We made the most of challenging conditions last week on Mount Olympus’ Blue Glacier Route.
The trail to the route follows the milky Hoh River through the massive trees of the Hoh Rainforest for about 17 miles to Glacier Meadows campground, just below the foot of the Blue Glacier. It’s a uniquely beautiful approach, but since the Hoh Rainforest gets 12 to 14 feet of rain each year, it can also be a bit wet. We had rainy weather both days of our hike in, and for that, we all carried golf umbrellas. Maxfli isn’t a brand you often see on a mountaineering rack, but those umbrellas kept us dry each day until we climbed into our tents. For backcountry comfort, they were some of the most important gear we brought.
After all that rain, I was relieved to see stars in the sky when I stuck my head out of the tent at 1:30 a.m. We ate a quick breakfast of oatmeal and hot coffee, and then hiked out of camp, over the lateral moraine on the east side of the Blue Glacier and down to the glacier at about 5,000 feet of elevation. By the time the sun was up, we had crossed the lower arm of the glacier and were climbing toward the top of the Snow Dome, a plateau at about 7,000 feet. But late-season conditions were slowing our pace. Lack of snow on the lower glacier forced us to pick our way carefully across the glacier’s deep, icy furrows. Higher up, I built a series of anchors to protect the final, steep slopes near the top of the Snow Dome. Earlier in the season, those slopes would have been covered in snow and we could have simply walked up them as a rope team. But with glacier ice exposed, it was too dangerous to ascend without belaying.
By the time we approached Crystal Pass at 7,200 feet, we were running out of time to make it to the summit. We would still have to climb and descend the final 5th class rock pitch below the summit pinnacle, but we also faced a more immediate problem – a wide bergschrund that spanned the glacier below Crystal Pass. Having climbed down into and back out of the bergschrund a week earlier, I knew we could do it safely, but I also knew it would cost us quite a bit of time. Ascending higher would have pushed us into a long summit day when nightfall and fatigue might conspire to make an accident more likely. With clouds coming in, we returned to camp, taking off our packs at our tents just before dusk.
On many climbs, the most difficult choice is when to turn around. It was disappointing not to stand on the summit of Olympus on this climb, but that was the price we paid for a lesson in decision-making, and for the experience of climbing on this remote, beautiful peak in late-season conditions when the dramatic crevasses and seracs of the Blue Glacier are most visible. We also got to practice some teamwork and rope skills as we moved through the belays on the Snow Dome. All in all, it was a valuable trip to one of Washington’s most remote and beautiful peaks.
Located in the heart of the Olympic mountains in Washington State, Mt. Olympus is surrounded by pristine old growth forest, as well as many other glaciated peaks. The approach is a long one, but very rewarding as one becomes transfixed by the solitude of the forest filled with wildlife and natural beauty. The climbing route involves glaciated slopes and then a short rock scramble to the top, a hard earned summit deep in the back country.
We regularly organize custom programs for private groups. We are happy to accommodate your program dates, as well as other specific requests related to the itinerary, amenities, and group size. Please contact us if you would like to know more about custom programs.
Day 1: Meet in Seattle in the evening, a brief orientation then check equipment, prepare for an early morning drive to Mt. Olympus.
Day 2: Early morning departure from Seattle to the Olympic peninsula where we arrive in Forks (famous for the Twilight series), then enter the Olympic National Park. We don our backpacks and hike half of the day to our camp at the Olympic Guard Station along side the Hoh River. We make camp in this very scenic location for the night.
Day 3: After an early breakfast we hike onward through the ancient old growth forest, where the Douglas fir and cedar trees can be 8’ in diameter. This is considered the densest forest on Earth. We cross the river gorge and arrive at our camp in Glacier Meadows.
Day 4: Today we review technical climbing skills such as ice axe arrest, cramponing, and rope travel. We go to bed early in preparation for an early start.
Day 5: Summit day! We begin in the pre dawn hours and climb up the Blue glacier and the Snow dome, then arrive at the summit. The summit is the highest point on the Olympic Peninsula and we admire the many glaciated peaks surrounding us. The Pacific Ocean is to our west. After savoring our summit we descend to camp, pack our things and hike down to the Olympic Guard Station camp. We make camp for the night.
Day 6: We depart camp and arrive back at the trailhead to have a celebration lunch in Forks. We drive back to Seattle and conclude our program.
• All shared equipment such as tents, stoves, ropes, snow and ice protection, etc.
• Park entrance fees and permits
• All breakfast and dinners on the mountain
• All guide fees
• Transportation from Seattle to the trailhead
• Climbing snacks and lunches
• Bank wire transfer fees, if applicable
• Parking pass at the trailhead
• Accommodations outside of the National Park
• Personal items (see equipment list)
• Short Underwear: 1 pair of synthetic short underwear
• Lightweight Long Underwear: 1-2 pair lightweight long underwear pants and shirts
• Heavyweight Long Underwear:1 pair of heavy expedition weight long underwear
• Short-Sleeve Synthetic Shirt
• Soft Shell Jacket: A hooded jacket
• Soft Shell pants: For trekking and climbing
• Lightweight Nylon Pants (optional)
• Hard Shell Jacket: To be worn in wet conditions
• Hard Shell Pants: To be worn in wet conditions, these pants should have full side zippers
• Insulated Jacket: Primaloft or Down
• Insulated Synthetic Pants (optional)
• Warm Hat: A warm fleece or wool hat
• Balaclava: to cover your face and neck on windy days
• Sun hat: A baseball style sun camp
• Buff: 1-2 of these to wear around your neck & face to block the wind, UV rays, dust
• Glacier Glasses: wrap-around style sunglasses with dark lenses
• Goggles: With dark lenses
• Lightweight synthetic liner gloves
• Soft Shell Gloves: 1 pair
• Shell gloves with insulated liner: 1 pair
• Liner Socks: 3 pair
• Wool or synthetic mountaineering socks: 3 pair
• Mountaineering Boots: A double plastic or insulated synthetic boot
• Light hiking boots or trekking shoes: For the trek to base camp
• Sleeping Bag: Rated to at least 20° F. Down is preferable over synthetic
• Self Inflating pad: A full-length air mattress
• Closed Cell foam pad: Full-length is best
• Expedition Backpack: A 65+ liter internal frame backpack
• Compression stuff sacks: for reducing volume for your sleeping bag and down jacket
• Trash Compactor bags (4): To line stuff sacks and separate gear
• Trekking Poles: Adjustable poles for the trek to base camp
• Ice Axe: A short ice axe no longer than 60cm
• Crampons: General mountaineering crampons
• Climbing Helmet: Must fit over a thick hat
• Alpine climbing harness: mountaineering harness, with adjustable leg loops. Not a rock-climbing “sport” harness
• Carabineers: 4 locking and 2 non-locking
• Belay / Rappel device: For rappelling or belaying climbers
• Headlamp: with 2 extra sets of new batteries
• Small duffel bag: to store items in the hotel/car
• Travel Clothes: For days in Seattle, etc.
Additional Food Items
• Snack food (suggestions):
‣ Electrolyte Replacement Drink Mix: Bring a supply for 4 days such as Nuun
‣ Energy Gel: Single serving gel packs such as GU, Clifshot, Powergel, etc.)
‣ Energy Bars: Power bar, Cliff bar, etc.
‣ Candy Bars: Snickers, Mars, Twix, Milky Way, etc.
‣ Hard Candy: 1 cup
‣ Crackers: 1 box
• Cup: 16oz. minimum
• Bowl: ½ liter minimum capacity
• Spoon: Plastic (Lexan)
• Water bottles: 2 bottles with 1-liter capacity each
• Water Bottle Parkas: To keep your water from freezing
• Insulated bottle/Thermos (optional)
• Water Purification System: Tablets or Steripen
• Sunscreen: 2 tubes, SPF 40 or stronger
• Lip screen: 2 sticks, SPF 30 or stronger
• Toiletry Bag: Toothpaste, Toothbrush, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, etc.
• Pee Bottle: 1-liter capacity minimum
• Knife or multitool (optional)
• Small Personal First Aid Kit: Athletic tape, band-aids, Ibuprofen, Moleskin, blister care products, personal medications, cough drops
• Medications and prescriptions:
‣ Acetazolamide (Diamox) for altitude illness
‣ Antibiotics such as Ciprofloxin or Azithromycin for gastrointestinal or respiratory illness
‣ Ibuprofen for muscle soreness
‣ Pepto Bismol for loose stool
‣ Excedrin for headaches
‣ Anti-nausea medications
• GPS / Personal Satellite Communicator (such as Garmin inReach)
• Portable battery pack (such as Goal Zero Sherpa 100PD)
• Camera: lightweight with extra batteries
Other Optional Items
• Lightweight journal, sketchbook, pencils, pen, e-reader
• Female urination device (FUD)
Madison Mountaineering is recognized for well thought out strategy in high altitude climbing expeditions, as well as high-quality service throughout. Because we have two decades of experience in the planning and coordination of mountaineering expeditions, our reputation is excellent. We strive to make each expedition the best possible experience for our climbers and focus on our 3 primary goals of success in reaching the summit, returning safely, and having fun!
Our guides are some of the best and most experienced in the industry, having a strong grasp of technical climbing, expedition, and high altitude experience, along with strong interpersonal skills. Our teams are small and equipped with the best support available to ensure the highest chance of success. We are renowned for our comfortable base camps, high-quality food, first-rate communications, and medical support services, all of which are overseen by a professional member of our team.
Most of our climbers have either climbed with us before, been referred by a friend who has climbed with us, or met one of our teams while attempting another peak and decided to join us for their next expedition. We work hard to facilitate safe, successful, and enjoyable expeditions for all of our climbers. Our track record and past climber testimonials prove we are not only experts in our field, but we also love what we do!