Monday, March 4, 2019
Perched on the King
The Olympic National Park has about a dozen emblematic, notorious trails. These span from the Southern "staircase" entry of Hood Canal, just an hour outside my front door, to the tip of the Northern Coast.
The park encompasses 1,500 miles and includes a handful of distinctly different ecosystems: alpine forest/wildflower meadows, two coastlines, forest, and temperate rain forests. From roadside coastal views to mild forest hikes to alpine lakes, long river ambles, and mountains to summit, there's something for nearly everyone. Save for maybe the true peak bagger, because in all honesty the Olympics are about the most accessible of any national park I've traversed. Though the crown jewel of the range-Mt. Olympus-is a mere 8,000 feet, it has the second greatest glaciation of any non-volcanic mountain in the U.S. It's a Mountaineer's delight, with wide glaciers to cross and plenty of ice climbing.
Each separate section of the park has a gorgeous trail worthy of your bucket list. Some of the top dogs include:
Northern Coast- High Divide-Seven Lakes Basin, Hurricane Ridge & Mt. Storm King
Pacific Coast-Enchanted Valley, Shi Shi Beach and Point of the Arches, Ruby Beach, Rialto Beach and Hole in the Wall
The Rainforests-Hoh River Trail, Hall of Mosses
Mountains-Mt. Ellinor and Mt. Olympus
Hood Canal-Lena Lake and The Brothers, Lower Big Quilcene and Skykomish River trails
Last week, on a lovely little trip to Sequim, I finally made it to one of the epic Northern Coast hikes: Mt. Storm King. I've been warned about this beast of a trail, and it didn't disappoint. Storm King is around 2,500 feet of elevation in less than two miles, with a full on hands-to-rock scramble at the end. Multiple feet of compact, icy snow and a skinny little ridgeline created quite the shit show for our climb up. Snowshoes would have been impossible on the thin trail, but we made the way successfully, albeit slowly, in crampons. Post-holing off and on created soaking wet feet and numb toes that induced the fear of frostbite.
Towards the top of the summit, the maintained trail comes to an end. During warm months, the area that follows is made more accessible by climbing ropes that have been added to assist in the final scramble to the peak. Unfortunately, after the biggest Washington snow storm in years, most of these ropes appeared to be buried under fresh pow; we could only find two. I stopped a few hundred yards past the signed end of trail, staring up at a ridiculously exposed, steep, and icy climb. I don't have a significant fear of heights, and I've done a few epic trails that compete with this one, like Angel's Rest in Zion. But this had me alllllll the way fucked up! The climb looked spooky but possible, but the coming down appeared to be a near death wish.
Eventually, after hemming and hawing and debating the stupid scramble, I decided to go for it. Luckily for us, the sun was absolutely glowing and though temps were still near freezing, there was no wind blowing. Had there been, I don't think I would have chanced full ascension on this incredibly exposed peak.
Finally cresting the top of the balance beam ridge, its easy to forget how much work you've put in to reach the infamous view of Lake Crescent below. It's a small but stunning summit, with only enough room for a handful of people to hang. Mt. Storm King feels incredibly removed from the rest of the world, and the unobstructed 360 degree views reminded me of paragliding. The water below flows into the Strait of Juan De Fuca, separating the U.S. from Canada. Lake Crescent is shockingly clear and blue, thanks to an absence of nitrogen in its deep waters, preventing the growth of algae.
After climbing Storm King, I was sore for a good two days. Trudging up the stairs to my apartment was a tangible reminder of the steep elevation we'd tackled. It felt damn good to get some much needed training in as Spring finally comes into view around the corner. Two days before this trail, Claire and I had attempted a little climb to Lena Lake, with my car getting stuck 2.3 miles from the trailhead. We ended up doing an unexpected 9 miles that afternoon, which probably contributed to my extreme soreness.
Next up on my Olympic NP checklist is Mt. Townsend, which we've been hoping to access for a few weeks now.