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Archive for the ‘Hurricane Ridge’ Category

Here are two interesting and unique things about Olympic National Park:

1—the park contains a surprisingly large variety of ecosystems: alpine, subalpine, rainforest, a rain shadow, old growth lowland forest, second growth forest, coastline, and an entire river system from headwater to ocean.

2—there are no roads that cut through the park, only spurs that lead in from highway 101, which encircles it.  This can make places seem far apart when they really aren’t.  For example, Sol Duc hot springs and the Hoh rainforest visitor’s center are only about 8 miles from each other—but to drive between the two you would have to travel 68 miles and it would take about two hours!

These two facts can combine in interesting ways, and it’s a profound moment when you realize that  some very different sections of the park are almost literally on top of each other.  I got to experience these large differences in a small space in 2004 when, along with my father and my friend Lavon, I hiked from Hurricane Ridge down into the Elwha river valley.

It was surprising when I realized that these two points, which are 25 miles and almost an hour apart by road, are only six miles away from each other by trail.  Of course, they are also about a mile apart in another important way—vertically!

But we were going downhill all the way, so that morning we parked my dad’s CRV down in the valley and then drove up to the trailhead to Hurricane Hill, laced up our boots, and hit the trail.

Alright, it wasn’t entirely downhill; the first mile or so was actually uphill, as we followed the trail almost all the way up Hurricane Hill to where a much narrower trail carved its way across the subalpine meadow.

This trail lead us along a rocky ridge line and through some stands of subalpine firs, where fog (or really, some low-flying clouds) rolled in.  I imagine there are wonderful views from that ridge, but the clouds lent their own imposing atmosphere to the place.  We stopped for lunch among the trees and were delighted when a young buck, velvet still on his antlers, decided to graze for his own lunch right beside us.

When the ridge ran out, the trail dropped steeply down a meadowy mountainside, passing erratic outcroppings of stone, and dropped through the strait edge of a high forest.  The boundary between forest and meadow was surprisingly stark, as though the trees, in their march uphill, had come to the point and said, “that’s it, one more step and it will be too high for me to grow,” so they stopped.

The forest was full of dim light and surprisingly open.  There was virtually no undergrowth, just conifers and vanilla leaf.  As we continued to descend, though, more and more plants entered the scene.  It was like walking through geological strata, or a layer cake.  I hadn’t imagined that different altitudinal regions would appear so distinctly, but I’m sure, had I had the right knowledge about which plants grow at which elevations, that I could have told you how high we were within 10 feet at times.

We ended up, at the bottom of our hike in a wet, lowland forest full of big leaf maples, moss, and ferns.  By this time we had made our descent of nearly a mile in five miles of trail.  I won’t tell you whose knees gave out first and him or her sliding down the muddy trail.  They were surprisingly good-humored about it, considering the circumstances.

And the next day?  Well, I could barely walk, but I considered it worth it to walk through so many ecosystems in the space of a couple of hours, and to see so much beauty with cheery companions.

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