Climbing Mt. Olympus, Washington
August 15-17, 1992
Saturday, August 15:
I was up with the dawn, which was fairly late (maybe 7:30 or so). No one had bothered me in the logging clearing I had chosen to car-crash in, and after stretching outside and eating my cereal and water breakfast inside the car I drove off. The very narrow road was still very rough, but mercifully short, as I soon came out to the pavement. I drove back to U.S. 101 on the La Push Road, noticing that it was another perfectly clear day despite the morning haze and dew, and turned south on 101, passing through Forks, WA.
After about twenty minutes I turned left onto the Hoh River Road, the main access road to the western part of Olympic National Park. The road was narrow, winding, poorly paved, and ran through miles of farms and logged areas before reaching the entrance station to the National Park. There was no ranger there to collect fees, so I just drove past the booth as the road was suddenly in a very dense and overhanging forest--the famous Hoh rain forest, which did indeed look like some tropical jungle.
The road ended at a parking lot for the visitor center, and here I parked and checked out the place. There were a few people milling about, but the visitor center was closed. Since I planned a camping trip, though, I found a self-registration booth at the entrance and filled out a backcountry permit, then went to my car to pack. This took a long time, since my gear was in disarray from Mt. Rainier, and I hadn't even used my tent or stove there (Glenn's having been used). After changing, using a restroom at an adjacent picnic area, filling water bottles, putting on sunblock, making sure I had all my junk together, stuffing it in my pack, and tying ice-axe and crampons to its back, it was about 9 A.M., a fairly late start. As I locked my car, shouldered my heavy pack, and started up the trail, I had only a vague idea of what I wanted to do--my plan was to hike up the Hoh River towards Mt. Olympus, 22 miles and 7400 vertical feet from the trailhead (Mt. Rainier had been 8/9000) and see how far I got given the route conditions and weather.
After a brief hike on a paved rain-forest nature trail near the Visitor Center the Hoh River Trail branched up a gentle slope and started its long, long journey eastwards along the north bank of the Hoh. For the next 13.1 miles I simply followed the well-worn path as it passed through areas of rain forest, forest fire burns, and some meadows, crossing many side streams and occasionally coming very close to the milky blue Hoh River. It was basically a very flat trail, sometimes climbing up and down high banks, but never for any sustained pitch. It was an awfully hot day, but the trail was mostly in shade, which was nice. I gauged my progress by landmarks on the long march: the Happy Four area at 5.7 miles, where I rested and took a picture; the Mt. Olympus Ranger Station at 9.1 miles, where I had lunch on the porch of a ranger's cabin, and the Hoh Lake Trail, shortly after that.
The "Rain Forest" didn't seem very impressive to me--just like a regular forest, except maybe the vegetation was denser and the trees bigger and draped with moss. Perhaps it was because it was so dry on this day--I think a misty, wet, drizzly rain forest would have been more in keeping with my expectations.
After a section of trail where it climbed and descended more than it had been, up away from the river, it finally came out to a suspension bridge (called the High Hoh Bridge, a name that brought to mind the seven dwarves) over an impressive canyon--very narrow and deep--of the Hoh River, 13.1 miles from the trailhead. Here I rested and looked at my map before starting up a very steep section of trail that climbed steadily to the south, up away from the Hoh River at last. The next four miles or so were killer as I strained uphill with my heavy pack, resting often. I decided that I could camp at Glacier Meadows, so I just plodded onward, intent on my goal. Near Martin Creek I came across a ranger coming down--he saw the ice gear on my pack and asked what I was up to, telling me that the Blue Glacier on Olympus was in very crummy condition due to the warm summer, and that solo glacier travel was not recommended (gee, really?).
After Martin Creek I came to Elk Lake, where I rested at a fly-infested shelter among the thick evergreens above the lake, which looked a lot like Lonesome Lake in New Hampshire, surrounded by pines and bugs. Any thought I had of crashing here were dimmed by the many campers already there and the bugs, so I continued upward. It was still steep going, as the trail passed overlooks high up over the lake that were miserable because of the hot sun that beat down when temporarily out of the forest. The trail then became very narrow and started slabbing a very steep slope, crossing landslide paths through the now more- open forest. At one of these a brook flowed down, and here I stopped and filtered three quarts of water using my cumbersome, annoying, but necessary water filter, since I had drunk all I had brought already.
The next bend in the trail brought an awesome jagged snow-capped peak into view, the first evidence in fifteen miles that I was hiking in anything more than wooded hills, and a check of my map showed that it was just a minor forepeak. After more slabbing and uphill through forest the trail suddenly came to a lean-to shelter with tents pitched in clearings nearby--I had reached Glacier Meadows, 17.3 miles and 3500 feet up from my car. It was about 6 P.M. or so, and I was dead tired, especially from the uphill, so I looked for a place to camp. After exploring up and down the trails that honeycombed the area I settled on the highest campsite on a branch trail, on a little hilltop in a clearing in the forest. There are no glaciers or meadows at Glacier Meadows--it's just an area in the forest.
After pitching my tent, unpacking my sleeping bag, and filtering some water from the extremely feeble brook nearby (the dry summer had turned what looked like a usual torrent into a couple of trickling puddles), I ate a bunch of cold food for dinner, since I had left my wood-burning and gas stoves behind to save weight, and because I hadn't bought gas or learned how to use my gas stove yet. While I ate I said hello to a German guy who was also looking for water, and at one point greeted an American guy just coming up the trail.
After dinner I went out to see what I could find out concerning Mt. Olympus. There was a sign near the shelter with a faded picture of the peak with a route drawn on it, and warnings that said that it took eight hours to get to the summit round trip from Glacier Meadows, but I couldn't tell much from that. The ranger's tent, up from the shelter, was deserted, and after checking out the register there I returned to the shelter, where the German guy and his tired American companion were hanging out.
It turned out that the German guy had asked around and told me that there was a group of Canadians leaving at 7 A.M., and two Swiss (he called them "Schweitzer guys") leaving at 4 A.M.--he was planning to hook up with the Swiss. I was still unsure of what to do, so after more conversation, and a failed attempt to tie up my food (I had been repeatedly warned of bears at Glacier Meadows), I went to sleep up in my tent, carefully wrapping all my food in several plastic bags, putting that in my pack, inside my tent. I set my alarm for 3:45 A.M., thinking I'd hike up at least to the treeline early and see if I felt like an attempt on Olympus. The night was cold, clear, and quiet, and no bears disturbed me, either.
Sunday, August 16:
My alarm buzzed me awake before 4 A.M., and I got dressed in the cold, dark morning and quickly ate lots of high-carbo food for breakfast as I heard noises below me. I took my backpacking pack, because I hadn't brought my daypack with me, and loaded it with food, clothing, and my ice axe and crampons, leaving it way underpacked for its capacity.
Using my headlamp, I then hiked the short way down to the shelter, past the campfire of the Swiss guys, then up the trail, past the ranger hut and register (where I signed in), towards Mt. Olympus. My wimpy headlamp was almost useless, even at full strength, as the trail went steeply uphill through dark forest at first, then some open stretches where the full moon helped visibility, and finally up a grassy meadow that soon turned rocky. Despite the morning chill I was sweating up a storm, and at a rest I took off my jacket and toy headlamp--I was out of the trees, and would have to go on with just moonlight lighting my way.
The trail grew very steep and rocky after a bit, and I could see headlamps beneath me, probably the Swiss guys. I needed more and more rests on the awfully steep pitch, finally coming out on top of the Blue Glacier moraine, a ridge of talus whose crest the trail followed. Once on the moraine an incredibly spectacular view of Mt. Olympus presented itself--the whole massif of glacier-drenched pinnacles dominated the scene, the ice and snow glowing eeriely in the moonlight above the wide expanse of the Blue Glacier beneath the three-summited colussus.
I followed the path along the crest of the moraine, happy that the killer uphill was over, and rested where the trail plunged downhill steeply over scree to the Blue Glacier about two hundred feet below. While I rested the Swiss guys passed me--I said hello, but they pretty much ignored me, and I couldn't see them in the dark anyway. Shortly after they passed I followed, carefully making my way down the very steep and crumbly rock to the glacier, glad it was a short pitch. After crossing a short stretch of flat rocks it seemed that the glacier ice needed to be climbed upon, so the Swiss guys ahead of me had stopped to put on crampons. I stopped nearby, again trying to make conversation with the dimly seen figures in the dark, but they indicated that they didn't speak any English.
I put on my crampons over my regular hiking boots, since I didn't bring my heavy hard-shelled mountaineering boots, they being too clunky for hiking uphill 20 miles through forest, and too bulky for my pack. They seemed to go on fine (after my disaster on Mt. Rainier I had made sure that the nuts were tight), and after tightening the straps I lingered a bit, since I had no idea where to go and hoped the Swiss guys would leave first so I could follow them. One of them seemed to be having problems, though, so I just took off.
The Blue Glacier was a broad expanse of gently sloping ice, full of rocks and gnarled, dirty crevasses. Up ahead it ran right into the wall of Mt. Olympus, merging into the spectacular icy mass of the mountain in incredible icefalls and cliffs. To the right of the glacier (looking uphill) was a broad ridge that led to the Snow Dome, and to the left was the moraine I had just descended and a rugged col with the main peak. I had utterly no idea how the normal route went, except that it couldn't possibly climb directly up the icefalls and cliffs. Once I was out on the glacier, I decided to simply hike up and check things out, and if I saw a route, to decide then what to do.
Travelling across the glacier was pretty easy, despite the darkness--the crevasses were very few, and everything was frozen solid from the overnight chill, providing a good surface for my crampons. I was basically going up and crossing it at the same time, trying to find veins of ice that made for easy walking whenever possible. By the time it was getting light as prelude to the sunrise it seemed to me that the best route was via the rugged col to the left of the summit massif, so I started angling across the glacier that way. Once it got a bit lighter, and I got a bit closer, though, I saw that icefalls, seracs, and bergschrunds blocked the route to the col. After a rest, sitting on my pack (the only good surface for sitting when crossing a glacier), I started thinking that maybe I should just turn back--this was a serious monster of a mountain, and while it was cool cruising around all alone on a remote glacier at dawn, it was also pretty dangerous.
However, as I started again, I spied some figures on the glacier below me, far away and heading for the broad ridge of the Snow Dome. They were probably the three Swiss guys, who knew where they were going, so I decided to go and see what their route was like. I crossed the glacier under the summit massif icefalls, which involved avoiding some large crevasses by going up and down, and by the time I was at the foot of the Snow Dome ridge I could see the Swiss guys climbing a rock rib of that ridge, rockclimbing using ropes. The side of this broad ridge was very steep, with waterfalls cascading down the rocky areas, and I thought that there was no way I could climb these steep slopes.
However, I saw a rocky area that wasn't as steep as the one the Swiss were climbing, so I made for that, leaving the Blue Glacier after more up and down to avoid massive bergschrunds. I removed my crampons and rested, then made my way up a semi-steep rock band, paralleling a waterfall, with no tricky moves at all. Then, where the rock really steepened, I decided to go back on to the snow. After putting my crampons back on, I started switchbacking up the extremely steep snow slope--I mean extremely steep. There were faint footprint trails to follow, but I was very scared as I carefully climbed, always aware of my ice axe position in case I fell. I tried not to think about how I would downclimb this stretch. It was now sunny out, too, and I predictably got very hot as I slowly rest-stepped uphill.
The slope soon got less steep, with occasional very narrow crevasses, and I soon found myself hiking right in front of the Swiss guys, who had come up their own way on the steep rocks. This heartened me, since I knew that a) I was not alone on the mountain and b) I was on the right route and c) I was holding my own time- and stamina-wise with these alpine hard guys. If they hadn't been on the mountain I certainly would have turned back while still on the glacier below.
When the slope got even less steep I rested, and the Swiss guys passed me--I noticed here for the first time that the German guy I had spoken too last night was part of the group of three, since it had been too dark to observe this earlier and I had forgotten that he had said that he would be hooking up with the two Swiss (I will continue to refer to the group as "the Swiss guys", even though it was one-third German). I knew that the German guy at least spoke English, so I talked to him briefly, but the group really seemed to have no interest whatsoever in even acknowledging my presence. Perhaps they thought I was a foolhardy bozo for trying this peak alone, a reasonably accurate sentiment, to be sure.
I was now committed to going for the summit, especially since once I left my resting spot I came out onto a broad snowy plateau, where the hiking was very pleasant and easy. I even came to a trodden path in the snow that ran across the center of this flat ridge, meaning that there was a chance that if I followed it down it might lead to an easier way down to the Blue Glacier.
This plateau connected the Snow Dome behind me to the jagged rocky pinnacles of Mt. Olympus ahead, but the snow path seemed to veer to the left to pass through the pinnacles to the left. There were a few crevasses, some large, but much fewer than on Rainier, and easily avoided. As I climbed the gentle plateau, then started slabbing towards the notch in the pinnacles, I realized I was gaining on the Swiss guys ahead of me. When I reached the notch, where the path crossed over the line of pinnacles to more snowfields on the other side, I passed the Swiss guys, resting and drinking out of thermoses. Again conversation was minimal.
The going was now steeper on a broad, open, sloping snowfield under totally clear blue skies. As I trudged uphill, following the path as it avoided the occasional yawning crevasse, I was reminded of the final climb up Mt. Rainier, but this time I was in better shape (due, largely, to Mt. Rainier), the altitude was much lower, I had plenty of food and water, my crampons were working well (I was a pro with them by now), and I was the first party heading up the mountain instead of the last. Indeed, the Swiss guys were way behind me as I neared the base of the highest rock pinnacles.
They caught up a little when I rested, but I still reached the end of the snow path at a ridge of crumbly rock before them. I knew that one of the rock pinnacles rising maybe a hundred feet or so out of the expanse of snow was the summit, and it looked like one to my right as I crossed the ridge was it. Following a rough path, I saw there was a fairly easy route to a flat area on the rock ridge, where maybe the pinnacle could be climbed from. A few minutes brought me to the flat area, where it looked like people had camped, and there I saw that the pinnacle was steep, but, using the limited rock-climbing skills I had, I was able to carefully hoist myself up a minor cliff, and, using handholds very carefully, emerge atop the pinnacle.
I rested for a minute, since my final burst to the summit had drained me, and then ate some lunch in the very strong wind. I then looked around, and saw the Swiss guys below me in the col between my pinnacle and the next one over, maybe fifty feet below me. I yelled to them, but, as usual they ignored me, and they started over towards the next pinnacle, which, the more I looked at it, the more it seemed that it was higher than the one I was on. I finally convinced myself that I hadn't yet reached the summit, and packed up reluctantly.
I carefully downclimbed from my pinnacle, tricky in a couple spots, then traversed down miserable talus to where a snowfield butted up against the pinnacled ridge (not the snowfield I had just ascended, but the one "across" the ridge). The Swiss guys had climbed a very, very steep section of snowfield to its high point, just fifty feet below the top of the real summit pinnacle, instead of staying on the very steep, jagged ridge, and I saw that this was the best route. So I strapped on my crampons and followed their switchbacking staircase up the very icy and steep slope, which was at least a short pitch, but it still winded me pretty badly. At the top of the slope the snow flattened out, and the Swiss guys were climbing up the final fifty feet of fractured cliff using ropes--it looked awfully technical. I rested and watched them climb, hoping for an offer to come up using their rope, but I knew it wouldn't be forthcoming.
Therefore I climbed down on the snow a bit to a high col on the pinnacled ridge, took off my crampons, and started climbing up the towards the summit on a route 90 degrees off of that of the Swiss. It was easy rockclimbing at first, then it became basically cliffs, which I very gingerly inched my way up, using strong handholds a lot. I was never much of a rockclimber, just a good scrambler and rockhopper, and I realized I was in over my head, especially climbing in the wilderness unprotected and solo, but I desperately wanted the summit after my long hike. I soon found myself in very precarious positions, wondering how I'd get down, and finally tried to climb up on a big rock projecting out from the cliffside above me. I put both hands on it, and when I shifted my weight to my hands, the whole rock came loose and crashed down the mountain. I lost my balance totally, and I still don't know how I avoided falling to my death--somehow I regained my precarious perch, and, shaken, retreated. Downclimbing was very difficult, and when I reached the easier going I was greatly relieved.
After a rest I hiked up the short way on the snow (not bothering to put my crampons on) to where the Swiss guys had gone up, and, since they were now on top and not in my way, I decided to give their route a shot. It was less vertical feet than the way I had been, but immediately and totally cliff. I again found myself in precarious and dangerous positions on the face (this time I was testing my handholds very seriously), and at one point thought that I had to go up simply because the only way I was going to get down was to get to the top and force the Swiss guys (who I could hear talking in German above me) to let me tie into their rope for the descent. That plan didn't work, though, since I couldn't even get to the top--I was probably within twenty vertical feet of the summit, maybe less, when I simply had to turn back, defeated by the sheer rock I was simply unprepared to tackle solo. Getting down was, again, hairy, but I somehow got myself down to the snow by carefully contorting myself and letting gravity help whenever possible.
Not quite ready to give up, I decided to try a third approach to the pinnacle, from the col between it and the one I had climbed earlier, the same one that the route passed through on its way across the ridge. So I put on my crampons again for the steep, dangerous descent of the snow slope down to the col area, and by being careful I avoided falling on the short slope, even though I almost lost my balance a couple times. Once down on the flat snow near the col, I stared up the pinnacle for the third time, again 90 degrees off of my previous route, but now with by far the greatest vertical, since I had to regain everything I had lost on the steep snow slope.
However, after climbing about halfway up the pinnacle by this route, I became stymied again by cliffs, way short of the top, and gave up without trying the desperate moves I had on my previous attempts because I knew I couldn't try stuff like that for the large vertical remaining. Also, I could see the Swiss guys were descending the steep snow slope, so there was no longer a rope up top to help in the more dangerous descent. So I returned to the col, defeated. On my way down I saw one of the Swiss guys fall on the steep snow slope, but he self- arrested after a slide of about fifty feet--it might have been a planned glissade, but I doubt it.
So, after 22 miles of rain forest, glacier, rock, and snow, and gaining almost 7400 vertical feet, I turned back short of the 7,969 foot summit of the West Peak of Olympus, highest point in the Olympic Mountains, when I was at about 7,950 feet above sea level. It was only 9:30 A.M., but I was spent and discouraged at having to turn back once again.
Back at the rocky col I rested, thirsty and tired after my climb towards the pinnacle. The Swiss guys were also resting here, again basically ignoring me, despite my attempt to tell them why I hadn't made it up-- I mentioned to them that I was within 6 meters, but they didn't seem to care. They left first, and when I tried to leave, I found that the way in which I had left my ice gear at the col for my rock scrambing was a problem--I had jammed my ice axe through my open-frame crampons to hold them in place, and now a crampon was stuck around the axe. It took me a couple minutes to un-jam the unnatural sculpture.
I then crossed the pinnacled ridge on a rough path, on a different route I had used earlier, since I had gone for the flat area and the false pinnacle. It was just a short pitch of boring old steep talus and crumbly rock, and on the other side I stopped to put on my crampons--I was now expert at putting them on and taking them off--and took off down the big snowfield, well ahead of the Swiss guys, who seemed to take longer on the snow/rock gear changovers. I cruised, too, as I always did on downhill, easily plunge-stepping down the snow on the beaten-down path. I even took off my crampons after a bit to increase the slide in my step.
The next part of my journey was the most pleasant--easy downhill hiking on gentle snow slopes on a perfect day with awesome views all around--I could see the Pacific, the strait of Juan de Fuca, and Mt. Rainier across Puget Sound. After booking down the first snowfield, I crossed through the notch to the slope leading down to the broad, flat Snow Dome ridge, where I saw below me the first humans I had seen all day not counting the Swiss guys. They were a group of about eight, in several rope teams, slowly climbing, and I met up with them down on the plateau. They were the Canadians the German had talked about yesterday, and, in marked contrast to the Swiss, they actually talked to me, asking about route conditions ahead. After a brief chat with their leader I continued on down, wondering if they'd have enough time to summit and return.
I stayed on the beaten-down snow path on the plateau past where I had gained it on the way up, hoping to find an easier way down, and after heading for the actual Snow Dome ahead the path started broad switchbacks down the steep slope leading to the Blue Glacier below, avoiding the occasional huge crevasse. When it got steeper I took a nice long rest, putting my crampons back on for the steep descent, and starting back down when I noticed the Swiss guys had caught up to me. We were pretty much hiking right next to each other, in silence, passing each other many times, for the whole rest of the way down to the glacier. After some steep snow, which we tried to maximize our time on, we were forced on to long, annoying pitches of steep rock, often in rotten gullies or beside waterfalls, interspersed with very occasional small patches of snow. Towards the bottom the rock was truly miserable and difficult, the Swiss guys even breaking out their rope at one point, but somehow I managed it with only a minor unplanned slide on my butt down a particularly steep and talus-filled gully. The problem with descending a steep slope was that one can not see where to go at all from up top, and blindly just heading down what looks like an easy route often leads to unsuspected cliffs invisible from above.
We finally got to the Blue Glacier, where both the Swiss guys and myself rested, I about a hundred feet away (we had gotten slightly separated on the last pitches coming down). I filtered some water out of a brook rushing over the bare rock, ate a bit, then put on my crampons for the last time and started across the glacier, heading for the moraine clearly visible across it. Something was wrong, though--this morning, the glacier had been basically crevasse-free and easy to cross, but now its entire surface was scarred with wide, ancient, ugly transverse crevasses. I was crossing the glacier in a different way than in the morning, when I wandered around on it quite a bit, but that was not the explanation, since even out in the middle and especially near the other side, where I had been in the morning, the crevasses were present. The very hot sun--it was now early afternoon-- must have melted a lot of the overnight ice and caused the crevasses to open up, but I still couldn't believe that was the only factor. It's still a mystery to me.
Anyway, I was bummed that what I had thought would be easy was now a dangerous chore. My crampons were an absolute lifesaver, since any slip would have been devastating as I walked on narrow icy ridges between crevasses and very often jumped over them when my ridge dead-ended in a chasm or became too narrow. I changed my direction of travel a few times, hoping to find an area of glacier where these crevasses were fewer, but after several failures I just made for the moraine area, and when I saw the Swiss guys on a parallel course to mine I angled towards them, but that didn't help either. At least I could cross the glacier by staying on the ridges for long stretches--if the crevasses had not been transverse to the glacier's flow, I would have had to have jumped over fifty times as many as I did.
At long last I reached the talus-covered ice near the base of the moraine, where, passing the Swiss guys, I made one last attempt to converse--I mentioned to one of the Swiss, in my most plain and understandable English, that I had climbed the Monch, a major peak in the Swiss Alps. I could tell he knew what I was talking about, but he didn't seem to care. Anyway, I then took off my crampons one last time, and, ahead of the Swiss guys, hiked across a minor snowfield or two to where the steep, crumbly trail up the moraine began. I climbed up this last miserable uphill slowly, letting tons of loose rock fly, and stopped to take a rest at the crest of the moraine, where the Swiss guys passed me for the last time today.
I started hiking the incredibly scenic crest of the moraine, the view of Olympus rearing above the glacier just as fantastic under blue skies as it had been under moonlight. Just where the trail started the descent to Glacier Meadows I ran into the American guy--about my age--who I had spoken too yesterday at Glacier Meadows. We talked for fifteen minutes or so, I telling him about my climb, and he understood about how rude and uncommunicative Swiss and Germans could be. He said he met the German guy at the Seattle youth hostel, and they both planned an Olympus climb, but when the American guy lagged behind while coming up the Hoh and decided not to go, the German guy hooked up with the two Swiss instead. He said that his German friend was entirely focused on the summit, and everything else--such as the photography the American guy was doing instead of the Olympus climb--was "unimportant". He seemed to think this was symptomatic of the general efficiency of teutonic culture, contrasted with our more friendly style.
I got the American guy--he was from Boston--to take my picture, and then took off down the trail towards my tent, leaving him to do more photography on the moraine crest. The hike down to the Glacier Meadows area was just a hot and steep downhill stretch on a good trail through mostly rocky terrain, but my overall weariness limited my speed. I finally made it back to Glacier Meadows at about 1:30, signed out in the register, where I noted how close I had come, and then hiked up the short side trail to my tent. After a drink I lay down for a short nap inside the tent, to be out of the teeming bugs buzzing around. However, my tent was like an oven--it was so hot inside that I was sweating up a storm just lying still and motionless. While lying there, the German guy came up to my tent and asked me if I had any insect repellent, and I said I didn't even though I did, not feeling like doing him any favors after the way he and his Swiss companions had been so unfriendly on the mountain (although I don't think it was his fault--he actually did speak English and was probably just taking his cue from the unfriendly, non-English speaking Swiss guys, who he didn't want to annoy since they were letting him tag along on their climb).
After a few more minutes of sweating in my tent I said the hell with it and decided to try to get down a ways this afternoon, maybe even the 17 miles back to the car. I had run out of food again (but after finishing the serious climbing this time) and was bummed at not summiting, so just wanted to get the hell down and out. I packed up all my stuff, sweating like crazy while I jammed my too-big sleeping bag into my too-small pack compartment (a constant annoyance whenever I backpacked), folded my tent, jammed the rest of my junk in the pack, tied my ice axe and crampons on to the back, and started down the trail. The Swiss guys were folding up their tents and the German guy (now separate) was hanging out at the shelter--I said goodbye to him, anyway, as I started the long, steep, downhill hike.
I didn't really know how far I would get this afternoon--I was very tired, and even the downhill sapped my strength in the humid forest. I somehow just kept going, passing a few uphill hikers that I told about my climb when they asked--the ice gear on my pack was definitely a cool thing to be wearing, since it identified you as a serious climber rather than just a hiker. I also chatted with an uphill-bound ranger; it seemed that last night was the one night a week when there wasn't one up at Glacier Meadows.
At Elk Lake I rested in the dank shelter for a bit before deciding to go for a swim in the lake, since there were a number of fisherman and campers milling about, some swimming. However, after taking off all but my shorts, walking out on a log, and putting my legs in the water I decided it was too cold, so just soaked my feet for five minutes while talking to some of the people there, which included a stark naked five- year old kid running around. My feet felt better after this, anyway.
I then left Elk lake, passed Martin Creek, talked to more hikers, got very tired and weary from the toe and knee pounding downhill, and finally reached the High Hoh Bridge, where I took a long rest. After that I started down the long, long essentially flat stretch of Hoh River Trail towards the car, mildly annoyed at the "essentially" part of the above description as the trail wound about, going up and down quite a bit through the dense, towering woods. I stopped passing hikers, and passed a few tents pitched in nice spots along the trail, and when I noticed a very nice, cozy campsite right off the trail beside an enormous log right next to the roaring Hoh River, it took me about 1 millisecond to decide to camp there fo the night.
After pitching my tent and eating the very last of my food (some gross dried apple chunks and peanuts was all I had left), I crashed out happily in my tent as the sun went down.
A little bit later I heard voices outside my tent, and it was the German guy and the American guy--I guess the German guy recognized my tent from when he asked for repellent. They said that they were making a loop hike and needed a ride tomorrow morning from the visitor center back to Soleduck, and wondered if I would help them out. I said that I could only take them as far as U.S. 101, since I was going south, but they said they'd appreciate that, so we agreed that if we saw each other in the morning I'd give them a ride. They then went off to find a campsite of their own, and I drifted off to a pleasant sleep marred only by my hunger pangs--I had absolutely no food at this point.
Monday, August 17:
I had set my little alarm clock to awake me at 5 A.M., since I wanted to get back to my car and some food as quickly as possible. It was dark, and I used my headlamp to take down my tent and pack up before starting down the trail at 5:20. My headlamp was of some use in the pitch-black forest, since I simply could not have walked at all without it, but it was still laborious going for about half an hour or so until it got bright enough to really see.
It was about 12.3 miles back to the car on mostly flat trail, but I was very tired and hungry, the mileage seemed endless, and my pack was quite heavy. For the first part of the hike I saw no one, it being very early in the morning, but later I saw more and more tourists and backpackers. It was another beautiful day, and the rain forest was still pretty, as was the Hoh River alongside the trail, milky blue from glacial outwash just like the rivers in the Canadian Rockies I had seen.
I took many rests owing to my fatigue and the interminable miles of trail, and at one just before the Happy Four campsite I heard the clacking of ski poles on the trail and was surprised to see the two Swiss guys from yesterday hiking downhill in super-efficient German mode. They didn't even say anything to me. When I got started up again I then passed them at the Happy Four, when they were trying to set up their camera for a self- timed shot. If you think that I offered to take a picture for them you are dead wrong, and they didn't ask me as I hiked by without stopping. It was the last I saw the "Schweitzer guys".
The last five miles or so of trail were heartbreaking as it just kept on going endlessly--I think the real killer on any climb of Olympus is the length of the approach. After many false endings my long march finally ended at the nature trail and visitor center at 10:20 A.M., four hours down from my campsite. At my car I ate a lot of my food as I changed and threw all my gear in back. I hung out for a while there, using the bathroom at the picnic area, checking out the tiny visitor center museum, and generally resting. The German and American guys never showed up, so after getting organized I left the Hoh Visitor Center area without them. They'd probably find a better, one-trip ride to Soleduck anyway.