Today, I finally did the math and mapped out what this trip has looked like for me so far:
That means that between last Thursday night and this Wednesday, I’ve driven a total of 32 hours and 1600+ miles. I also skied / hiked / suffered for a full five days of that period, with all the driving happening at night, and with only the Blister Podcast as company for all but three of those hours. So you could say that things are getting serious with me and my Scion, Freja.
So before we report on Portland and Bend and Mt. Bachelor, here’s the rest of our story which has me driving away from Cooke City, Montana, while thunderstorms rolled in…
A quick phone call to David Steele confirmed that the weather was looking good, and he was still interested in a summit attempt of Mount Olympus in Washington.
Mount Olympus is not an obvious ski objective. The snowline usually sits about 18 miles and 3000 vertical feet from the parking lot, and climbing the summit block requires either some exposed scrambling or a trad rack. But David has had his eye on Olympus for a while, so when he told me we were going to walk 40-ish miles with skis on our backs, I was in.
After eleven hours on the road I stopped in Moscow, Idaho, just long enough to hug my family and stock up on bulk candy. Then it was on to Seattle to meet up with David to gather glacier gear and do a quick check to make sure we had everything we needed for three days of hiking, camping, ski touring, glacier travel, and trad climbing.
Finally, I drove my car onto the ferry and we left Seattle’s bustling shores.
Three more hours and one grocery stop later and we had arrived in the quiet town of Forks, Washington. Aside from being a gateway to Olympic National Park, Forks is also known for being the home of the Twilight series. Since neither I nor David have ever read the books or seen the movies, and we didn’t go on the Twilight tour in Forks, we were left to speculate about the vampires and werewolves that haunt the streets.
By the time we finally made it to the campground in Olympic National Park, we were beat and it was raining. David filled out permits while I dug out the tent.
The morning broke clear-ish, so we loaded up our packs with three day’s worth of food and water, glacier rescue gear, avalanche gear, a stripped-down trad rack, skis, and boots.
Amazingly, I was able to fit everything in the 42 L Mammut Spindrift Guide. The fact that I only carried the rope while David took the shelter, rack, and stove may have had something to do with that, but I knew I’d probably need the handicap. As it turned out, I should have been slipping rocks into his pack, too.
Once loaded up, we set out into the Hoh rain forest. Initially, we were amazed and overwhelmed by the trees and moss, and stopped at every stream crossing to take photos. Soon, though, that excitement abated, and we fell back on an in-depth debate revolving around outdoors lit, including Brendan Leonard’s new book, 60 Meters to Anywhere.
By mile 15, I was spent. My smaller pack didn’t carry the weight well, and a winter of too many hamburgers and not enough kick turns had left me feeling fat and slow. Our intellectual conversation and cheerful banter had turned into mumbled Jurassic 5 and Taylor Swift lyrics.
In the last two miles I spent less time walking and more time eating candy and wishing that I couldn’t feel my feet. So when we hit a blown-out section of trail that had been replaced with this…
I was about ready to just stop and set up camp on the side of the mountain. But thankfully, after after hiking a couple more miles of rocky trail in ski boots, we arrived at high camp, the poorly named, “Glacier Meadows.”
Glacier Meadows is sadly lacking in meadows, and should instead be called Glacier Glenn or Glacier Hollow. But I was just happy to get out of my shoes while we cooked dinner. After a quick crevasse rescue refresher, we passed out.
Up to this point we still hadn’t seen our objective, or any mountains, really; the upper elevations had all been blocked by trees and socked in with fog. So when the morning broke clear, we knew it was time to stash our extra gear out of the reach of bears and hit the glacier.
Unfortunately, our approach was a little complicated, and the moraine we expected to easily climb over was sprinkled with cliff bands. A little creative route-finding, however, brought us to the glacier where we roped up.
I’m only sort of joking when I say that David pulled me up Snow Dome with that rope, but when we finally reached the top, we caught a glimpse of our objective, Mount Olympus, for the first time.
Unfortunately, from the top of Snow Dome we could also see some nasty looking weather moving up.
By this point it was abundantly clear that we’d left camp too late, and that while optimism was still high, the group’s energy level was low. (Full disclosure: the guy who was hurting the most was not the one carrying the tent, stove, and trad rack.)
So we stood on top of Snow Dome and tried to make smart decisions while I snacked away. After assessing the weather conditions, the snowpack, and our level of fatigue, we called it. It’s not easy to turn around when you just walked 18 miles through a rainforest with ski gear, but we decided that turning around would probably be easier than leading an unfamiliar trad route and crossing the glacier on questionable snow in a whiteout.
While getting to the top of things is fun, being alive next year to try again is more fun.
So back to camp we headed, savoring the few perfect turns we’d walked so far to earn:
We hiked back down to a camp area about halfway to the car, where we feasted on freeze-dried food.
The next day, an uneventful hike dropped us back at the cars where we eventually parted ways, and I was off to pick Jonathan up at the Portland airport.
The story of what happened in Portland that night (and the chaos of picking Jonathan up at PDX) will have to wait for another time. But luckily we’ve made it to Bend, Oregon, where we’ve just wrapped up two days at Mt. Bachelor.
Tomorrow we’ll collect our thoughts on what we’ve been skiing on and doing in Bend, and start to pump out some reviews, but for now we’re heading now to a spot called, “Super Burrito,” which is without question the smartest, most compelling name of a food joint ever.