Mountaineering is supposed to be about reaching the summit, gritting your teeth against the discomfort, and standing on top, right? I’ve heard several other guides say it wasn’t, but I’d always brushed it off. This weekend on Mt. Olympus, I learned they’re absolutely right; it’s not.

Wynell Schatz climbs above Mount Olympus’ Blue Glacier at sunrise.

 With a party of six, Zach Keskinen and I walked more than 17 miles to reach the flanks of Mount Olympus. The approach wanders through lush rainforest unlike anything you’d see in the Cascades. Thick moss carpets every branch in sight; a professional painter couldn’t number the ineffable shades of green. All the while, the sound of the glacially fed Hoh River rushing just out of sight makes for a unique, immersive experience.

 

View of the glacially fed, brilliant blue Hoh River.

I could go on about how gorgeous it all was, but that’s not what this weekend was about either.

We took the first day to drive and hike our heavy 5-day packs 9 miles to our first camp. Day two was another long day of walking, interspersed with snacking. Day three was our summit push. Day four we reversed most of the approach and day five was a short and sweet walk back to the cars.

For as much as I love walking and snacking, this weekend wasn’t about the snacks either.

This particular group had been assembled by Jim Schatz, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this year. He was the common thread between the eight of us: members of a running club he was a part of, his wife Wynell, additional family, and finally Zach and I because he had climbed with Mountain Madness before.

Right from the get-go, it was clear to Zach and I that this group was super strong and fun. They had us laughing from our meeting point at Ascent Outdoors and all along the lengthy trail even after our climb.

Sarah and Josh rounding the final twists of the approach trail to Mount Olympus.

This weekend, it wasn’t about the summit, the scenery or the struggle. It was about being out there together and appreciating the wild ride through the twists and bends in the forest, through the highs and the lows, the sweets (Zach’s caramel cookies) and the sours (that time I accidentally dropped part of the pasta into the dirt.)

Of our party, four people reached the summit of Mount Olympus (7,979’) with Zach. Three of us decided that our high point was going to be Snow Dome at a substantial 6,600 feet, and that was quite alright. We broke out some lemonade and jelly beans, and took in the beauty of the surrounding Olympic Mountains. This weekend, it wasn’t reaching the highest bit of rock but enjoying what we’d accomplished together and the journey along the way.

~Words and photos, MM Guide Mallorie Estenson

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