Leader – Laura Alexander
Co-leader – Scott Maxner
Team members – Sherry Maxner, Andrew Barlow, Ed Hawes, Harry Robertson, Ben Steele, Ted Steele
8 Summit Sensation members arrived in Seattle Saturday, August 13th. We traveled to the Olympic Peninsula on Sunday the 14th, stopping by the Quinault Ranger Station to pick up our backcountry camping permits. Driving around Quinault Lake, we stopped at the world’s largest recorded Sitka Spruce, and a few other BFT’s (big frickin trees).
After spending the night of the 14th in Forks (no vampire sightings), we drove to the beginning of the Hoh River Trail that goes through the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park on the morning of the 15th. It was pretty quiet around the visitor center as we began our hike at 9:45 and 575’. It’s easy to feel very small on this trail through towering giant trees. There are ferns everywhere, big, black banana slugs, and for the first 12 miles the trail stays pretty close to the Hoh River.
At 5 Mile camp on the river we stopped for about an hour to eat lunch. It was pretty hot and we were pretty beat – we may have gone out a bit fast for the distance we needed to travel that day. At 10 miles (3:10) we arrived at Lewis Meadows, our destination. We were pretty tired and after setting up camp we hung around the river, filtered water and some people napped. The glacier runoff meant the water was really cold and silty (not so good for the water filter). Total mileage = 10 miles and 400’ of elevation gain.
Day 2 of the hike we got moving on the trail at 7:45 for the 7.5 mile hike to Glacier Meadows. We had 4,200’ to gain that day and it was very warm again. We chose to move slower. The trail moved away from the river after a couple of miles and climbed on switchbacks, crossing a couple of clear streams (and giving us the opportunity to rinse the water filter cartridge!) and a really cool bridge over a gorge. At about a half mile from camp we started to get views of the massif that is Mt. Olympus, the Snow Dome, and some waterfalls. At 0.25 miles from camp we came to a washout area that required down-climbing a LONG ladder and climbing back up the other side. We arrived at camp at 2:00 pm. We filtered water and rested at camp while black-tailed deer munched the vegetation around camp. A couple of members walked to the terminal moraine to get a look at the glacier.
Day 3 we left camp at 4:50am to hike 1.3 miles to the lateral moraine. We arrived there just as it was getting light and we hiked the length of it to the steep, loose trail down to the Blue Glacier. Staying close to the edge we hiked a couple of tenths of a mile to where we chose to rope up and cross the Blue glacier. The glacier was composed of hard glacial ice with lots of deep, blue holes filled with water, and some meltwater rivers on top. The crossing was pretty straightforward, and we started the climb up the Snow Dome, navigating over running water we could hear under the snow, and slabs. We found a boot track on the top of the Snow Dome that led us through Crystal Pass and behind the 5 Fingers to the base of the False Summit. On the way we jumped and passed around the end of a few crevasses and stayed clear of the moats next to the 5 Fingers. We took off our crampons and coiled the rope to climb the loose scree to the top of the False Summit where we got a look at our destination – the West Peak – that was 96’ higher. There were 2 climbers making their way up the summit that had passed us while we were taking a break on the Snow Dome.
Two members decided to stay on the False Summit, and that meant they could photo-document our summit journey. We could see a rap station on the right-hand side of the peak, and there was a very steep snow slope on that side. We down-climbed steep scree to reach the col where we put our crampons back on and 6 of us tied into the rope and climbed up to start our summit climb a bit higher than the team in front of us had done. Laura set up an anchor to belay the team onto the rock where we took off our crampons (again) and stuffed them back in our packs. We had some conversation about how best to keep all the team members safe, since the climb was a traverse.
Short pitches with some simul-climbing across the traverses was the answer, and we reached the summit in 4 short pitches. The summit was small and covered in loose rocks that we had to take care not to pull off the mountain. The wind came up as we reached the summit and it was noticeably cooler. After signing into the peak register we walked over to the rap station and set up the rappel. Note – our new glacier rope is 50m (not 60m) so it didn’t reach the ground, requiring an additional rappel and leaving some gear behind, to get down safely.
Back on the ground, crampons back on to get down to the col, and crampons back off to climb the scree slope reunited us with the rest of the team. It was celebration time with high fives all around, but not for long because the sun was going down and the wind had picked up since we started up the summit. We made good time following our tracks back down the mountain, and because the day was so warm the snow covering the running water had mostly melted. Reaching the other side of the blue glacier just as it was getting dark, we quickly stuffed the ropes in the packs and beat feet to find the trail up the lateral moraine. It was pretty dark by the time we reached the area where the trail was, and fortunately Sherry had done a terrific job of wanding our route including this important landmark. Taking our crampons off for the last time we climbed the lateral moraine and hiked back to camp, reaching camp at 10:27 pm – that was one long day! It didn’t take us long to eat and crash in our tents, reliving our adventurous climb.
There were no alarms set the next morning and our two-day hike out was uneventful. Somehow the last 10 miles on the fifth day seemed A LOT hillier than it did on the way in. As you might expect, we started meeting many people on the trail the closer we were to the trailhead. We arrived back at a VERY crowded Hoh Visitor Center parking lot at 1:00 on day 5, after completing our 44-mile hike in the Hoh Rainforest and summiting Mt. Olympus (7,980’). Showers and a team dinner were in order that evening back in Forks, and the next day on our way back to Seattle we spied our summit from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center – somehow it looked a lot smaller from there than our experience told us it is.