Thursday, August 9, 2007

Mt Olympus & Ho River

I'm back from my visit to Olympic national park in Washington. I went half intending to climb Mt Olympus, the highest point in the range. The summit is pretty remote, something like 20 miles and 7500 feet of elevation gain from the nearest parking lot. I spent the first day hiking in along the Ho River. Just the hike itself is very pretty. The trail runs through an old growth rain forest. Huge trees (some of the biggest in the world), moss, and all kinds of plants growing everywhere. It seems very primitive and ancient somehow. There are a number of impressive waterfalls and a crossing over a deep gorge along the trail.

The second day I headed out for the summit. I hadn't really seen much of the mountain until I got about a mile out from camp. I crested the top of a ridge of rubble and then I saw it. It was spectacular. The other side of the ridge dropped down steeply onto the Blue Glacier. Most of the glacier was bare, blue ice, with lots of crevasses. Further up the glacier were massive ice falls, flowing their way around pinnacles of rock 1000 ft or more in height. At the top of the ice falls was a relatively flat and very large snow field with more rock pinnacles sticking out the top. I figured one of them must be the summit. Unfortunately my camera decided not to work (I now own three non-functional digital cameras) so I didn't get any photos. Check out this link for other's photos of what I saw.

Crossing the glacier solo was a bit intimidating. It took some will to convince myself that each step would not result in my breaking through the roof of a crevasse and falling into its bottomless pit. Once I actually got on the glacier I felt better. Still, the thought of falling into a crevasse was something I had to keep beating back, sometimes before each and every step I took. Whether or not such fear was warranted I don't know. Some times I saw features in the ice which suggested I was overreacting but some times I saw features which suggested the opposite. I was constantly on the look-out for any signs of a weak surface, often poking with my ice axe to test surfaces before putting my weight on them. If nothing else it served to convince myself that I was being safe. Soon enough I was across the glacier and on to the next part of the climb.

The next part was a long, pleasant slog up relatively gentle snow slopes to the top of what is called Snow Dome (see photos at the link). The top of Snow Dome is a relatively flat snow field with multiple pinnacles poking out of it. I could understand now why Mt Olympus is properly referred to as a massif. Olympus is basically a huge mound of snow and ice with a few pinnacles of rock jutting out the top of it. It reminded me of some of the pictures I've seen of Antarctica. A landscape of snow with the occasional rock tower poking out. The valleys below had filled with fog making it easy to believe that everything below me was snow and ice. At some point during past ice ages it probably was.

The next phase of the climb involved crossing the snow field to reach the bottom of the pinnacle. Here I had a problem. I didn't know which pinnacle was the highest. I had brought some pages copied out of a guide book with me, but much of their route description didn't make sense to me. Access to the peak which looked to be the highest was blocked by bergschrunds (a type of large crevasse). It looked like I could cross a snow bridge over one of the bergschrunds, move through a narrow pass, and get around to the backside of the pinnacle. I was thinking that maybe the backside would offer better options.

After moving through the pass more pinnacles came into view. I was less sure that I had picked the tallest pinnacle now. I decided to stick with the original pinnacle. It didn't matter to me if it really was the summit or not. More slogging through the snow and I got to the base of the pinnacle. What I could see of the pinnacle looked rather technical and exposed. Here, as at the glacier crossing, I had to spend some time convincing (deluding?) myself into believing that it was safe to try the pinnacle. After getting within 100 feet of the top and trying various lines I decided to stop trying. The up climbing itself was not hard for me. My main concern was being able to climb down what I was going up. As with ladders and trees, down climbing is always harder than up climbing. I was carrying no rope so rapelling was not an option. After giving myself a few good scares I decided I had had enough and came down for good. By this time some clouds had moved in and completely obscured the view of the pinnacle. Somehow it made my abandonment of the pinnacle attempt easier to accept. I followed my path back down Snow Dome. On my way down I passed three climbers heading up. They were the only other people I'd seen since leaving camp.

Before reaching the edge of the Blue Glacier I stopped for a while and admired the view. I was at about the same level as the ice falls, where they flowed around some rock spires. It's always hard to convey the sense of scale which these landscapes generate when seen in person. They more than fill your field of view. Their sounds surround you completely. Here a giant sheet of ice fell, I'd guess over 1000 feet, to the Blue Glacier below. Within the flow of ice, and within the ice fall itself, stood giant (at least several hundred feet tall) rock spires. The spires were resistant to the ice's flow, yet over the eons the ice had carved and formed the rock into their current shapes.

Seeing such things makes it pretty clear that people, despite all of our achievements, are still very much at the mercy of good old mother nature. Any city in the world would be wiped off the map by a process of this scale, let alone the scales on which these processes currently operate at in places like Antarctica. The ice is like a giant pencil eraser acting on the surface of the earth. Once the eraser is done you can tell that something has been erased, but there's no clue as to what was there before.

All too soon it was time to start moving again. I noticed fog creeping up the glacier I was about to cross. At some point, while crossing the glacier, I was no longer able to see either edge of the glacier. In every direction there was just ice and fog. It was a bit creepy, kind of like losing sight of shore. It was too bad I had left the compass which the group of engineers I used to manage had given me back at my house. I continued on and reached the far edge. However, I couldn't find the trail back up the rubble pile. I couldn't even find the rubble pile. I zigzagged along the edge of the glacier, first downstream then upstream, at times trying to push further into the rocks. The visibility had gotten worse. A couple of times I had to beat back a sense of panic before I finally found the trail. It turns out I had initially landed just downstream of it. 30 minutes later I was back at camp and the idea of panic seemed silly. The next day I hiked back out the way I had come in.

The van and the modifications worked great. The gas gauge seems to be inaccurate, but not enough to make me fix it. I've decided to go ahead and add an inverter into the secondary power circuit. They're pretty cheap for my wattage needs and they include battery under / overcharging detection and protection circuitry. Of course, the best part is that they allow you to power anything that plugs into a standard wall socket.

I'm off for a couple of days to Crater Lake with a bunch of friends. I think most are biking around the lake. I haven't decided what I'll be doing but there are a lot of options in the area. Jenny has found some good tenants. The lease has been signed. I need to find out about the status of the WRX tomorrow. I expect to be mostly at home for at least the next week or so. Beyond that I can't say.


No comments:

/****** Used to generate site stats *******/