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Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Climbing the Storm King trail above Lake Crescent is not for the faint of heart–or at very least not for the weak of legs.  Those hiking this trail will want to park at the Storm King ranger station near Lake Crescent Lodge and take the Marymeer Falls trail under Highway 101.  After somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 a mile, just after a gigantic douglas fir, the Storm King trail splits off to the left under a large boulder.  There is a sign marking the trail.  From this point on you can expect a grueling climb.  In the remaining mile of your hike you will gain about 2,000 feet of elevation.

Steep is just the beginning of the adjectives you may want to use for this trail, which climbs up the back side of a ridge bordering the lake, so no water views for you until you get to the top.

Arora Ridge is visible for much of the ascent

A third of the way up, the trail gets less steep–almost flat, even–as it passes across a small shelf through open forest that would make a good campsite, then the climb continues without a break up to a knife-edge ridge spine where you can finally look out over the lake and wonder how you got so high in so little trail.

the forested shelf

the end of this hiker's line

This is where I stopped my hike on February 2nd, though I am told the trail continues for another .4 miles or so until it abruptly stops on the side of the mountain without really reaching a destination.  If you came to climb to the top of a mountain on this trail, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.  The view from the spine is a good one, if frustratingly cut off to the west by the forest you climbed there through, and a little dangerous as you have to stand or sit on the edge of a 400 foot cliff to enjoy it.

a lunch-worthy view

a view-worthy lunch: rice with smoked herring, apple with peanutbutter and nutella, homemade granola bars

maybe it's better not to look down

Some hikers might complain that the reward to effort ratio is too low to make this a worthwhile hike, yet I found it a pleasant one and would make the climb again.  Going on a sunny winter day, as I did, I found exactly what I was looking for: fresh air, open forest, lovely views, an achievable challenge, and solitude (I was the only person on the trail that day).  I would recommend this trail for cool-season hiking.  So much exertion on a south-facing ridge on a hot summer day would overheat me to great discomfort, and I am told the trail can be quite popular during vacation time.

Who needs benches?

a cheeky hiking companion

Made it to the top--I'm not quite used to such bright sun in February!

back at the lake, I pause to look at how high I was

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Rain has returned to the Olympic Peninsula, marking the end of camping season for this camper.  I don’t mind a little rain while I’m camping, but an entire weekend of the stuff just leads to an unhappy state of continuous dampness.

I had planned on visiting Kalaloch last weekend, but when the weather forecast anticipated rain and high temperatures in the low 60s, I decided maybe it wasn’t the ideal time for visiting the beach.  It turned out to be a good decision; when I looked at the weather radar during the weekend I saw heavy rain stretching down the coast.

The weekend was not a loss, however, because we went on a day trip instead: to Lake Crescent to hike on the Spruce Railroad Trail along the north shore to a deep alcove of the lake scooped out of a cliff known as the Devil’s Punchbowl.  When the weather is warm, people like to climb up the cliff and jump into the punchbowl, but it was too cold for such activities this day.  When the hike was over, we went to La Poel, a day use area on the south side of the lake, to cook dinner over a camp fire.  It was just like camping, just without to sleeping.

Now, camping season may be over for me, but don’t expect my blog to go silent.  There are many, many things I have to write about.  I still have to finish my map of Mora campground for one thing.  Expect to see more drawings and write-ups on the plants and animals of the peninsula, and I will be highlighting some of the trails and day-use areas of the park as well.  Let’s start with the Lake Crescent area while we’re here.  Here are some pictures from my day trip:

There are a couple of landslide areas on the Spruce Railroad Trail, but they have all been compacted into an acceptable trail

Leaves of three, let them be. Watch out for poison oak (or is this ivy?) along the trail! It's the only place I've seen it in the park.

The trail runs along a never-complete railroad bed.

Two abandoned tunnels can be found along the way. Park rules prohibit going inside, but you can walk up and take a look.

I don't approve of graffiti in national parks, but this guy stole my heart with his cuteness anyway.

Devil's Punchbowl

Dinner at La Poel (pronounced "La Pwell")

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As I write this post I am relaxing in the Hurricane Coffee Company, in Sequim, drinking a delicious iced raspberry mocha and enjoying their complimentary wi-fi.  Camping-buddy Lavon is off at a family get together elsewhere in town, giving me the perfect opportunity to reflect on our just-completed camping trip to Deer Park.

I have heard Deer Park called “the most beautiful primitive campground in the state,” and I believe it.  It’s 16 sites are located 5,400 feet above Port Angeles, where sub-alpine firs give way to barren alpine meadows on Blue Mountain.  Choosing a site (if there is much choice left when you get up there) can be difficult: do you want an open site on the west side of the campground, exposed to icy winds but with incredible views into the interior of the Olympic Mountains, or would you prefer a site on the east side, bordering a lupin-filled meadow and sheltered by fir trees?  Our choice was made easy: when we arrived at 2:00 on Thursday afternoon there were four sites left, two of them walk-in, all among the trees.  We took the one with the most level tent pad, site 14.

As soon as we had set up camp, the clouds, which had been obscuring our view of the mountains around us as we drove up the gravel Deer Park Road, began rolling over the ridge we were on.  Aside from giving the place a mysterious air, they also made it frigid, the damp kind that goes through everything.  I never got warm in my sleeping bag that night.  Before bedtime, though, we drove to the very end of the road at the top of Blue Mountain–or, almost the top.  We walked the rest of the way to the summit on a loop nature trail.

There are few benefits to being unable to sleep.  One of them, though, has to be getting to see the sun rise, and to watch it rise on a perfectly clear morning over a sweep of mountains from on top of a mountain yourself is a magical event.

The weather remained clear for the rest of the day.  At nine o’clock we hit the trail that runs along the ridge-line between Deer Park and Obstruction Point. (The latter is accessed via a dirt road from Hurricane Ridge.)  The trail immediately drops 400 feet to a saddle, then climbs for 3.5 miles and 1,000 feet past an impressive variety and number of wild flowers, through high forests and meadows, to a large meadow and a barren ridge below 6,434 ft Maiden Peak, where we turned around.  It was one of the most worthwhile hikes I have ever taken.

High meadow below Maiden Peak

From this barren ridge you can look into Maiden Peak's cirque and out over the Strait of Jaun de Fuca

Lavon points to our destination, visible from the trailhead

We returned to the campground around 2:30 and spent the rest of the day relaxing.  Despite the sun, the air at that high elevation was a chilly 58 degrees in the middle of the afternoon.  I wore my wool sweater for the rest of the day, but, thanks to some tent rearranging, spent the night warm and comfortable and woke up the next morning well after sunrise.

More information on the campground, as well as tips for camping in a primitive campground are to come.  In the mean time, enjoy some wildflower pictures:

stonecrop on top of Blue Mountain

lupin in the meadow behind the campground

columbine along the trail

lupin and bear grass in the high meadow

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Yesterday I went on my first hike of the season: four miles along the western shore of Lake Mills, the lake created by the Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha river.  They are removing the dam at the end of this summer as part of a plan to restore the Elwha to its original state.  Here’s a bit of what I wrote as I ate lunch on the trail and a few pictures I took along the way.

The wind blows hard along the lake-shore, taking the sweat of the trail and ripping it away, leaving only chill behind.  But up along the cliff-line, where the trail dead-ends above the little rapids of Boulder Creek, the sun shines sweet and orange-mottled butterflies dance between the orchids and the stonecrop and the saxifrage and the licorice fern.  I have come today because in another six months this lake will no longer be here.  They are tearing down the dam and there will be no lake left: only a giant’s empty bathtub, with feeble creeks drizzling down its muddy walls.  The trail I walked today will be orphaned, high up a barren hillside, overlooking, I imagine, the world’s largest drainage ditch.

For a while.

Until the forest creeps again into the valley.  The press finned fir-seeds into the soft, damp earth, thrush drop huckleberries along the riverside, ants carry trillium seeds deep into their nests, and the moss pulls its blanket over the rocks.

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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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