, hay-fever-wheezing at the door of the hay loft hypnotized by the oppressive cranking and thumping of the ancient hay-grain elevator as it deposited bale after bale from the wagon below. Feeling excitement about the upcoming trip, I remarked to myself that I was pretty darn lucky—to be traveling at all, to be strong enough to take on both this labor and a mountaineering expedition, to be soon communing with an old growth rainforest—and as this feeling of gratitude welled up inside of me, I smiled at a Ram Dass quote that a teacher of mine shared a few weeks prior: if you think you are enlightened, go and spend a week with your family. In no time I was stretching my sore shoulders in the great silence of a job well done, anticipating a night of rest before an early morning flight to Seattle, and thinking that all things considered, I had done a pretty good job of meeting the anxieties of my mother with kindness and patience. As we approached the last of the barn chores for the evening, however, I would soon find that my task was far from complete. Hearing some thumping and sounds of exasperation from the hay loft, I discovered that my mother was upending each of the bales we’d just spent the afternoon neatly stacking—apparently, the bales were wound too tightly, hadn’t been dried enough, and were at risk for molding if we left them in the loft. So, cutting into the thin hours of the night, we pored over each bale, separating the wet from the dry ones, and ultimately loaded all 200 of them back onto the wagon below. After a hasty shower, 3AM found me headed to the airport grateful that I’d at least get some sleep on the plane.

I begin this report with my absurd haybale story because it helps to introduce the unexpected nature of the lessons that this trip offered—the meeting of new and old selves, and the recontextualization of the people most important to me. Having spent the summer up to this point inundated with images and stories of my partner emilio’s wild forays into the mountains (see the trip reports from their climbs here & here) I didn’t quite know what to expect from a climb up Olympus, but knew that this experience would be life-changing. I hoped to remain open to the teachings of the landscape and set off with the slightly misguided but well-intentioned goal of being humbled by the mountain.

On July 12, after a much-needed meal and rest at the home of our endlessly kind friends Adam & Monica, emilio and I entered the Hoh Rainforest. Never before had I experienced such a happy ecosystem—I was used to the sick soil of coal country back in northeast PA, accustomed to the spindly birch trees and mountain laurel that form a forlorn kind of beauty in an ecosystem struggling to recover from a long history of fracking and mining. While the Olympic peninsula certainly faces its own ecological challenges, I was floored by the weight and wisdom of the forest’s ferns, mosses, the enormous Douglas Fir and Red Cedar trees—and the clear blue waters of the Hoh! I remember saying to emilio, this is where water comes to forget the hard angles of pipes and plumbing. Needless to say, the ten-mile hike to Lewis Meadow on our first day in the park consisted of me repeating, each time with renewed wonder, “Wow, look at that tree!” By late afternoon we were winding through the hip-tall grasses of Lewis Meadow on our way to a spot by the river, where we cooked a delicious meal dehydrated at home by our (again, incredibly generous) friends Adam & Monica before resting up for the ‘big push’ the next day.

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Emilio cooking us some dinner along a bend in the Hoh a short walk from our campsite.

On July 13, after a restorative sleep in our 2-person tent, emilio & I donned our headlamps and padded into four-in-the-morning gentle hiking. There are few transcendent experiences I savor more than listening to the birds begin to call in the morning—building from a solitary and irregular chirp to a cacophony of song as the sun lends shape to the darkness—and this morning was no different: soon the hesitant chirps of the Black-throated Gray Warbler gave way to the buzzing calls of the Varied Thrush and the deep, thrumming vibrations of the Sooty Grouse, which seemed to echo from every side of the trail as we hiked for the next five hours or so. A consistent thought that I had while hiking the entirety of the Hoh River trail was that this is a kind trail—just when the walking reached a sustained steepness and I began to feel tired, it would flatten out or turn downhill for a bit; just when I needed a rest or felt too nervous about the climb ahead, there’d be an opening in the trees revealing a breathtaking waterfall or glimpse of the surrounding mountains; always, the heavy bootpack of the many feet that crossed this trail before me were a comfort, and I felt like I was participating in some great collective project—the incredibly welcome features of the rope ladder and high bridge only contributed to the feeling that this is a kind trail indeed!

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One such stunning view along the Hoh River Trail.

About six miles into our approach hike, just before the rope ladder, emilio and I were pulled out of our trail-walking hypnosis as we ran into the first party we’d seen that morning—what looked to be a pair of hikers getting an early start to views of the glacial moraine. As we exchanged friendly goodmornings and moved to pass them on the trail, one of the hikers spoke up, “Hey, I know you, you’re Emilio, right? You’re not starting this summit push from the parking lot again, are you?” Both of us were a bit too stunned to process how this hiker not only recognized emilio, but had also read the trip report from a month prior when emilio, Adam, and Monica had run an ultramarathon on this trail. Through a brief conversation, we learned that this man had fostered a lifelong love for with the Olympic range (climbing it many times from the 70’s to today) and after offering emilio sage advice to get their butt out of the way of the views once we reached the moraine, we shared goodbyes and continued on the trail.

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Emilio descending the rope ladder.

We must have reached the moraine—the scramble down steep loose rock required to reach the glacier—at around 9AM. Time seemed to grind to a crawl even slower than the tiny steps I was taking on this slippery incline, but after a few falls and more than twice the time it took emilio to reach the glacier, I finally made it to the ice and to one of many firsts in this trip: my first time wearing crampons. I marveled at the same blue I had seen in the Hoh river here in the ice below my feet, at more snow than I had ever seen, at the incredibly breathtaking sight that is the blue glacier… it was all too overwhelming and certainly well worth the nerves that were already turning my knees to rubber. In an abundance of caution, emilio roped up with me and led me toward the boot-packed trail leading to Mt. Olympus.

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The beautiful Blue Glacier from the top of the moraine.

If my slow going on the moraine was any indicator of my performance on the snow and ice, I wasn’t entirely aware—time held little meaning as I met each new phase of the climb with an increasingly intense chorus of feelings: awe, fear, excitement, euphoria, trepidation… this was really living! Reaching the snow dome was a welcome break from the uphill snow walking (and slipping on my part) and emilio and I shared a breathtaking moment of appreciation for the views—we were lucky enough with clear conditions to even catch a stunning glimpse of Mt. Rainier in the hazy blue distance. After passing a guided party on Crystal Pass, we reached the false summit and the real crux of the climb for me: a steep icy patch of downclimbing just before the true summit block. As with much of the other climbing leading to this point, emilio was incredibly patient with me, coaching me through the steps I could take to move through the terrain safely, and after probably the slowest moving I had done all day, I was able to meet emilio on the base of the summit block. With my nerves a bit fried, I attempted the final fourth-class scramble to the summit, but ultimately lost my nerve and remembered the intention I had set at the start of this trip—to remain humble and receptive to whatever teachings the mountain had in store for me. Although emilio offered to aid me up the rest of the climb, I made the difficult decision to instead rappel down from the ledge where I’d gotten stuck. I took some comfort in the idea that this experience constituted far more than just pushing to the top. After my first rappel ever, emilio scrambled to the summit to see the log and enjoy the views. And as I waited below, I realized that as much as this climb was certainly an exercise in humility for me, the main gift I received that day was a deeper understanding of emilio in the place where they belong most: the mountains.

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I am not a mountain person by any stretch of the imagination—I grew up in the hills of Pennsylvania which see peaks of the Poconos reaching, at their highest, around 1200 feet of elevation. I’d only been climbing for about a year at this point, and hadn’t ever seen mountains like those in Washington. Needless to say, I was delightfully out of my element in the time I spent on Mt. Olympus, a feeling which was only augmented by emilio’s incredible ease of movement in this landscape. Throughout the next five hours of joyful glissading back down to the glacier, mountain goat tip-toeing back up the moraine, and bounding downhill trail walking back to camp, I followed the light that practically beamed out of my partner in climbing and in life. Because of emilio I felt, in each stage of the trail, a secondhand sense of being very much at home in this impossible rainforest.

The next day on our exit hike, the trail’s passing parties met us with kind conversation and questions about conditions of the mountain. The frequency of these interactions grew as the miles to the trailhead diminished, and I was struck by the singular way that our fellow hikers also recognized emilio as someone who really belongs to this place. One of my favorite writers, Carmen Maria Machado, opens her memoir with the idea that this type of writing is, at its core, about putting yourself and others into necessary context. Of course, this trip report is by no means a memoir, but it is a crystal of a memory that I hold precious because within the myriad lessons I was gifted by Mt. Olympus and the Hoh River trail, their overarching movement was in reintroducing me to someone I love dearly by placing them in necessary context.

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More than any individualistic urge to ‘find oneself’ or, in my case, to be ‘humbled’ by the mountain, the networks that we create in concert with other human and nonhuman beings are what really constitute the power of the natural landscape; thank you to emilio and the many mountain people like them who have matched the loving kindness of the Olympic range.

Gear Notes:
Ice Axe, trekking poles, crampons, backpack, Camelback, electrolytes, granola bars, & homemade backcountry meals.

Approach Notes:
Hoh River Trail, through the Blue Glacier & Crystal Pass
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Its Emelio with those stylin glasses again!   Looks like you had a great trip, you should be proud.    What a beautiful place, eh!  At least you didn't break your leg, like the guy did when I was up there with the scouts. We had to carry him across the Blue Glacier and he got picked up by a chopper the next day off the moraine.  

Sounds like you need to make it a yearly trade of doing hay for another week in the mountains!

 

 

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That's a heck of a place to wear crampons for the first time and do your first rappel.  Congratulations on a successful trip, by any reasonable measure.

As a former farm girl myself, laughed at and identified with the hay bale story.

I've very much enjoyed Emilio's posts on this board, nice to hear your perspective as well.  Come back and visit us another time!

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I've been checking here to see if a trip report would be posted for your climb.  My wife and I were the couple who you passed that morning just before the rope ladder.  It was very nice to meet you and Emilio, and I'm glad to see that you trust your gut and your inner voice - very wise.  Olympus is my favorite climb in the world, and much of that is due to the beauty of the approach through the incredible trees.  Many people don't know it, but I remember reading that Olympus is the longest overall glaciated climb in the lower 48 - you have to earn the summit.

I'm almost 66 years old now, and though I'm very capable of more summits, I'm now with an incredible wife who is my perfect backpacking partner.  We both love the view of Olympus from the top of the lateral moraine, and I know we'll be returning to see that view many more times.  And now you know what I meant, when I said that you want that first view from the top of the moraine to be unobstructed by anyone's butt in front of you.  Perhaps we'll see you two up there again.

Until then, safe travels for both you and Emilio.

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@graywolf01 wow, how auspicious that you found this post--thank you so much for sharing! emilio & I were really blown away by our encounter with you on the trail, and continue to be inspired by your love for Olympus. It truly was sage advice about the views from the moraine, I've never seen such a beautiful landscape! Wishing you safe travels as well and definitely hope to run into you again on the peninsula. 

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