Hiking Utah's Mount Olympus
Although I have been a lover of the outdoors and an avid hiker for a number of years, it wasn't until recently that I began directing my hiking forays to areas along the Wasatch Front. Since I didn't have the slightest idea about where to start hiking in this area (with the exception of my favorite hike — from my house to the 7-11), I purchased a book on the subject entitled Hiking the Wasatch (which will hereafter be known as The BOOK), by John Veranth.
The BOOK has been extremely helpful in directing me to the starting points of many interesting hikes; however, it does not address important issues such as how to overcome certain obstacles along the way, or how to get off the mountain without the assistance of Lifeflight if one does not happen to possess the same level of athletic ability as Mr. Veranth. In this article I will attempt to accurately describe what may be encountered while hiking Mt. Olympus.
Since I have had the good fortune to live in the vicinity of the Olympus Cove neighborhood for the past few months, each morning before I leave for work I take a few minutes to admire what in my mind is one of the most impressive natural landmarks in the state. At 7 a.m. this time of year, Mt. Olympus is especially awe-inspiring. With the snow glistening on its still snow-covered summit, I watch as the mountain flexes its bulging muscles and surveys the valley. The first few mornings I responded in kind and engaged in a freestyle flexing sequence while imitating manly sounds I hear at the health spa. I have since refrained from that practice because I discovered neighbors were starting to give me a wider berth when I passed them on the street and police cars began cruising by with greater frequency.
After living in the neighborhood for a while, I decided it was time to make an assault on Olympus. The BOOK says the hike up the south side is three miles. It also intimates the hike is easy-probably ideal for novice hikers. I am a little uncertain on both counts, based on polls I have taken of several credible individuals who have survived the hike. The first individual I interviewed was my friend Boog. Weighing in at about 260 (not counting the bottles of Coors Light in his pockets), Boog is not quite the quintessential specimen you might expect to find trotting up the slopes of Mount Olympus; nevertheless, he is an adequate mountaineer. When I asked how far he thought it was to the top he said, "Well, let's see, it took us at least eight hours to get to the top — well, of course we all had a hangover... I'd say at least 10 miles oneway." I also interviewed a somewhat distraught individual who works in my wife's office who asserted, "Well, I read the BOOK too. What a bunch of crap. It took us all day just to get up the damn thing. Ten miles easy." Well, there you have it. Pedometer readings not withstanding, the BOOK understates the difficulty of the hike.
Despite all that, the hike up the south side of Mt. Olympus has become one of my favorites, especially in the fall. Hoping to see a view of the valley from the top, my brother, Paul, and I began the hike last fall about one mile south of 45th South on Wasatch Boulevard. Although the gradient along the entire trail is fairly steep, the first couple miles consist of gentle switchbacks that wind back and forth through grass, cedar trees, clumps of scrub oak, and an occasional rattlesnake; all typical features of the east bench of the Salt Lake Valley. If you appreciate remarkable vistas, this is definitely a hike worth taking. Almost every point along the trail offers a superb view of the valley. And If you make the trek in autumn, the mountain is bedecked in a dazzling array of fall colors.
As someone who is slightly out of shape (or incredibly out of shape, depending on who you talk too), I appreciated the viewpoints even more. As Paul and I hiked along the trail, I would stop, not too often, but frequently enough to let my lungs recuperate from the pounding they had been taking and exclaim, "Gosh, look at that incredible view." "The view hasn't changed from when we stopped 40 seconds ago," Paul would say, "Now. get your butt in gear.
After a mile or two of easy switchbacks, the trail graduates into a series of steep switchbacks that climb a ravine covered with oakbrush and maples (and not a few rocks) and then reaches a natural resting place at a point overlooking the valley and the lower part of Big Cottonwood Canyon. It was at this point where we passed a somewhat haggard-looking hiker of the female persuasion who was struggling up the trail. When we saw her, we picked up our pace and made the appropriate effort to refrain from the gasping and wheezing noises we had been making for the last mile or so. Stifling a rather large wheeze, I assumed a manly pose and asked, "How's it going?" The woman turned to me in a most unmanly fashion and snapped, "I am about ready to die, thank you very much!"
After you pass the overlook, the trail gets steep (it seems like 90 degrees) and makes its way up a very narrow, sheer ravine. By this point, the foliage consists mainly of maples and chapparell and there is really no view of anything except the surrounding trees and the trail looming ahead. Our rest stops became much more frequent in this area, and Paul and I started quibbling. "Why didn't you bring a bigger water bottle? he asked. Why didn't you," I snapped, clever repartee not being one of my strong points at this stage of exhaustion.
After a good deal more arguing (and wheezing), we arrived at a saddle, covered with pine trees, which offers a stunning view of the surrounding mountains. After another quarter mile or so of staggering up the backside of the butte, we were standing on top of Mount Olympus feeling a great sense of accomplishment — something akin to having your mother-in-law finally stop hitting you over the head with a rolling pin.
In all fairness to the BOOK, I must report I did run into an individual (albeit an obviously unhinged type) who somewhat authenticated the wild claims contained in its pages. On my way down the mountain, I stopped to chat with a seemingly elderly gentleman who was making his way up the trail at a rapid clip, despite his heavy backpack. In response to my complaints about the difficulty of the trail he said, "Yeah well, it is pretty difficult with this backpack full of rocks. Otherwise it's too damn easy."
When I got to the bottom of the trail I immediately alerted the American Fork Mental Hospital that one of its patients had escaped and was wrecking havoc — probably persuading normal, albeit slightly gullible people, that hiking Mt. Olympus was something akin to an easy and pleasurable experience. Clearly, anyone masochistic enough to call the hike anything less than an epic adventure is not in possession of all his faculties and, like the author of The BOOK, should not be allowed to walk around leading normal members of society astray. (And should certainly not be allowed to run for the state legislature.)