Vahallas, Olympus and Vicinity
June 4-10, 2009


Photos and story by Jason

"All men dream:but not equally.Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in day to find that it was vanity:but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible."

>>>>Return to PART ONE

>>>>PART TWO (on this page)

Day Four: North Face of Athena

The morning was a disappointment. Fog had come to our tent's door and greeted us with her gray dress. Since there was no reason to rise, we rested and waited for a break in the weather. I awoke to Klye who heard people. From the bowels of cloud came a group who even a mile off were heard. One man sung, "He's got the whole world in his hands, he's got the whoooooooole world in HIS hands." Throughout the remainder of the trip, whenever we were lost in the fog, one of us would bust out that song and the other would yell, "Shut the hell up!" LOL.

Another skier (the only one we'd see) surprised us by coming over to visit. He was a nice guy. We talked for a bit before he went up to Olympus. After everyone was gone, I convinced Kyle that we should go for a ski. Our plan for the day was to go to the Valhallas, but we couldn't do that if the weather wasn't any good. My plan was to descend the Snowdome and climb up to Glacier Pass and traverse around and up the Hoh Glacier to the summit of the East Peak of Olympus. This way we'd ski all the summits. It wasn't to be. By the time we were traveling up the Hoh Glacier, our views were limited to sporadic breaks in the clouds. Seeing that it could worsen even more, we decided to ski Athena, which appeared to have an exciting face to ski.

Our skins were hopeless at best. Pollen had destroyed any hopes of their being able to take us anywhere. Not even my straps were doing me any good. We surrendered to boot packing, leaving our skins in a swale below Athena's Owl. We were going to rock climb to the top, but I wanted to climb the face which is what we did. It was steep and fog encumbered and my fingers were screaming at me from the chilly snow. When I arrived at the top I discovered a small glass jar with the remains of notes left by previous climbers. A few went back over 50 years! And there were very few of them at that. Another area where the prize (in this case Mount Olympus) is climbed and nearby peaks and/or routes are ignored. As for me, I was thrilled to be there encapsulated in white on a remote summit in the middle of nowhere. It was left to my imagination to fill in the sights I could've had.

The descent was quick and the steep turns felt amazing. As Klye took the lead, I could hear the sluffs he kicked off break the silence many seconds after his first turn. The crashing over the shrunds down onto the glacier were powerful and thundering! I soon followed, a blind man turning over and through the folds of gray and white. Where land began and air took over was a question I asked each time my skis pushed into the snow and reached out to grab it.

On our return journey it was our plan to try and climb the East Peak of Olympus. We couldn't even see the peak to have any clue of where to begin. I still thought we could find the route we had skied the previous day. If I could, then we would descend that face again and return over Crystal Pass to our camp. After seeing hide nor hair of rock, I began to second guess my decision, but I stuck to my guns and when we eventually reached the other side of the Hoh Glacier, I continued upward until we reached our tracks from the previous day. Looking down at what we had skied, now in the fog, it appeared more daunting than before, but once skis were on, neither of us were concerned. It was another amazing ski.

This time I waited for Kyle before Crystal Pass just to be sure we didn't lose each other in the fog. The ski was slow going since our skis were caked in pollen. With no visible landmarks, all that was recognizable were my skis and the millions upon millions of glacier worms. From the past few days we have discovered that they like to come out around 5p.m. With their little heads waving in the wind, I analyzed their movements to unlock other secrets of their behavior. Since we had neglected to bring filters we likened our water to, "Protein Shakes" for obvious reasons. Although, for our consumption, Kyle did notice that they didn't appear to be on the snow pack. This did little to remove the picture of tiny worms burrowing through my skin. I wouldn't blame them; my tramping over thousands of 'em on my ski back to camp. In Frank Herbert's Dune, I envisioned his mythological worms of the Planet Arrakis, 100's of feet long, burrowing through these very snows, mothers of these tiny creatures, reaching up to smite me. I didn't linger longer than I had to.

That night clouds would brush up against the mountains like great waves. They would crash over and then pull back. Before long we were drowning in them, but sights of the sun's red glare kept my hopes alive. The next day would be my last chance to visit the Valhallas and the weather was the worst it had been. In the cold wind I stayed looking from the ridge until my fingers became too cold. I went to bed and tried not to dream at all, but that wasn't possible. Dreams are like oil in water, once they begin filling your thoughts, they can't be rid of. They cling to every thought.

Day Five: South Face of Olympus, Hugin and the Valhallas

With morning woke an amazing sight. There was not a cloud in the sky, except for a puff lost in the valleys. My eyes lit like a christmas tree and gear piled into our packs in anticipation of an epic day. Loaded and ready to go, we climbed to the Col we had earlier scouted and prepared for the descent.

What is interesting about the South Face of Olympus is that there are few photos of it and none I was able to see. This provided extra excitement for me since the way ahead was unknown. In my torn out chapter of the Olympics guide, I read through its description of the route. In that it recommended two days to go one way was a cause for worry, but I knew we'd be faster without heavy packs. There was confusion over how to reach the Hubert Glacier, but I set those worries aside for agonizing over later.

The morning snow was rock hard. In places where the sun had been longer, there was a little grip, but everywhere else needed to be respected. With skis I managed to enjoy searching for the way down, but I was too far left. Kyle called me over while I was trying to find a way through an ice cliff. No luck. He had thought there may be a way to his right, so I traversed by him and through sections of glacier ice to what appeared to be a couloir leading down to gentler slopes. When Kyle arrived, he began first and found himself struggling to gain purchase. My heart leaped to my throat, but he managed to gain control after losing it. Above us we could see the ice cliff. It was amazing to see when framed by cliffs on three sides. Below were more challenges, but from above there didn't appear to be any. Like a snake hidden in a bush, they were waiting to bite us.

I strayed too far to the right and discovered massive cliffs with cascading waterfalls. Thinking back to the guidebook description, I traversed far over to the ridge to my left, took off my skis and looked over. What I saw didn't look promising, so I waved Kyle over and we met in the middle. After a few turns down and sidesteps up proved fruitless, I traversed back to the left and through steep cliffs in the hopes I'd find a way through. More dead ends pushed me farther to the left until I was able to break free of the cliffs and ski down to a position where I could watch Kyle. He had chosen wisely to down climb a short bit after he had climbed and traversed from our previous dead ends. Before long we were at the bottom safely. After a break Kyle asked, "So do we go further?" A smile and a push from the rocks cast me down the mountain. It was as good a answer as any.

We reached the very bottom of the glacier and followed a stream bed that had carved a deep, crumbling couloir through the cliffs over to a point far below the terminus of the Hubert Glacier. I'd estimate we reached the South Fork of the Hoh River at ~4000-ft. We dropped another few hundred feet around a waterfall, staying to the east of the river before finding couloirs that appeared to lead up to the Valhallas. We were feeling confindent and yet swarming clouds had begun to take residence above us.

A few thousand feet of climbing brought us up to a gentle glacier and near a summit. Sights of the Valhallas looked deceivingly close. They were far from it, at least by the route we chose. From a ridge, we could see down into a massive valley interspersed with cliffs and tumbling streams bashing to meet in the river below. Going higher I decided to drop when I should've gone further still, but worsening weather convinced me to hurry. Finding myself in a very narrow couloir, snow petered out to waterfall and the way back became my escape. I climbed out telling Kyle to look for another way. He decided to climb around, bypassing the waterfall, so he could enter the lower couloir. In what appeared to be an easy traverse, turned out not to be. I was surprised Kyle had continued cause there were no footholds and your hands had nothing solid but heather to hang from. Making sure I grabbed a healthy handful, I pulled myself over to the couloir, lightly carved out a place to put on skis, and managed to safely turn down to the bottom without being cliffed out again. Both Kyle and I promised not to return that way. We'd have to find something else.

More climbing led out of a couloir that appeared as if it would also dead end. Kyle had climbed down to scout and thought he saw a way down the ridge, so we climbed up out of the couloir and found that the ridge in fact had continuous steep snow all the way down to the valley. From Kilkelly Creek I knew that we had made it. Little appeared to stand in our way except for time, which was a cause for concern. Taking a break I reached down into the blood of the Geri-Freki Glacier and drank until I could drink no more and then filled up my bottle for the climb. From previous views of the Valhallas, we had determined that Hugin would be our best bet. It's summit was snow to the top and appeared the finest ski mountain of the bunch.

Kyle took the lead and we set off to finish another 2000-ft of climbing. From my camera I was able to determine where we needed to be in respect to lower cliffs. From there it was on faith as the slope steeped. We could see the outlines of Thor and Woden, but just barely. In this land of Gods' our views were obscured. Bragi, Mimir, Munin, Frigga, Baldur, Vili and Loki all veiled in a white haze of mystery, as perhaps they should be? On the summit I found flowers growing near rocks. I found the color odd in such a black and white landscape. We didn't stay long to appreciate either. We were only half way.

The ski down was rushed to make up for lost time. This did not lessen the thrill of being among mountains I had come so far to visit. They had been all I had expected. They had provided me challenge which I crave. They opened my eyes so often shut and internal. This place pulled me out myself into the elements, and that is invigorating!

The way back proved as difficult as we expected. Our movements were slowing and our wear beginning to show. We switched leads and trudged up deep snow, bypassing the difficult patch, before eventually reaching the ridge. Not a thing could be seen, but ever so often clouds would abandon their posts and allow us sights forward. Once on our tracks we felt better. We traversed and descended to the valley where we saw a Black Bear with his neck craned up to see us. I wondered then if he had ever seen humans? A few turns frightened him and he burst down the side of the creek and was gone.

Climbing up the South Face of Olympus was nearly 4000-ft of climbing. Reversing our tracks over rivers and streams, up couloirs and around cliffs, we arrived below the steep couloir that led to Snowdome. It was much further than I remembered and steep enough to keep you on your toes. By then darkness had come and with it, all clouds had vanished. Where did they go so fast? I shook my head in wonder. Gray moon shadows were cast over the Valhallas and my aching legs shook when I turned to stare at them. Finally reaching the top, I climbed by brail up rock to the col. With one last look over my shoulder, I wondered if I would ever return? My eyes blinked like a shutter of a camera storing the picture in my head forever.

Day Six and Seven: Camp at Olympus Ranger Station and hike out to Hoh Ranger Station

Sleeping in was a just reward and we slept as long as we could, but hunger motivated us to sort through our food to see what we could eat. I found nothing, but Kyle, who had come with 10 packages of Top Ramen, 20 packages of oatmeal and 5 things of Mac and Cheese, along with snacks dubbed, "Laundry detergent" managed to have food remaining. We really didn't have 5 days of food, let alone 7. I saved what I had left in hopes of receiving a moral boost for dinner.

The return ski down the Blue Glacier was one of the best. Since the snow had iced up the night before during our descent from the col to camp, all the pollen had been ground away. Now that morning our skis cruised well enough that even Kyle was able to keep a full head of steam all the way across the glacier.

At Glacier Meadows we met a group that was spending several weeks in the Olympics as part of a course. They were from the East Coast and were absolutely loaded with food and gear. After chatting with them they later returned to say, "BTW, we have an extra bag of food, would you like some.. cause we'd rather not carry it out?" Kyle and I couldn't of hidden our expressions when they put a bag in front of us full of yogurt covered raisins, mm's, hot chocolate, dried fruit, sugar, and other goodies. After sorting though the food, we said thanks a dozen times and stuffed all the food in our packs. It wasn't until we were at the bridge over Martin Creek that we pulled it all out to eat it in peace. After getting about 1500 calories a day or less for a week, I was very hungry. What a winfall!

That night we decided to stay near the Olympus Ranger Station. There are several camps near the river. We found one that fit our needs and went about spreading our gear all over the place with our newly acquired hoard of food becoming the centerpiece.

The next morning we hiked the last 9 miles to the car. During the hike, wind finally swept to the ground, strong enough to reach us and carry tired legs to the end. A few hours later, we were back at the cars where tourists again wondered, "Are those skis? Where did they go?" With a warm pop in my hand, I sat on the sidewalk and wrote in my journal, "Time to get these damn shoes off!" With people looking on, I didn't care. Perhaps I am a fool, but I'm fine with that. A turn climbed for is a turn earned. A mountain seen from the top of, is a mountain known better for it.

As for these Olympic Mountains, they invited me to "Come on in." So I did, mumbling hello as I passed on through. Now, looking back, this journey kept my heart pumping, breath short and eyes wide. With a thousand memories screaming to be remembered, this week long adventure won't soon be forgotten. Even now, embedded in those experiences there is one that stands out from the crowd. It is this: when every mountain seems lost among the clouds, one remains standing outside it. His face turns toward me with a grin and I turn and face him with a grin of my own. ~ jason hummel ~