Mount Storm King Hike: 10 Things I Learned on the Ropes

I admit I felt nervous about climbing up the Mount Storm King ropes.

I could have easily psyched myself out after reading about other hikers’ terrifying experiences. But I knew that my risk tolerance was different. I also knew that I could turn around before the rope section began, so why not try it?

The first time I did this hike, I was the first person on the trail after it had snowed the night before, and I turned around before the end of the maintained trail, just before the most challenging and exposed sections. I hiked solo again the second time, but the trail was much busier, the weather was perfect, and I summitted. 

In this article, I share helpful tips and ten things I learned from the Mount Storm King hike in Olympic National Park.

What the Mount Storm King Ropes Taught Me

1. There’s no shame in turning around.

On my first attempt, when I turned around, I was alone, and the sky was darkening. It was March and still technically winter, and the forecast called for snow. Under these conditions, and with snow already on the ground, it didn’t seem safe or wise to continue to the unmaintained trail.

Mount Storm King hike view of a winter landscape with a lake and snow-covered trees
Weather conditions on my 1st attempt. You’ll see this fantastic view before the rope section.
View of Lake Crescent through trees on a blue sky day on the Storm King trail
Weather conditions on my 2nd attempt, only two weeks later.

If you doubt your capability, the weather, or are prone to anxiety, skip the ropes section. It’s best for you and for everyone else on the trail. 

Unfortunately, according to this hiker, someone once had a panic attack on the way down. I’m empathetic to the woman’s terrible experience, but her decision caused delays, making things riskier for everyone above her. 

2. There’s a place to pull off trail to sit and watch others before heading up.

I immediately got in line for the ropes. But know that if you want to pull off to watch others navigate this section before attempting it yourself, there’s a perfect spot to do so with AMAZING views.

Two hikers resting on rocks overlooking a forested valley and a lake, under a clear blue sky.

3. The rope section consists of five or six ropes.

None of the trip reports I read mentioned the number of ropes, so it surprised me. Once you reach the rope section, you’ll likely be on the ropes for longer than expected, especially because, on a busy day, there’s traffic going up and coming down.

4. The first rope section is the rockiest.

It felt like the steepest part of the rope section, but the rocks offered many footholds. I considered just climbing it like a scramble section but instead held onto the rope.

Hikers ascending the Mount Storm King ropes, surrounded by pine trees under a clear blue sky
Group of hikers carefully navigating steep rocks on the Mount Storm King rope section, with lush trees in the background

5. Observe the people above you. Leave space between you and the person in front of you.

Sadly, someone died in 2017 from a fall while descending from the summit on an alternative route. 

It’s important to stay alert to everything happening above you.

Take time to see if the person in front of you seems capable and confident in their footing and grip of the rope. I was relieved that the person in front of me was in control of his body. The last thing I wanted was to be directly beneath someone who appeared unsteady and likely to take a tumble.

Even though he seemed competent, I allowed plenty of space between us so I would have more time to react if something unexpected happened.

6. Wear gloves.

I read this advice often on trip reports, so I was surprised that many hikers didn’t wear gloves for this section. I always wear sun gloves when I hike, and I was particularly glad to have them on to prevent rope burn.

Close-up of a hiker's legs on a steep trail, with others climbing ahead using a rope on Mt Storm King
I did not see anyone use the ropes on the right, which looked older.

7. Courtesy and communication make this shared experience better for everyone. 

The ropes are like a one-way road, so this section requires that you talk to other hikers making their way up or down as you make your way up or down to coordinate who will go first.

8. Lean back when going down the rope section.

I knew going down would be easier if I leaned back while firmly gripping the rope, with my body facing the mountain. And it was. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be. I highly recommend this approach.

Hikers descending the Mount Storm King ropes with a view of a lake surrounded by mountains in the background.
The rope is tied to the fallen tree.

9. Be patient.

I summitted on a blue-sky Saturday in March, and there was a lot of stop-and-go when I got to the rope section.  So, I can only imagine this section getting clogged during the high-traffic summer months. Show up with patience on a busy day. 

10. Community matters. 

As a solo hiker, I always engage with other hikers on the trail. I do this in case something happens, and—God forbid—someone has to ID me. It’s also important because I feel much more comfortable asking for help, if needed, from people I have already engaged with. 

On my way up, I bantered with a group of three ahead of me. When we reached the rope section, they invited me to go through this tough section with them, which made me feel much more comfortable going into the experience. 

Hikers climbing a rocky path under pine branches with clear blue skies above.
You’ll navigate over a rock scramble to the summit, which the man in yellow is about to start climbing.

See the Ropes for Yourself

I overheard a brief exchange between two guys, one going up and the other going down. The guy coming up was apprehensive and considered turning around just before the end of the maintained trail because “he didn’t trust the ropes.”

The guy coming down doled out supportive words but didn’t give the information needed to make the best decision. So when I approached the guy coming up, I advised him to at least hike to where he could look at the ropes and then decide after seeing them.

And that’s my best guidance to anyone considering this hike: see the ropes before turning around. If you need a moment, pull off to the side and watch other hikers navigate this section as you decide whether to continue.

He didn’t take my advice to give himself the choice to continue, at the very least, because he turned around before seeing the ropes for himself. While there’s no shame in turning around, I recommend deciding *after* checking out the rope section.

How Hard is Mount Storm King to Hike?

Hiking Storm King isn’t for those who have never set foot on a trail. There are sections where the trail is narrow, and looking to the side, it can feel like a drop-off. 

This hike is challenging for three reasons:

  • 2,106 feet of elevation gain in just over 2 miles will have you huffing and puffing from the get-go.
  • You’re exposed to areas with nothing to catch you if you fall.
  • The infamous rope section can be mentally and physically challenging.

If you’re out of shape and haven’t established an aerobic base before this hike, you’ll have a hard time, even before you get to the rope section. The steep elevation gain starts from the moment you set foot on the trail, breaking off the much easier Marymere Falls Trail. 

Newer hikers with the right experience, gear, and mindset can do this hike. Even though the grade is challenging, you can always take it slow if needed.

Hikers at the summit of Storm King overlooking a panoramic view of Lake Crescent surrounded by mountains.
The drop-off to the left is less treacherous than some online make it out to be. But everyone’s risk tolerance is different.

Safety on the Mount Storm King Trail 

A successful day in the mountains begins with proper preparedness. Here’s a safety checklist to review before attempting this tough Lake Crescent hike.

  • Hiking Experience: Do other hikes with steep elevation gain before this one. It’s also wise to have some experience on trails with drop-offs so you know what that feels like. 
  • Gear: Hiking boots with good tread are essential for navigating the steep and potentially slippery sections. Hiking poles will save your knees on the descent, and gloves will help you grip the ropes. 
  • Pack Essentials: Bring food, plenty of water, and layers in case the weather changes. Carry the ten essentials for hiking, which include sun protection and first-aid supplies. 
  • Weather Awareness:  Check the forecast before you begin and be prepared for changing weather. For some, ascending or descending the ropes in the rain may not be an issue, but rainy weather could induce anxiety for others. 
  • Know Your Limits: Know your risk tolerance and personal limits. If you feel anxious at any point, don’t hesitate to turn around, even if you’ve already started up the ropes.  

The Right Mindset is Everything

Before doing something hard, I tell myself that I’m going to feel pushed outside of my comfort zone and I’m going to accept whatever comes up that day. 

I have faced difficult circumstances in the mountains and managed to get through them. For instance, I once had an anxiety attack in the middle of the night while snow camping after a summit attempt on Mount Baker.

On another occasion, coming down from the hike to Camp Muir, I experienced about 30 minutes of terror. My boots and socks were soaked, and as the sun and temperature dropped, we could not see a clear path off the mountain.

Being in the mountains means exposing yourself to risk and challenging situations. Before every adventure, I promise myself that I’ll trust my experience and training and make good decisions.

A woman sits on the rocky summit of the Mount Storm King hike, gazing at the serpentine lake and forested mountains.
Me at the summit

Wrap-Up: Mount Storm King Hike

The reward for enduring the ropes is the best view of Lake Crescent. Take it from someone who’s photographed the lake from all sides and Mount Storm King’s summit; it’s absolutely stunning.  

But whether you get there or not, you can still get fantastic lake views from the trail before the rope section and leave the challenge for another day.