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Mount Olympus Via Tolcat Canyon

Basics
Location:
In the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City
Length:
7.5 mile roundtrip
Difficulty:
Difficult
Time:
4-1/2 to 5 hours
Elevation Change:
4200 feet
Season:
June to October

Description

Mount Olympus, the peak for which the Mount Olympus Wilderness Area was named, forms a very prominent part of the Salt Lake City skyline, and it has been a favorite hike of the nearby. It is not unusual on weekends to see fifty hikers relaxing together on the rocky summit.

The climb described here leads to the south summit of Mount Olympus, but there is also a north summit. The two are about 300 yards apart, separated by the upper reaches of Tolcats Canyon. The south summit is higher than the north summit by 67 feet. It is also the only one with a good trail leading to it, and the one most frequently visited by hikers. The north face of the north summit, however, is a favorite among more serious mountain climbers. Although it looks foreboding, there is actually a route up the north face which requires little or no technical rock climbing skill.

Details

Location:
In the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City
Length:
7.5 mile roundtrip
Difficulty:
Difficult
Time:
4-1/2 to 5 hours
Elevation Change:
4200
Season:
June to October
Useful Map(s):
USGS Salt Lake City Topo (1:100,000)
Additional Details:
As you start up the trail to Mount Olympus you can look down and be thankful that in 1984, after a long and difficult fight by concerned citizens, most of it was included in the Mount Olympus Wilderness Area. The first half mile of the trail, however, crosses private land, and there is a real danger that some day it will be obliterated by real estate developers. Hopefully when this land is developed public access to the trail will be preserved.

Initially this is a desert hike. The trail winds upward from the parking area on Wasatch Boulevard through the dry grass lands that dominate the foothills, finally coming to the first juniper trees after a climb of about 500 feet. Then, as the trail enters Tolcats Canyon, the dominant vegetation turns to Gambel oak. The path crosses the bottom of Tolcats Canyon 1.7 miles from the trailhead, but, except in the spring, there is seldom water in the canyon.

Continuing upward along the south side of Tolcats Canyon, the trail never stops climbing until it reaches a small saddle 0.2 mile from the peak. As you approach the saddle the conditions change dramatically. A very pretty grove of Douglas fir occupies the ridge, and, for the first time since beginning the hike, you are on level ground. The presence of a few campsites indicates that hikers sometimes spend the night here, although there is no water.

From the saddle the trail turns directly north and soon encounters the rocky base of the summit. From here you must ascend the last 500 feet in scarcely more than 0.1 mile, scrambling up the Precambrian quartzite that caps most of the mountains around Big Cottonwood Canyon. You will occasionally need both hands, but if you stick to the trail the danger of injury from a fall is not great. Pay attention to the route. There is basically only one easy way up this side of Mount Olympus, and if you take a wrong turn you will soon be confronted with a much more difficult climb. If that happens just stop and look around, and you will probably find the trail just a few feet away. The greatest danger is from falling rocks, so as you climb be careful not to dislodge loose rocks onto other climbers below.

The summit is little more than a giant’s rock pile of jagged boulders, but the views are great. Much of Salt Lake City lies below, and the full expanse of the Wasatch Mountains stretches to the east. Lone Peak, Twin Peaks, and Dromedary Peak are clearly visible to the south, across the Cottonwood Canyons. To the north the summit drops off sharply into the upper reaches of Tolcats Canyon, beyond which, less than 300 yards away is the north summit of Mount Olympus.

Map + Directions


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