Hiking Utah’s Mount Olympus (and telling Asthma to stick it)

Summit of Mount Olympus

Some Go Pro selfie action on the summit of Mount Olympus.

You’ll never find a better sparring partner than adversity. ~Walt Schmidt

Step pause, step pause, each one just little higher than the last. The trail seemed to have no end of “up” and I was struggling. About that time, and hiker training for a rim-to-rim-to-rim run of the Grand Canyon lapped me for the second time. “Really!?!?” I shouted at him. “You can do it!” he said encouragingly, “about the time you want to quit, go 10 more feet and you’ll be at the saddle.” All I could think was that I wanted to quit a ½ mile back.

Mount Olympus is one of the steepest hikes in Salt Lake City. It climbs 4,152’ in just 3.4 miles, a big chuck of that in one particularly steep mile, the one that had me wanting to quit. In spite of the effort required, the views were promised to be worthwhile. Additionally, I’d lived in Salt Lake for over a year and still hadn’t checked this hike off my list…for a good reason.

I’ll explain…

When I first moved to Salt Lake, I had a very hard time getting my breath on hikes, or even in the gym. At first, I blamed the elevation since I had relocated from sea level. Seven months later, I was still gasping like a guppy. I figured I needed to train harder and added sprint intervals to my workouts. No dice, I had to stop each time because I’d be so winded I couldn’t continue.

I found myself avoiding hiking with people because I had to stop so often and conversation was out of the question. I even went hiking on a first date and wondered if he would ever call again because I could hardly speak (you can read about that day HERE).

Finally, I realized I needed to see a doctor.

My diagnosis, Exercise Induced Asthma (EIA), also called Exercise Induced Bronchoconstriction, a condition that affects between 3-15% of the general population and 40-90% asthmatics. Cold temperatures, dry air, and pollution aggravate it. Salt Lake City has plenty of each especially during the winter. I left with daily medication and an inhaler.

The first day I ran using my inhaler was significantly better, but I had to face the fact that my training had been limited by EIA, so I couldn’t run a marathon, yet. My doctor told me that famous Olympians compete in spite of asthma, so I knew I could improve. Finally it was time for real training.

That was three months ago, and yesterday I climbed Mount Olympus. It was very difficult for me and I’m certain that I couldn’t have completed the hike before my diagnosis. It was a victory over my asthma.

Back to the hike…

Mount Olympus, Shoreline to Tolcats Canyon

View between the Shoreline Trail and Tolcats Canyon

Plan this hike in cooler months of spring or fall, or start out early. There is a lot of talk about how difficult this hike is, however, it’s also scenic, not just at the saddle and the summit. Even if you hike a short section, it’s worthwhile. The first section of the hike is open and exposed to the sun meaning it will roast you as you trudge uphill. After a bit you’ll reach a creek-bed shaded by trees. The shade will be welcome, but this also marks the beginning of the steep section. Take a rest here before continuing.

Your next goal is to reach the saddle, a worthy destination of its own, even if you don’t summit. There are stunningly scenic spots at the saddle to enjoy lunch. I had a hard time eating due to the exertion of the steep section I’d just finished. My legs trembled and I looked up at the summit wondering if I could make it the rest of the way. The summit is a rocky scramble requiring both hands at times. Thinking while I rested, I concluded two things, 1) I hadn’t worked that hard to quit near the end, and 2) the scramble would use my upper body too, taking a load off my legs. With that thought, I grabbed my pack and set out.

Mount Olympus Hike at the Saddle

View from the saddle.

I was right about the scramble, it was over in about 20 minutes and wasn’t near as hard as the last mile to the saddle. I tell you this to encourage you. Don’t quit at the saddle, the worst is over.

On the summit, I simply stopped in awe. The views were amazing and varied. Toward the north and west, I could see the Salt Lake Valley and Oquirrh Range, and to the south, Twin Peaks and Lone Peak.

I set up my Go Pro for a few shots then noticed two guys, one who looked really familiar. I asked him to take a photo with my phone and we finally figured out our connection, his name is Russ and we knew each other from Instagram. For months, we had been trying to connect for a hike without success. I’ll confess; I’m shy about hiking with anyone I haven’t met. However, there we were, on the summit of Mount Olympus, finally meeting and talking about hiking together.

Mount Olympus, Salt Lake Valley

Mount Olympus view of the Salt Lake Valley.

On the way down the mountain, I slipped in the snowmelt, taking a bath in the mud. I felt a like a naughty kid who couldn’t stay clean until dinner. Note to self, keep a towel in the car during spring.

The Mount Olympus hike is absolutely worth the effort. If you aren’t fit enough to hike it now, make it a goal. For me, it was a way of telling asthma to kiss my butt. Oh, and the hiker who lapped me twice training for the Grand Canyon, he also told me he had an inhaler in his pack, so I know I can do great things with enough work. Thank you for the inspiration, I’m sorry I didn’t get your name.

Wildflowers on Mount Olympus Trail

Wildflowers were just beginning to pop.

If you go:

Summit Elevation: 9,026’

Elevation Gain: 4,152’

Distance Round Trip: 6.8 miles (est)

During winter, the trail is snow-covered, but is typically packed and passable with micro spikes. Check avalanche conditions if you opt to hike this one in winter. The trail is wide and easy to follow, with some scrambling near the summit. Plan on a 6-hour round trip.

Gear: Pack your 10 Essentials plus extra water. I also wished I’d carried my hiking poles on this one, although I would have stashed them in the trees before the scramble to the summit.

Trailhead: The trailhead is located on the east side of Wasatch Boulevard. From 4500 South, head south on Wasatch Boulevard for roughly 1.6 miles and look for a sign marking the parking area. If parking is full, you’ll need to park on the main road.

Difficulty: Strenuous

My Favorite Trail Guide: Trails 360: Mount Olympus

 

National Asthma and Allergy Awareness MonthMay is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. I went a long time not realizing I had asthma and my activities were needlessly limited because I wasn’t aware of the symptoms of EIA. I even blamed myself for not training enough. Click here for Exercise and Asthma Tips and spread the word.

 

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Comments

  1. Katie says

    I went up to the saddle today. I almost turned back due to a slight asthma triggering, but I decided to keep going. Asthma is a recent diagnosis for me, but I’m building up what I can do and telling it to stick it! :)

    • says

      Hi Katie, great job reaching the saddle! That section was tougher for me than the end. My diagnosis is new as well and I’m still trying to find the best meds to manage it. Keep me posted on your progress:)

  2. says

    Hi Erica, I absolutely loved your post here and for the shout out! I am going to post this on our Facebook page.

    Happy Hiking!

  3. George Milliner says

    I wish I would have read this before I climbed last July. I still would have gone, of course. I just would have been more prepared – especially in the “extra water” department.

    –Geo

  4. Ty says

    I’m in the Salt Lake City area next week for work and need to figure out some eveing hikes to round out a day of work. Any suggestions?

  5. Angela Shaeffer says

    I happened upon your blog when looking to compare Olympus elevations with another hike I’m taking. But I’m commenting because I also had breathing problems and had exercise induced asthma diagnosed. With many of your same symptoms (sounding like Darth Vader, your friends thinking you’re about to keel over because your breathing is so noisy. Feeling like you must be “so out of shape.”), I finally got an accurate diagnosis of Idiopathic Tracheal Stenosis. It’s a narrowing of the trachea. Check out the Facebook page as well as google it — there are a lot of sources online now as it’s becoming much more well known. If you recognize the symptoms, go get re-checked by Dr. Marshall Smith. My treatment was a laser dilation that opened my airway and gave me new life 5 years ago. Mine hasn’t grown back, although you’ll see that for most people it does. Dr. Smith in Salt Lake is the expert in our area. If you really have ITS, you can easily get treatment and will be AMAZED at how great it feels to breath again!! You can message me on Facebook if you have any more questions!! (Or respond here.) Many people are wrongly diagnosed with EIA or simply Asthma, so I wanted to let you know!

    • says

      Wow Angela! That’s interesting. I hadn’t heard of that before. I’ll certainly speak to my doctor about it. My breathing isn’t particularly noisy, but folks sure used to think I was going to keel over! I appreciate you commenting so that other readers can be aware as well.

      Best,

      Erika

  6. says

    On my day off i go to Mount Olympus or to Snow bird and do climbing and mountain biking till the weather gets to cold to climb or snow packed, More of a warm weather fan and gives me the break i need from everyday life

    Great articles!!

    • says

      I love our summers, especially when I can get up high such as on the Wasatch Crest! Of course I’m already looking forward to ski season… Do you ski?

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Erika

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