Mount Olympus — Dispelling the Myth
Most people think of mountains as being frigid, icy places. When I tell people that I’m a guide, they usually say something along the lines of, “Wow, so you do all that stuff with, like, ice picks and stuff? You’re hardcore! Aren’t you scared you’ll fall off the mountain?”
Blue Glacier. MM Photo Collection
Nope, not really. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been on a mountain, so you know that it is actually quite a pleasant experience. Some more than others, I’ll admit. But if it wasn’t enjoyable, I wouldn’t have a job, and Mountain Madness wouldn’t exist — or it would have a name more like Foothill Folly or Forest Foolishness.
Hoh Rainforest Trail. MM Photo Collection
One of my favorite mountains to guide is Mount Olympus. It is a great introduction to climbing for very fit beginners. You get a little taste of everything: a big glacier, a little steep snow, a little rock climbing, and a long approach on the most beautiful trail in the state. The Olympic National Park is a temperate rainforest with more shades of green than you even knew existed, and home to some of the largest old-growth trees in the country. And it’s the setting for Twilight, but most of us try to ignore that.
Hoh River. MM Photo Collection
What makes this trail unique, other than its beauty? Well, for one thing, it is 18 miles long. Hence the “very fit” part. But it is also one of the most well-maintained trails that I know. There is no scrambling up tree roots, rock hopping across creeks, or carefully picking your way through scree. Half of the trail is what I would call “flat” although many clients have protested that my frame of reference is a little bit different than the average person’s. Regardless of my biased definition of “flat”, you gain less than 1,000 feet in the first 10 miles.
Steep snow on the way up to the summit. John Cooledge photo
Then it starts going uphill. And you have a heavy pack, and it’s probably hot out, so you’ve gotten pretty sweaty by this point. Plus you are two days into the trip, which means two days of sweat, dust, and bug spray have accumulated on your body. You’re probably thinking right now that I’m not making climbing sound pleasant at all. Bear with me, it gets better.
Doing backflips into the lake. John Cooledge photo
About 15 miles into the hike, you reach Elk Lake. By this point, most people are ready for a long break as they brace themselves for the steeper, hotter section of trail immediately ahead. Lucky for us, there is Elk Lake. Now, most lakes can be kinda scuzzy by the shore — murky water, mud that goes up to your knees, weeds that wrap around your ankles, rocks and sticks that try to trip you and send you headlong into said mud and weeds (and crawdads and frogs and…). But if you scramble down a faint trail and thrash through a few bushes, you reach a fallen tree. Like many of the trees in the Olympics, it was a giant tree, the kind you couldn’t come close to wrapping your arms around. This tree fell directly out into the lake, providing a pleasant woody path away from the shore and down into the deep clear water. You can slowly walk your way into the water, or hop off to the side for a quick dunk. Voila, you have both showered AND done laundry.
On the summit. John Cooledge photo
Climbing mountains is still hardcore, even if you aren’t at risk of falling off the mountain into a bottomless abyss as you clutch your ‘ice picks’ and yell “Nooooo…” (or whatever it is that people imagine climbing is all about). But it’s not all ice and misery up there.
~ MM Guide Viviane deBros