This mountain has a very long approach. 44 miles round trip. While this would be manageable running with two water bottles in hand, it’s an entirely different experience with a 60lb Arct’yrex Bora 95 pack! Day 1: The first day was flat and cloudy with some rain mixed into the hike. From that point on until I got back to the parking lot 4 days later my cloths never dried. We spent the first night at Lewis Meadows, set up camp, cooked dinner, and prepared for the next days hike which is where the elevation started taking place. I dropped some food and dry cloths at Lewis Meadows and lightened my load by a few pounds. Day 2: The next day we hiked up to Glacier Meadows following the Hoh river which is where most people end their journey. It was there I met the white mountain goat. I also found weird bones left on the trail, not sure what kind of animal it was (photo). I knew we didn’t have much time as we were planning on getting up at 3am for an alpine start at an attempt to summit the West Peak of Mt. Olympus. I can see why not too many people attempt this climb, the approach is extremely long and tiring if you are carrying all the necessary gear for a safe climb. Along the way we met an Italian team and a San Francisco based team. The Italians didn’t seem to have all the necessary gear for the climb, but appeared to know what they were getting themselves into. They had rope, but no harnesses, which can be scary while traversing over ice bridges and crevasses. They explained that they were used to glacier and snow travel as they lived above 6,000 feet in Northern Italy. Giovanni and Paula were their names.
Day 3: We got up at 3am, and ate breakfast and began gather our gear (crampons, anchors, harnesses, rope, etc.) We hiked up the moraine and down the moraine in complete darkness by way of our headlamps. The sun began to come up while we were on the blue glacier. This glacier is one of a kind and is filled with small crevasses with blue ice frozen over and is almost never covered in snow. You literally are walking on ice that is tens of thousands of years old and is distinctly blue. After crossing the Blue Glacier we continued up to the Snow Dome at 6,600 feet. Moving towards the left we entered an area called the keyhole and turned around the summit. It was there we ended up on rock and not glacier. We rock climbed to the summit, and reached it at 9:40am PST Tuesday.
As we headed back down the snow conditions were much different after a few hours of sun light. The snow was mushier and now less safe to travel. I lead our rope team on the decent. This can be a tricky job. If an ice bridge weakens after the sun heats it up and thus makes it unstable, I will be the one to take the fall. Good glacier knowledge and glacier travel technique is certainly something you need to know at this point. I made it back to Glacier Meadows camp at 1pm. We all gathered our gear, repacked our bags and continued down to the Ranger Station another 10 more miles down. We pitched the tent near the Hoh river hoping it wouldn’t rain and that the breeze would carry the mosquitoes away.
Day 4: We repacked everything, and hiked another 9 miles out to the cars. My legs were trashed at the end of this climb. Too much hiking with a heavy pack left my muscles and my joints felling it. We still had another mountain to climb.
Our gear was wet, we were all exhausted and we decided to take a rest day, and quickly changed our minds on climbing Mt. Rainier and used our back up option, Mt. Baker via the Easton Glacier. I had done Mt. Baker a year ago with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Washington. Last year I climbed it via the Coleman Deming Glacier. We headed north and crossed the Olympic Peninsula via a ferry to Oak Harbor, Washington. We spent the night in the Auld Holland Inn (http://www.auldhollandinn.com/) which I recommend if your looking for a good deal in that part of Washington. There we washed cloths, lets our gear dry, and planned for our summit bid on Mt. Baker. The plan was to climb Mt. Baker in 24 hours. This is a lofty goal alone, but to do it after a 4 day climb up Mt. Olympus was a bit of a stretch.
Day 1, 3pm: Because we had planned to do this in one day our load was light. We carried enough food and gear only for a night and the next day. Approaching Mt. Baker from the North we hiked in 2.5 miles and set up camp on the base of the glacier. It was there we spent 1.5 hours digging and building a platform on the ice for our tent. 10 feet away there was a crevasses. I believe we were safe however because we were very close to the rocks. We pitched the tent, began cooking dinner, and watched the sun go down. I have attached a video of my friend Tito giving a pre-climb report.
Day 2, 3am: We woke up, made some oatmeal, and gathered our gear and were roped up and climbing by 4am. The ascent up Mt. Baker started off easy, but quickly became steep. We reached a 40% grade which is fairly steep for me. Your crampons have to be able to dig deep into the hardened snow and you must trust them to hold you and your entire loads weight. We reached the summit at 10:20 am PST for a beautiful morning. The weather could not have been better. We stayed at the summit for 40 minutes and then began our decent. Again, I took the lead descending. We were descending about 2.5 to 3 times faster than our ascent. By this time we were all feeling the fatigue in our system, but kept moving along. We would be traversing around crevasses and ice bridges. Finally we made it back to camp at 2pm. I knew that I would not make it out of there in 24 hours, I still needed to pack up all my gear, and hike down a very steep 2.5 miles out. I was back at the car at 4:20, 25:20 minutes to summit Mt. Baker and back. Last year it took me 3 days to reach the summit and get back, so Id say it’s a bit of an improvement.
It certainly is good to be back on land, and back in Carolina trail country.
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