|Mount Olympus dominates Salt Lake's eastern skyline.|
It was 2:30 on a Friday afternoon in a downtown Salt Lake City hotel and I'd (almost) endured the entire week of listening to countless talks about how geology and humans don't always get along. I glanced at the remaining lineup. Slim pickings.
I had gone for several runs from my hotel room through downtown and up into City Creek Canyon, but I longed to climb and conquer. I wanted to feel the pain and fatigue from pushing too hard, and I wanted to finally sleep soundly my last night at the Metropolitan despite the unpredictable air conditioner and those True Value Hardware trade show attendees in the hotel parking lot having loud discussions about paints, adhesives, and women late into the night.
The decision was made. I patiently waited for the speaker's conclusion and high-tailed it to my hotel room, filled my Camelbak and headed for East Mill Creek.
My heart sank after pulling into the Mount Olympus trail head parking lot and seeing several piles of shattered glass glistening in the afternoon sun. Smash and grab jobs by local teens with nothing better to do.
There were two other cars in the lot--all windows intact. A youth group was repelling off a cliff adjacent to the parking lot. Feeling a little better about the situation, I decided to take the risk. More motivation to get up and down the mountain in a timely manner.
|Shattered glass in the trail head parking lot is never a good sign. This is the price you sometimes have to pay for an easy-access, urban trail head.|
After a 2 to 3 minute warm up of steady hiking, I broke out into a jog winding my way up the wide, well-used path. Within minutes, I was high above Knudsen's Corner with nice views south along the rugged Wasatch Front. Details of Lone Peak's sculpted summit were somewhat lost through the smoke delivered via jet stream from Idaho and California. The glacial moraines at the mouth of Bell's Canyon, sliced like salami by the Wasatch fault, were likewise reduced to mere silhouettes. The Oquirrh range, just 15 miles across the valley, was completely absent.
|Smoke from regional wildfires limit views from the Mount Olympus Trail.|
Having already pounded out a 6-mile run in the morning hours, I wasn't quite sure how to pace myself. It's only 3.5 miles to the top, but you gain an incredible 4100 feet. I decided to push a fast pace as long as trail conditions were good (not too loose or bouldery) since I had a feeling conditions would worsen toward the end.
A shirtless runner coming down warned me about two rattlesnakes he'd seen on the trail so far.
The unrelenting grade slackens briefly where it drops into Tolcats Canyon. From there it gets steeper and a lot rockier. Not wanting to risk a face-plant on the unforgiving quartzite, I reverted back to a brisk power hike.
Stubborn Gambel oak, still building its energy reserves for winter, clung to it's chlorophyll. Higher up, maple burned its familiar intense red glow.
|Typical trail conditions on the upper portion of the Mount Olympus Trail.|
High in the southern fork of Tolcats, I passed a woman stopped at the trail side, arranging things in her pack. I asked if I was getting close to the summit. She guessed maybe 15 or 20 minutes, but couldn't be sure. This was her second shot at Olympus. She had gotten off course during her first attempt, barely made it to a sub-peak, and had to descend the trail by moonlight.
I wished her luck and kept hammering up the trail, trying to sort out which paths were the official trail and which were cheater lines cutting switchbacks.
At a saddle overlooking upper Heughs Canyon, I passed two teenagers that had just come off the summit. They kindly gave pointers to help stay on the right route.
The trail becomes a bit obscure where it scales the south-facing, bare-rock upper slope of Olympus. Using my hands as much as my feet, I hoisted myself on the summit ridge, and then boulder-hopped the last 100 feet to the top.
I sat for the first time and checked my watch: 1 hour, 46 minutes. Not a bad time I figured, and it allowed me plenty of daylight to relax and take more photos on the return trip. A snail's pace, however, compared to the great Joe Bullough, the god of this particular Mt. Olympus: over 400 ascents and counting with an incredible personal best round-trip time of 2 hours.
I snacked on peanut butter and Ritz cracker sandwiches (good only on a grueling hike) and soaked in the hazy views of the valley and surrounding peaks.
I checked the mailbox: the usual assortment of pencils and water-logged notebooks. And a bottle of Gatorade, left for the unprepared. Or maybe it was a can of Bud, I can't recall exactly.
|Rusty quartzite of the 900 million-year old Big Cottonwood Formation form the bulk of Mount Olympus.|
|View north along the southern Wasatch.|
After resting and snapping photos for 10 minutes or so, I started the free-fall.
Near the base of the south face, I again passed the woman on her 2nd summit attempt. I paused to describe the route I took to the top. She said her knees were filling it and that she may have to drop out of an lengthy adventure race she had registered for early the next morning. She is either super hard-core, had no clue how to prepare for a race, or, most likely I think, just didn't care about the race and perhaps wanted an excuse to get out of it.
|Golden maple line the trail to Mount Olympus.|
Beyond the boulder fields, below the Tolcats crossing, I was able stretch my legs and glide down the final meandering switchbacks.
Where the trail bisects a grove of waist-high oak brush, as I was warned, a short and fat rattler was sprawled out across the trail, warming the blood. In no particular hurry, it finally slithered off the trail, its warning rattle fading in and out like a poorly tuned AM station.
The worst part about a rattlesnake encounter? Now every root, felled branch, and linear shadow was suspect. I continued to attack the trail, concentrating on turning my feet over smoothly with light dabs to the trail. Occasional high-arcing hurdles over roots were required, just to be safe.
|A Great Basin rattlesnake stares me down from the side of the trail.|
|Rounding a switchback high above Tolcats Canyon.|
I was relieved to find my vehicle with with no broken windows back at the parking lot.
Total round-trip time was just under 3 hours.
Later I'd I finally get that good night's sleep. The old Metropolitan felt more like the five-star Grand America that night.