Mt. Deception Trip Report
My attempt to climb Mt. Deception with Brian and Aimee.
FeedbackBy Preston Hunt, 04 September 2000

Pictures used to be available on Zing, but they went out of business. I'll have pictures up on my site when I finish my software.

Many moons ago, I made plans to revisit Mt. Olympus for another chance to bag this elusive peak (see the Olympus '99 trip report for a summary of last year's trip, where we were turned back a mere thousand feet from the summit). The original climb team started out with 7 members, but time slowly eroded our team for one reason or another until we were only 3.

Wednesday night, we decided to cancel our Olympus climb due to an incredibly bad weather forecast. The memory of being deluded by 2.5 days of continuous rain on last year's climb was fresh on our minds. We agreed to push out our departure one day to Friday and scrambled for a backup climb. Our final two choices were The Enchantments on the east side of the Cascades (usually less rain here) and Royal Basin in the rain shadow of the Olympics. The incredible popularity of the Enchantments and the scant possibility of getting a walk-up permit made our choice easy.

So Montalto, Aimee, and I left Portland first thing Friday morning and headed for the Olympic rain shadow. All of the roads leading to the trailhead are quite well mantained (no potholes!), but the trip still took a good 5-6 hours. Upon arriving at the trailhead, we discovered that this trail is part of the Northwest Forest Pass system, thus requiring a permit to park. We hastily wrote a "we are here for religious reasons" and stuck it in the windshield in the hopes of avoiding a ticket (in theory you only have to pay the parking fee if you are using the park for recreation).

We hit the trail around 1pm (elev. 2500). Like the road leading to it, the trail is well maintained and made for easy travel. I was not in tip-top climbing shape, however, and the purported 6.5 miles (felt like 10) to the Lower Royal Basin camp site at 5100 feet were slow going. The scattered showers did not help matters, but I really couldn't complain as the tree cover kept us mostly dry. It is really amazing how it can be dumping rain and yet only a few drops make it through the tree cover.

We arrived at the Royal Basin around 6:00 and found a fantastic site in the middle of a small grove of big trees, close to Shelter Rock. It was flat and dry, which is about all you can ever ask for in the Olympics. Like most Olympics hikes, water was plentiful and easily accessible seconds from the camp site. We pitched the tent (Montalto going hard core in his bivy sack), cooked dinner, spent a long time trying to set up a good bear line for our food (conclusion: it's impossible without two separate ropes), and hit the hay just after dark (8:30ish). It got pretty chilly that evening (close to freezing) making me grateful for my 10 degree down bag.

Our objective Saturday morning was Mt. Deception, elev. 7700. With a climbing day of fewer than 3000 feet, we all agreed that a late start was fine and didn't get going until 9:00 or so. The morning was overcast, but bright, and with a small patch of blue poking through, so we were optimistic about the weather for the rest of the day. We gained the Upper Royal Basin, where we saw a family of deer munching on some grass. We then happened upon an unbelievably azure tarn (mountain lake) after which we started up the snow field and saw many crevasses (see pics). When we came to the steep part, we donned our crampons and whipped down our ice axes and attempted to follow the guide book's instructions on how to reach the summit.

Everything was fine until about 6500 feet when it started snowing heavily. We spent the next few hours scrambling over very exposed and very slippery rock. As if this wasn't scary enough, every few minutes a huge boulder would free itself from up above. The ensuing rockfall sent us diving for cover many times. At one point, a basketball-sized boulder was heading straight for Montalto's knee until he deflected it at the last moment with a kung fu move. For maximal safety, one person would climb at a time, while the others cowered behind buttresses for safety. This obviously mired our progress significantly; after an hour or so of this, we had barely broken past 7100 feet.

Summary at this point: The snow was still falling heavily, the weather had worsened (couldn't see anything and it was getting colder), the rockfall was getting worse, and the rocks we were climbing on were wet and slippery. We decided to abort the summit and return to camp posthaste. Montalto decided to glissade the entire way down, but given the condition and angle of the snow, and having seen the glissade tracks of some previous climber who had glissaded right over a crevasse, I opted to descend backwards using my crampons and the self-belay technique. Up above, Aimee was trying to plunge step without crampons and falling down quite a bit due to the hardness/slipperyness of the snow. She ultimately followed Montalto's lead and glissaded as well.

On the way back to camp, we saw quite a few marmots (see pictures). These furry mountain dwellers are hilarious (and usually quite portly). They have a shrill whistle that sounds just like an emergency whistle. Indeed, while we were up on the glacier, I kept hearing the sounds, which I had thought were coming from another climbing party.

We got back to camp very early by mountain standards and had an extremely leisurely afternoon, spiced up by the occasional marmot racing through our campsite. Actually being at camp with time to spare was rare for me, and I actually got a little bored. Since I was the only one who had brought along a book ("The Monkey Wrench Gang" by Edward Abbey), Montalto read aloud to everybody for a half-hour until the author's sesquipedalian style became unbearable. We retired with hopes of better weather the next day so that we could attempt another summit up Mt. Clark.

Alas, the ONP remained true to its rain forest heritage and we awoke to the drip-drip-drip that so characterizes this region. After breakfast (10am), we decided to go ahead and pack out and salvage what was left of the weekend. We ran into an ONP Mountain Rescue guide at the lower campsites and chatted about the various climbs; he seemed impressed that we had even attempted Deception. The rest of the hike out was uneventful and thankfully dry (although foggy).

At 1:15pm, the friendly site of the car was diluted slightly by the fact that the forest service monkeys had ticketed me, even though I clearly had my "here for religious reasons" note in the windshield. Their "ticket" is very misleading, citing official sounding regulations (such as "21 CFR 3.6g" or the like). I looked these up on the Internet and discovered that the regulations deal more with "failure to pay a use fee", not failure to display a permit. I plan to exploit this legal loophole at some point in the future... moo hoo hoo ha ha!

Getting back to the trip, as we were packing our gear into the car, a ranger came over with a clipboard and asked if we would mind participating in a survey. One of the questions she asked us was, "why are you here today," to which I faithfully responded, "for religious reasons". Unfortunately, Montalto and Aimee sabotaged my efforts by joking around about my answer and by answering "for recreation" to the same question. Those monkeys!

We were on the road by 2:00pm for the long drive home. I was hoping to make it back in time for Brownie's wedding, but that was not to be (we didn't get home until well after 9:30pm). The highlight of the drive was an all-out-can-eat KFC that we encountered in one of those rural Washington cities that time forgot. For a mere $5.99 each, we feasted for almost an hour on chicken, buttermilk biscuits, mashed potatoes, french fries, corn, beans, and Pepsi. You don't need a Harvard Business School case study to know that all-you-can-eat is not a wise business model when dealing with hungry backpackers who have subsisted solely on freeze-dried food and power bars for many days!

In summary, a most excellent (albeit wet) trip. The score now stands at Preston 0, Olympics 2. I vow to return once again next year for another attempt at nailing an ONP peak!

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