TR - Sunh-a-do (Mt Olympus)
Updated: Jul 25, 2019
Sunh-a-do via Blue Glacier
With Amelia & Adam
Views: 👁👁👁👁👁 rainforests + glaciers = heaven on earth
Snow: ⛄⛄⛄⛄ very solid!
Rock: 🧗♀️🧗♀️ better than I thought it would be, but certainly not confidence-inspiring
Suffering: 😈😈😈 most of the route is quite pleasant, but food poisoning adds some spice
Routefinding: 👣👣👣👣👣 solid bootpack the whole way up and down, route is obvious
Timing: ⏰⏰ avoiding the crowds at the summit was great, but Memorial Day weekend isn't
Exhaustion: 😴😴😴😴 all my calories were... expelled from my body by the end
Crowds: 👯♀️👯♀️ lots of folks up to the moraine, nobody after!
We encountered routefinding issues early in the trip while attempting to find suitable pastries in Olympia. We had to backtrack a little bit but thankfully our GPS led true and took us to Left Bank Patisserie where we secured many croissant and croissant-adjacent foods for the trip. Another stop at the Olympia Grocery Outlet provided the remainder of our rations.
The first technical crux came at the Wilderness Information Center in Quinault. The lines out of this building were reminiscent of the summit of Everest in their length and duration. I truly felt as if I was at 29,000' without oxygen while waiting for two hours for a permit. Turns out Memorial Day weekend is a popular time to go backpacking. Who knew?
Similarly the entrance to the Hoh Valley was backed up for over an hour as they had reached capacity and were only letting cars in as others left. We wished each tourist luck getting a quick selfie next to a large tree and skedaddling asap.
We arrived at the trailhead at 3:30pm on Saturday after leaving Seattle at 7am and had to reevaluate our plans - the original thought was to camp at Glacier Meadows and attempt a summit on Saturday evening/Sunday morning but the driving had made our bones stiff and our spirits heavy so we eked out 10 miles and stayed the night at Lewis campground. This would later prove to be a fortunate turn of events.
Sunday morning we woke up and moved camp up to the moraine overlooking Blue Glacier and the Olympus massif. There we attempted to nap as the sun beat down on us. With alarms set for midnight there wasn't much to do other than try to sleep, eavesdrop on day hikers, and look at saved topo maps while dreaming up future linkups.
At midnight Monday morning we woke to a clear starry sky and temperate conditions. We packed up camp and stashed our gear hoping that no marmots would visit it before we got back. There was a small section of downward chossaineering to reach the glacier's edge which we later realized was avoidable via a snow finger.
The glacier has evident crevasses right out of the gate, but very few are open wider than a few inches. We opted to rope up while traveling in the dark, but a very apparent bootpack led us in the right direction. By the time we crested Snow Dome, the moon had risen and we could walk by its illumination alone. I subjected my party members to many proclamations about the sublime-ness of the situation, the glory of nature's beauty, how happy I was to be alive, etc.
More glacier travel led us up closer to the summit block. The bergschrund is a gaping maw, but easily passible on climber's right. We were lucky to have nice and crunchy snow at this point as the hill angle slightly increased.
At the summit block, we de-'ponned and got psyched for some very cold rock. I led the pitch of rock and snow as the sun was cresting the horizon. There were some moments that were spooky but the majority of the route felt solid (or as solid as trail runners on ice and gloves on rock ever feels). I placed a pink tricam and a BD #2 for protection as well as clipping two rap anchors. I belayed my partners caterpillar-style as the pitch was less than 30m with the current snow level. 4th class felt a bit conservative for this climb under current conditions but who am I to say?
The summit was beautiful but frigid. We spent about 3 minutes up there before collectively agreeing to GTFO and rigging a rappel. There is plenty of tat on the summit horn and a 60m rope reaches the bottom with room to spare. I spent a few minutes using a quickdraw to rescue the aforementioned pink tricam as the rest of my party was not wise to the ways of removing them and no one had the foresight to pack a nut tool.
After hearing about how crowded the route was Sunday morning, we were extremely surprised to have not seen a single soul on the route the whole time we were there. I can imagine the summit block would become much more dangerous with other parties kicking down loose blocks and rappelling on top of climbers.
The descent back to the moraine was uneventful. We decided to do it unroped for speed and ease of plunge-stepping.
The long walk to the car was similarly uneventful except for me having developed a case of food poisoning and my body needing to stop and evacuate itself every hour or so. A good motivating factor for a fast pace. We made it back to the car around 8pm Monday evening for a total of 53-ish hours car-to-car.
Gear notes: On a trip like this, light is right! I brought a single whippet instead of an ice axe which served the triple purpose of trekking pole, axe, and tent pole. I used trail runners the whole way and never regretted that decision. Running gaiters helped a bit to keep the snow out and a change of socks was very nice to have. Lightweight strap-on aluminum crampons are also very nice to have since nothing is steeper than 30º or so. We opted not to bring helmets or pickets since the early season crevasse risk is not so large and rockfall can be avoided by choosing a good belay spot. The rope we brought was a 60m 8.1mm half rope, great for glacier travel and within my safety tolerance for using as a single rope to lead one easy pitch.