Mount Ellinor, Olympic National Forest
The Olympic Peninsula is a special place. I've been around the world and have poked my snout into some really obscure, out of the way places. But I keep coming back to the Olympics. I've been up Mount Ellinor five or six times, though not for a while. It was the very first mountain I went up when I moved to Washington back in 2004 and it still holds a special place in my heart.
October 18, 2009
I needed to get out and smell some fresh air for a while, and it didn't really matter that I'd been up Ellinor a bunch. I just wanted to get out and enjoy an afternoon in the woods and mountains. It was also necessary to get the Gremlin his first Olympics summit.
Although the way to the top isn't long, hard, or tricky, it is a bit more involved than this map found next to the outhouse at the trailhead.
The trail climbed up through the woods, which were pungent with the smell of fall: Damp, musty, earthy, alive. The scents of the trees and bushes, of those things still alive, meshed with the smell of the recently deceased: The fallen leaves, the duff, the needles. A short mile or so brought us out of the trees and up onto a plateau where we ran into Geoff and Ben, two friends of ours who had gotten an earlier start than us in order to make a strict 4 pm appointment at the Parkway Tavern in Tacoma.
The Olympic Peninsula is where the storms rolling off the Pacific first smash into land. In some parts of the mountains rainfall (not including snow) exceed 200 inches. The clouds that come with the storms are interesting in their own right. Rather than high, steel grey clouds of the midwest, as interesting as a piece of turd, the clouds of the Olympics are a show in their own right, much like the sunset in the desert.
The clouds swirled and shifted, bringing us in and out of the view of the far off mainland. Somewhere under the sea of clouds was Lake Cushman. And Hood Canal. And Seattle, Tacoma, Federal Way, and all the other cities that make up Puget Sound. Mount Rainier sat above the cloudscape. I love this state.
We left the lushness and started up into the subalpine, marked with brilliantly colored bushes and shrubs and a lot of rocks. Due to the weather systems, the subalpine starts in the Olympics at around 5000 feet, though lower in other areas. In the Rockies, you frequently need to be above 11,000 to get this. 5000 feet in Colorado is a punchline to a bad joke you tell at a bar in Boulder. 5000 feet in the Olympics is pretty real.
We climbed up to a notch and then traversed around the summit pyramid and eventually corkscrewed our way around to the very top. The mist and the clouds obscured the long views, but added atmosphere. Down at our feet was the ridge connecting Ellinor to Mount Washington, a traverse much talked about but never done, in our local climbing circle.
The Gremlin was pretty excited about his first summit in the Olympics, even if he was able to ride up on Dad's back. He got to celebrate with a fresh diaper and some formula.
I celebrated with a 24 oz can of Steel Reserve. Sometimes I think I should be embarrassed when I go into the gas station to buy that stuff, but I always forget to do so until after I've spent my $1.49.
The Olympics are a special place. In its mountains, valleys, rainforests, moss groves, ridgelines, glaciers, and seacoast can be found the perfection of nature and the salvation of the battered soul of modern society. Several million people live within an hour or two of them, yet you can lose yourself within in without difficulty. I'm in love with the peninsula.
The Gremlin was starting on his own love affair at the precious age of six months. I can't help but think that as he grows up his time spent in places like the Olympics will affect the way he reacts to the external world around him. Hopefully as he grows into childhood, boyhood, and adulthood, he'll keep the love affair going. Hopefully he'll keep the Olympics in a special place in his heart, a place ready to go to when the sterility of the concrete jungle festers on him. Hopefully the place will never change for him.
We started down the slope and made directly for the woods. Ellinor would be there for me another time and perhaps for other people as well. The mountain itself was named back in the 1850s by an explorer on a surveying expedition. He named it after the love of his life.
From Lakewood, drive I-5 south to HWY 101 and take this through Shelton to the town of Hoodsport. In the middle of town, make a left onto SR 119 at the signed junction and head toward Lake Cushman - Staircase. Drive about 11 miles to where SR 119 hits a T-junction. Make a right and drive about 1.5 miles on a good gravel road (a few potholes) and then make a left turn on yet another gravel road that slants uphill. There is a beaten up sign now. The road is hard to miss and there is a sign (in the other direction) just past it. Drive up about 5 miles to the lower trailhead, which has a sign on it, or another two or three miles to the upper trail head. The road is narrow, but is in good shape and passenger cars will have no problems with it. To park at the upper trail head you'll need a Northwest Forest Pass or other parking permit (like a Golden Eagle Passport) or risk getting a ticket. You theoretically need no parking pass at the lower trailhead.
From the lower trail head to the top is a bit of a grunt. Two guidebooks list the distance at about 3 miles, but I think this is a little short (not by too much). Vertical gain is about 3200 feet, so the hike is a bit stiff. Starting at the upper trail head cuts off about 1.5 miles and a thousand or so feet of gain. From the lower trailhead to the upper by the road is about 2.6 miles. In good weather no special skills are needed to get to the top and this would make a great hike for someone in shape, but not used to exposure.