Mount Olympus: An Early-Season Ascent for the Herculean Hiker


Along Salt Lake City’s Wasatch Front, summer’s emergent heat waves are melting the slick snowpack coating the region’s formidable peaks and traverses. Mountaineers rejoice; the time has come! Keep in mind however, this is a gradual process. Ambitious outdoorsmen intending to attempt some of the range’s more prominent peaks (e.g., Twin Peaks, Lone Peak, Mt. Timpanogos, or the grand Pfeifferhorn) will need ice-climbing equipment and skills. If crampons and ice axes aren’t your thing, fear not, weary traveler. A grand ascent awaits you, Mount Olympus, the two-pronged gem of the Salt Lake Valley.

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At its heavily-exposed position along the westernmost face of the Wasatch Front, Olympus perpetually absorbs sunlight, rendering it — even during these early phases of summer — almost entirely without snow. Despite the goliath size its name evokes, Olympus pales in comparison to the region’s larger peaks; at a mere 9,026 ft. This mountain, however, is not to be underestimated. The vast majority of Olympus’ moderately groomed trail maintains a rough 45 degree incline, imagine operating a StairMaster machine for five-and-a-half hours (4,100 feet of elevation gain in just over three miles). After completing the contentious climb to the “Saddle” (the highest point between Olympus’ rocky spires) the true challenge appears as you scramble over the steep boulders that comprise the peak. Despite the mountain’s apparent difficulty, a successful attempt is greatly rewarded. From both Olympus’ saddle and peak, intrepid hikers are exposed to breathtaking vistas into surrounding canyons and — in clear conditions — an omniscient perspective of the Salt Lake Valley.

I’ve hiked Olympus twice this year — with profoundly varied results.

The first was admittedly ambitious, even foolhardy, as a friend and I resolved to take to the mountain during a mid-March snowstorm. Equipped with waterproof boots, snow pants, poles and snowshoes, we began our attempt at approximately 7:00 am with the intent of beating the encroaching flurries. Fortunately, the initial first third of the hike was mostly barren — if not a bit muddy as a result of early snowmelt and rain — and proved to be easygoing despite the encumbering weight of the additional equipment and boots. This quickly changed, however, when we reached the forested stretch bridging the mountain’s underlying foothills and saddle to find a trail buried in snow. Trudging up the forest’s steep inclines in our snowshoes, we stopped to admire the serene, mystifying winter landscape before admitting defeat in the face of the storm and returning to the bottom.

Unwavering and resolute like the Virgilian heroes of Greek mythology, we returned to Olympus earlier this month with grandiose intentions of conquest and redemption.

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From Olympus’ apex, our party was greeted by transparent conditions and access to an expansive perspective of the surrounding mountains, high-desert wastes, waters of the Great Salt Lake, and beyond. Light snowpack remains along the peak — while the threat is minimal, be wary of weak patches.

Adventurous hikers attempting Olympus will find solace in its easily-accessible trailhead located a short distance south of 4500 South, along Wasatch Boulevard. The small parking lot sits on the east side of the road and connects to the well-maintained trail.

I suggest starting the trail no later than 8 a.m. to avoid ascending in the heat of the day. Ensure that you pack plenty of food and water, and provide yourself with ample sun protection. I, for one, am an avid proponent of big hats.

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