Washington September 2007 Trip Report
© September 2007 Adam Helman
(Click on any image for enlargement.)


In my long-term plans Denali looms large. Essential to any private expedition is group member compatibility. A fairly good training ground to assess the latter is Mount Olympus - highpoint of the eponymous National Park and tenth most prominent summit in the 48 contiguous states. It sports glaciated terrain; is a long-haul backpack (hence providing adequate time to "know" one another); and is a wonderfully impressive objective in itself.

Alaska Airlines had a low-fare sale in March - and I used that as "excuse" for inviting people to join me for a summer ascent of Mount Olympus. I specifically ask climbers who want to form a private Denali expedition if they are interested in an Olympus climb. One of them joins, only to unexpectedly cancel two weeks before the trip. The other man (who has climbed the fabled Seven Summits), simply could not afford the time from work given his existing summer climbing plans.

Mount Olympus
The summit of Mount Olympus.
I am surprised - Mount Olympus is a great mountain!! I want to climb Olympus for its own sake regardless of the fact that, suddenly, no Denali team member can afford the time to join me there. As I cannot climb it solo (this is WAY dangerous), I gladly accept the membership of any and every qualified person...

Greg Slayden and Richard Carey promptly answer the call.

That alone forms a sufficient team since Greg had been to Olympus previously, indeed, within some 50 vertical of the summit; and Richard is also an experienced peakbagger, and friend, with whom I had also climbed several mountains. Importantly, Greg possesses the rock leader skills needed for the final summit pitch. Both Greg and Richard had already climbed Denali (so presumably they have no desire to return); and my compatibility with them was not in doubt.

Hoh forest
A typical view in the Hoh rainforest.
Dan Baxter of Fresno, California becomes a fourth team member. I've climbed with Dan before, and, again, I know him to be a solid performer - especially after learning he just completed the California county highpoints at, of all places, his home county: on North Palisade!

I have wanted to meet Dennis Poulin of Medford, Oregon for quite some time. After his first attempt at Denali failed in 2006, we joined, at least in principle, to collect a critical mass of climbers for a private team. That idea fell through (a story in itself); and so Dennis commited to Alpine Ascents International for a second go-at-it ... with success!

The irony is that had Dennis failed, I was prepared to invite him on the Mount Olympus climb - largely because Dennis expressed interest in a private team should his second attempt with AAI fail. However I did not mention any of this to Dennis, lest I imply that he would not succeed. When Dennis did scale Denali it was, understandably, bittersweet for me because that represented one less person, and a highly qualified one, who could join a private Denali team.

Dennis co-completes California with Dan Baxter mid-August. Dan calls me and asks if Dennis could join the Mount Olympus group. Heck yeah!! - he would form the sixth man that would make for a pair of three-person rope teams: somewhat ideal for glacier travel. Dennis joins us even though he already had scaled Denali. I guess he too senses a good mountain upon learning of it.

plank walking
Enroute to high camp Dennis
"walks the plank" to ford a stream.
Terry Flood is also invited to climb Mount Olympus. Terry is a San Diego-based peakbagger who pledges to assist Greg on the summit pitch as he too possesses the desired rock leader skills. Indeed, Greg and I hard-limit the climb to six people because any more would seriously impede our progress on the rock. In joining us, Terry would make Greg's chores less arduous - and the concept of "six" less burdensome.

Almost as an afterthought to Olympus, I include in the overall itinerary hikes to the Island and Kitsap County, Washington highpoints with Richard Carey.

The plan is to climb Mount Olympus over four days (with a fifth day allowing for really bad weather); and then visit Island and Kitsap counties over the remaining two days before the flight home.

Trip Details

Thursday, August 30 - San Diego to Seattle

Richard Carey cannot join me - he is ill from having just returned from the Far East where he had climbed both Fuji and the South Korea highpoints. Richard is but the start of a trend wherein people drop-off the Olympus summit bandwagon for various reasons.

I park my truck at Richard's home, and he kindly drives me to the airport. I fly alone, meeting Dan Baxter who arrives within minutes of my flight. We share a room at a Motel 6 in Seatac near the airport.

glacial valley
Before Glacier Meadows one is
treated to this view.
Friday, August 31 - Mount Olympus Day 1: drive and approach hike

It is four hours from Seatac to the 18 mile approach road leading to the Hoh River Trailhead. The driving route takes us around the south end of Puget Sound, via Tacoma, and then Aberdeen, to the Olympic Peninsula.

Greg Slayden and Dennis Poulin are there - but where is Terry Flood? It is a light drizzle as we repack our gear for a 4-man expedition: two tents (instead of three); and one rope (instead of two). Charged with providing group dinners each night, it is inconvenient for me to eliminate food from each pre-packed dinner. Well, there is now a surfeit of food each night - actually, a "good thing".

We wait roughly 40 minutes past the high noon meeting time for Terry; leave a note at the ranger station for him; and head uptrail. Terry would never appear - second person falling off the Olympus summit wagon.

Our afternoon backpack features the Hoh rainforest - a wet, pristine venue that surely deserves the protection afforded by a National Park. Unfortunately I cannot enjoy the scenery because of the pack weight and the continual drizzle.

I wear a heavy knee bandage on the left leg since "something" in that limb has prevented me from walking pain-free ever since concluding my Rocky Mountain highpointing trip three weeks earlier. As a result I have not exercised vigorously for that span - and I worry that the 40 miles of hiking and climbing will be too much for me to bear. Every hundredth pace or so, something "snaps" just under my left kneecap, and painfully - but then disappears after the first half mile.

roped travel
Roped travel up the Snow Dome.
We stop for breaks after 4 miles, 7 miles, and then 9.1 miles - at the Guard Station with a ranger on-duty. It is only 5 p.m., so we push on another half-hour to a site near Lewis Camp at 10.5 miles and conveniently near the Hoh River.

Dinner is cajun-spiced rotini noodles with tinned Brazilian roast beef and plenty of melted butter. I enjoy this dish, having served it the first night on the Aconcagua climb. Later we each have a slice of rich, lemon pound cake. Dennis Poulin gets credit for carrying more than his share of food weight!

By now it is after sunset, the sky darkens, and sleep is most inviting.

Saturday, September 1 - Mount Olympus Day 2: Glacier Meadows

The trail steepens markedly after crossing the Hoh River bridge at 13.0 miles. I feel the pack weight as never before, my lack of conditioning self-evident. I am panting terribly each time we break - and this despite the fact that others are carrying as much as ten pounds more than myself.

What is one to do: I could not allow myself exercise the past three weeks lest I re-injure the limb; and I could not fathom cancelling my Olympus bid by simply not flying north. Notably, other people claim I am performing well. I disagree - for although on the face of it my rate of uphill progress is on-par with others, the level of effort I exert to that end is well above what others endure - and as demonstrated by my heavy breathing.

Greg and rope
Greg prepares the rope for its next use.
We arrive at Glacier Meadows five hours after leaving Lewis Camp - a normal 700 foot / hour vertical rate with full packs. It is only 1:30 p.m., and we lounge around under marginally sunny skies doing nothing in particular. Around 3 o'clock I serve lemon cake in "cheesecake" pudding and studded with mixed nuts. Truthfully, the cheese flavor is undetectable - and, indeed, I had wanted to purchase white chocolate pudding as a better flavor combination but could not readily locate it.

Greg leads a training session with rope and a simulated crevasse rescue. This consumes about one hour, and highlights the need for caution, and skill, when crossing both the Blue Glacier and the Snow Dome. In truth, owing to lateness in the season, the Blue Glacier's surface is ice and no crevasses will be hidden.

Dinner is spinach fettuccini with a modified Alfredo sauce containing parmesan cheese, plenty of pine nuts, chopped fresh garlic, and virgin olive oil. Tinned smoked trout and sardines provide essential protein. I am pleased with how both dinners turn out.

I retreat to my bag by 8 p.m. as Greg prepares personal items for tomorrow. The alarm is set to 4 a.m. - well before first light as an expedient Greg recommends in case the predicted bad weather for Monday arrives earlier than forecasted.

Sunday, September 2 - Mount Olympus Day 3: Summit Day

Summit Day consumes 14 hours owing to whiteout conditions that impoverish visibility, making navigation by GPS technology the only available option. The summit rocks are wet, and, indeed, many factors contribute to the overall impression that this is a most memorable experience due to the heightened sense of danger and exposure to the elements.

Dennis climbs
Dennis ascends the route while roped-in to Greg.
However I remain in high camp at Glacier Meadows - a decision that I know will haunt me for months:

My legs are quite sore from the uphill ascent since I have not exercised vigorously for three weeks.

My left boot has somehow acquired a rip in the fabric across much of its length. Below the level of gaiter protection, snow can now enter and lead to wet socks, cold feet, and worse.

On arising at 4 a.m. I could only yawn - and yawn again - in turn because I spend nearly the entire night pondering whether I should start out with the others. It is anguish IN THE EXTREME attemping to decide whether it is a "go" or a "no-go" ... and my decision is self-generated in part because this worrying leaves me emotionally exhausted.

I do not want to climb Mount Olympus any more!!

Perhaps I am merely "psyching myself out". More likely, rather, this sentiment results from NOT EVER SEEING the mountain ... not even at high camp.

Without a concrete, visual appreciation for the goal, I am left with nothing but vague route descriptions to base my decision - and the fact that I would be leading the rope team as guinea pig owing to my light weight. I agree that such a plan is sensible - and yet I disliked terribly the thought of walking randomly into a hidden crevasse, atop the Snow Dome, with the hope that others could extract me. Basically, I did not plan on Russian roulette, and the thought simply repelled me.

I am thus the third person to fall off the wagon, my role now restricted to camp cook 8-).

My decision is largely vindicated in that I could now loan my ice axe to a stranger, one "Bob", who is expecting his brother's arrival at camp the next day (carrying his axe) - one forecast to have bad weather.

Years ago Scott Casterlin had sacrificed his bid to climb Chinati Peak in southwest Texas, the Presidio County highpoint, volunteering to drop-off three climbers, including myself, on a road where parking a vehicle for the day means certain prosecution.

Dennis on-belay
Greg belays Dennis on the final, rock pitch.
At that time I vowed to repeat this kindness if and when it would ever come to pass - and, as Bob desires the summit far more than I, my decision brings Scott's actions full-circle in no uncertain terms - and at a VERY different venue.

All other team members make the summit - Greg, Dennis, and Dan. They return quite wet indeed: Greg's pack could not have been more drenched had it been thrown in the stream! The climbing rope was also soaked...

On descent a snow picket is "sacrificed" atop a steep, yet short 60-degree slope to expedite descent before weather worsens still. Here, a belay or rappel would take longer to construct.

Such are the rigors of Summit Day (as I happily sleep in the tent), that Greg expresses a desire to return some year under fairer skies.

Supper is hearty tortilla soup with macaroni noodles thrown-in, the reserved cheese powder then sprinkled atop. I cook the soup upon learning from a camper that "three men" are leaving the Blue Glacier and heading for the moraine. Unfortunately the soup sits cooling for more than 1 1/2 hours since that is a different group of three. Nonetheless, it is a mere fifteen minutes from their arrival in camp to when everybody is enjoying hot food - I dare say, shorter than had I started preparing supper on their arrival. As-is, all that's needed is to reheat the dish.

Greg, Dennis at summit
Greg (left) and Dennis at the summit.
I sense that folks were plenty hungry (they are munching on snacks) - and so offer to cook the second pot of soup. Instead, we settle on more pound cake and hot drinks - cocoa for Dennis, and tea for both Dan and myself. I am not entirely satisfied that my meal is sufficient - and yet I planned specifically for a less elaborate affair because I figured on being very tired after summitting, and thus not desirous of more than cooking soup. Furthermore, this plan worked well on Aconcagua Summit Day. Unfortunately the menu was set well before deciding not to climb Mount Olympus!

All are pleased with their success, on this - one of the toughest peaks in the lower 48 states, county highpoint or otherwise.

Monday, September 3 - Mount Olympus Day 4: return hike and mishap

I energize myself with leftover pudding infused with raw coffee crystals. The mix looks disgusting yet tastes great! Having enjoyed a rest day, I head downtrail several minutes before the others, with the promise to wait at the Hoh River bridge if not sooner.

After waiting one-half hour as promised, I leave a "calling card" as an arrow in the sand with my ID badge from the Kinabalu climb last June in Borneo. My pace is quick, and, after retrieving a food cache at Lewis Camp, proceed to the Guard Station where I decide to (again) wait for everybody else.

All of two minutes later Greg arrives in a huff carrying an excessively large pack. Evidently Dan has twisted his ankle while descending the trail below Glacier Meadows. With a full SIXTEEN MILES to the trailhead, he commences a most painful, excruciating walk that consumes all day and much of the following one. Both Dennis and Greg take pack weight from Dan, while hikers from other parties also help out.

Dan at the summit of Mount Olympus.
Dan is an orthopedic surgeon who handles and teaches trauma at a Level I trauma center. The irony this presents is not lost on anybody - including the ranger, another "Adam", who mans this station 9.1 miles from the trailhead.

Much discussion followed Dan's arrival, the main result being that Adam (the ranger) takes Dan's gear that others had carried for seven miles, and stores it in his cabin. Adam will personally deliver the gear to Dan in Fresno, California by automobile. This plan is rendered feasible as Adam had planned to visit Bakersfield anyway.

We take turns accompanying Dan down the trail. At one point he slips in the mud; and the pain of righting himself seems most terrible. Unable to walk more than 1.5 miles per hour (and at times slower still), we arrive at 7 p.m. to camp in a dusty emergency shelter, "Happy Four", 5.7 miles from the trailhead. The conditions are miserable, with dirt pervading anything that touches ground.

We gave much food to Adam the ranger in advance appreciation for his efforts. At Happy Four we decide to cook the cached rotini noodles and butter with cajun spices - plus a can of tuna fish donated by Greg. Had we known that the spices were with Adam the ranger, we likely would have opted for the teriyaki noodles instead - our planned fourth dinner in case an extra day was needed. To enhance our dish, I provide an array of spices (that I always keep on-hand); and the combination of garlic salt, oregano, and parmesan cheese lends needed flavor to an otherwise bland dish of noodles with butter.

Tuesday, September 4 - Mount Olympus Day 5: return to trailhead

Dan seems to be praying as he prepares to stand (I cannot say for certain) - perhaps with the hope that swelling will not make walking even more abominable than before. Yet, on standing, Dan knows it is going to be "OK".

Dan sets out before the rest of us, and we collectively return by noon to the trailhead accompanied by three rangers whose services (and gurney) we never use.

Dennis on descent
Dennis downclimbs steeply
while Greg belays.
Dan removes his boots and we are aghast at the swelling and redness - an awful sight!

On my suggestion we congregate at an eatery twelve miles up the approach road for a lunch of hamburgers with all the 'fixins. This is not my concept of good eating; and yet there is nothing else at-hand. All enjoy double decker "Mount Olympus" burgers with bacon and swiss cheese save myself. Instead, I have a single decker "little Olympus" burger to acknowledge not having made it all-the-way 8-). While others order french fries, I have onion rings with vidalia onion steak sauce and parmesan cheese brought from San Diego for just such an occasion. Soda pop and an ice cream bar (as "appetizer") complete my experience.

After a lighthearted conversation we shake hands and part ways.

Greg heads north on Highway 101, arriving home via Port Angeles early evening. Dennis heads south, arriving home by 10 o'clock.

Dan clearly is not going to climb Mount Adams now (his original plan) - and one which suddenly appeals to myself as soon as I fail on Olympus. After all, Island and Kitsap Counties are nothing compared with these great mountains.

Dan and I head south until Aberdeen; thence east to Tacoma in search of crutches. We locate a pair at the third Rite-Aid drug store searched; and this makes walking far less painful.

Blue Glacier
Blue Glacier after the weather turns foul.
I retrieve a rental car at Seatac Airport and meet Dan at the same Motel 6 as previously. Strangely late, I learn that Dan ate supper with two pints of beer (to take the edge off his pain?); and, most pleasingly, gives me a take-out package meal of gourmet fish and chips. The salmon cakes are served with aioli sauce, french fries, and cole slaw wrapped in radicchio. I was not really planning on a second large meal that day - so this "bonus" kept hunger at-bay for much of the next day.

Dan takes some pain killers and we both sleep about 10 p.m.

Wednesday, September 5 - Island County

As Dan heads for the airport, I drive north through downtown Seattle early enough to avoid rush hour traffic. This morning I visit Camano Island for the Island County highpoint. It is a thankless task entailing begging perfect strangers for access to their property; and stinging nettles along a miserable bushwhack.

Details of the experience are found in this trip report.

I sprain my left leg (a new, separate problem) at the very start of my efforts when going over deadfall in the woods. I doubt the sanity of continuing but persevere with an Ace bandage. After all, I refuse to have "red" on my completion map for such a simple effort as Island!

By 1 p.m. I take the ferry from Edmunds to Kingston, hopping from east to west of Puget Sound. I pass through Bremerton, investigate the next day's trailhead to verify the approach drive, and take a room in town. This $60 expense is unneeded and displeased me.

Bremerton has the very worst traffic pattern of any town I've visited. To turn left at one point, I have to drive right for one-half mile and enter a "U-turn lane". City planners should be ashamed of themselves.

Thursday, September 6 - Kitsap County and return to San Diego

Awake at 5:24 a.m., I secure coffee at the nearest station and, at the locked gate, commence walking uproad by 6:32 a.m., despite the sprained leg, to the summit of Gold Mountain. The Ace bandage and Motrin allow me to walk the eight miles for Kitsap County without too much pain.

Details of the experience are found in this trip report.

I reach the automobile roughly 10:30 a.m. and, after returning nearly to Bremerton, drive south on Highway 16. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge costs $3 to transit, and, with its green paint appeals considerably to me.

I stop at a Tacoma shopping center and enjoy a Chinese style lunch in a supermarket - with garlic chicken and a rather sweet variety - called something like "General Tsao"; all served on a bed of white rice and assorted condiments. Immediately at-hand is an in-store Starbuck's for dessert: a venta ("large") size chilled white chocolate mocha coffee. Although tasty, in the future I nonetheless will prefer their Java chip frappuccino as the richer, more chocolately concoction. I am full.

By 3 p.m. I am already waiting at the airport near the ticketing area. Unfortunately I cannot check-in until four hour prior to my 7:40 p.m. flight - and my luggage's collective mass precludes me from walking about. Upon checking-in I learn that all of my luggage, including two checked bags and my carry-on, weigh 75 pounds. That contrasts with the 92 pounds they weighted on departing San Diego. The difference, 17 pounds, is attributable exclusively to food eaten on the Mount Olympus climb.

The flight is unremarkable apart from a grand view of Mount Rainier out my left window. Even after darkness sets-in, seeing this mountain from just ten miles impresses me greatly.

Richard Carey retrieves me despite the late hour (after 11 p.m.), and, after placing all gear back into my truck, I drive to Del Mar from his home, arriving just after midnight.


Dan Baxter's original self-diagnosis was "spot-on". Indeed, here is Dan's note to other team members upon returning to Fresno.

"Greg, Dennis & Adam:

I had a GREAT time on our trip. The summit was phenomenal!!

My diagnostic acumen remains fairly decent. My wife Vicky was a little overwhelmed at the airport upon discovering my injury, but took it well. We went straight to my hospital, where X-Rays confirmed a distal fibula fracture. Luckily, it is not displaced, nor has it compressed ("accordion") after such a long walk out.

The swelling and fracture blisters had about doubled since your viewing, which lead my partners and I to decide upon a compression dressing/splint for the next week or two. This will be followed by a cast for another 2 to 4 weeks (based on X-Ray evidence of healing).

I expect to be ready for winter CA P2K prominence peak bagging by early December.

I can tell you now that on the 16+ mile walk out, there were times when I just felt like "throwing in the towel", the pain was so severe. I'm sorry I forced you to spend a night in one hell-hole of a shelter, but I probably would have passed out if I had gone a step further that evening. I doubt that I could have done what I had done without the support and understanding of such a great bunch of friends and climbers as the three of you.

Thank you so very much.


During the hike-out Dan initially requested that I not mention his injury in any trip report.
Indeed, he felt that nobody would any longer want to hike with him.


Accidents occur with predictable regularity and statistical frequency - they are inevitable. Assuming a 40 mile round-trip and a mean stride of 2 feet, each person makes one hundred thousand footfalls. Would it not be remarkable if all 400,000 steps were flawless?

Later, Dan assented - and for good reason: someday this expedition will be viewed not as a humbling, embarassing experience. Rather, as a fine example of how the will triumphs over adversity under difficult circumstances.

Appreciating Dan's composure and willingness to suffer, he has definitely earned a place on any Denali expedition I'll ever put together. Well before that event (should it ever occur), certainly, it shall be wonderful to climb Mount Adams with Dan - by winter!!

As for myself, and as Bob Packard wrote in his Mount Olympus report, "I'll be back."