In the Shadow of Mount Olympus – Hurricane Ridge

Waking up in a rainforest is an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.  The pristine sounds of nature trickling through the canopy are a soothing alarm clock as the sun rises in the east.  My brother and I crawled out of our tent to birds chirping and dew glistening on blades of grass as rays of light shone through the pines.  We broke our fast with some oatmeal and quickly followed by breaking camp.  Today we would be driving further into and around Olympic National park to one of the premier views, Hurricane Ridge.

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Walking to our car we passed an old phone booth, perhaps left as a reminder that our cell phones might not penetrate this deep into nature’s beauty.  We piled into the car and took the scenic drive out of the Hoh Rainforest.  Leaving the forest I couldn’t help but notice the trees are still green and beautiful but thin out as quickly as the nostalgia for massive redwoods sets in.  The best cure is to look forward to the next adventure!  We followed the Olympic Highway skirting the park with a few scenic stops along the way.  The first was at the beautiful, glacial Lake Crescent.  These icy waters were refilled with this years’ spring melt; although the 600 ft deep fissure was carved millions of years ago by a glacier taller than the towering peaks above.  A few more curves through the mountains and we could see Port Angeles; we took a quick gas stop and started our way back into the park.  The 17 mile drive up mountain roads was a gamble; we knew the road was open but my brother had been to the top a few times only to have the clouds roll in front of Mt. Olympus.

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We followed the 2 lane road as it wound around and through the mountain in tunnels blasted into the rock.  Suddenly we saw brake lights ahead, luckily it was only construction.  We waited patiently for the single lane to open in our direction but before we knew it the orange flag waved us through.  My gaze veered to the clouds above the evergreens on our left, hiding all of the magnificent peaks. My brother insisted that I shouldn’t worry as these clouds were too low to matter when our drive came to a crawl yet again.  This time fog surrounded us just before we entered the next tunnel.  Bursting out of the passage we found even more mist; there was a magical sense to it all which was only enhanced by the tiny Christmas trees lining the guardrail.  I quickly realized that we were staring at the tops of massive evergreens growing on the cliffs below.  All of the sudden we came through the clouds with blue skies above!  Before us lay a peaceful panorama of glorious green hills above a sea of white fluff with the snow-capped peaks in the distance.

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We took a quick stop at the next overlook to dance among the treetops.  The cool mountain air was a refreshing break from the recirculated cabin of our car.  Following a short path we quickly found the edge and stared down into the mists below.  A massive raven erupted out of the white veil; skimming the treeline the beast let out a shrill cry before diving back beneath the clouds.  My brother informed me that the illustrious Hurricane Ridge wasn’t much further.  Crossing our fingers as we got back into the car, we made a silent prayer that the Olympic Mountains would be as clear as the info panel’s picture.

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Another mile up the road leveled off.  Hiding at the edge of this rounded bluff was the Hurricane Ridge visitor center.  We parked, stretched and were ecstatic to find the only clouds in sight high above in the stratosphere.  Mt. Olympus stood above its stoic brethren at 7,980 feet.  Just to the left of the massive mountain we could clearly see the beautiful Blue Glacier; its icy sisters now a distant memory.

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It is a wonder to think that only yesterday we were far beneath that ridge hiking through the bountiful rainforest.  After a brief photo op we took the short hike to view the northern ridge behind us.  Sadly it had lost its white wisps in the summer sun. Drawing ourselves closer to the edge we peered down to the cloud cover in the valley below.  I figured the evergreens on our hilltop continued all the way beneath the clouds but was quickly informed that I was in fact peering into another country.  On a clear day you could see the far shore of Canada’s Strait of Juan de Fuca.

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Walking the rest of the paved loop lined with evergreens and wildflowers, we made our way back to the visitors center.  There, we found a ranger leading a discussion about forest fires and the havoc they could wreak.  He quickly consoled a naturalist in the crowd reminding everyone that nature was resilient.  In fact, there had been a number of blazes over the years; evidence of which were covered up by a thick forest of conifers that fed on the nutrients which fell beneath the ashes.  I took a moment for one last photo with this amazing panorama before my brother reminded me that I had a plane to catch.  A few more hours on the road and we said our goodbyes before I flew back to the East Coast.

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Read about the first day in Olympic National Park here!

In the Shadow of Mount Olympus – The Hoh Rainforest

When most people hear rainforest they immediately think of a tropical one, perhaps The Amazon, in Costa Rica or a tropical island.  It turns out a rainforest is based on how much precipitation falls and has nothing to do with proximity to the tropics.  I know crazy, right?  There are in fact tropical rainforests like most people think and temperate rainforests such as the Hoh Rainforest at the base of Mt. Olympus.  In the Hoh between 12 and 14 feet of precipitation fall each year, making it one of the wettest places in the US!

Precipitiation chart

I flew into Seattle and with a quick stop at my brother’s apartment to make my luggage a little more “camping-friendly” we were off.  We promptly got caught up on brotherly things and began discussing our upcoming adventure.  The plan was to head to Olympic National Park where we could camp near the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center, enjoy a few hikes and then head to Hurricane Ridge.  Driving along the coast we stopped at many scenic overlooks as the dense forests worked their way up to the Pacific.  A quick trail from the highway took us down to the beach.  Walking between malformed trees you could taste the salty air as the waves grew louder.  Instantly the path opened up to a marvelous view of the ocean and a beach strewn with massive white driftwood; a firm testament to the ocean’s strength.

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Our next stop took us to the first of many tremendous trees.  We learned that the world’s largest spruce tree is a whopping 191 feet tall and nearly 59 feet across it.  That means it would take 10 people to give this guy a proper tree hug!  A quick photo op, some more rock albums, a vampire-free drive through Forks, WA and we came upon the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center.  After setting up camp we took a stroll down the Hall of Mosses sporting a river that shone like emeralds and moss covered trees.

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Envisioning moss monsters and treants lumbering down the path I came to the subtle realization at how peaceful it was.  Immediately I knew that these would certainly be benevolent creatures if this were in deed the fantasy world it seemed to be.  The trail continued a few miles before the loop brought us back to our campsite.  We ate a hearty dinner to prepare for a full day of hiking in the the heart of the Hoh!

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We rose early, hoping to get on the trail before the heat of the sun.  It was a quick walk to the visitor’s center where the Hall of Moses met with the Hoh River Trail.  Along the way we saw postings letting us know that we were entering “cougar country”, no not that kind of cougar, the dangerous wild cat that could tear you to shreds.  A quick read informed us that sitings were in quite rare and gave us a few tips just in case.  As we started down the Hoh River Trail we realized that the Hall of Mosses was merely the tip of the iceberg in this magnificent rainforest.

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At first the path was accented by logs and planks clearly placed by park rangers.  There were regular footbridges to help cross streams and gulleys.  Every tree in sight was covered with hanging mosses making the greenery shine like an emerald.  The forest floor was filled with all kinds of plant life, everything from ferns to clover with shrubberies in between.  A variety of fungi could be found wherever a dead tree lay; mostly massive mushrooms, we didn’t dare find out if they were edible.

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We came across minimal wildlife, scaring a green snake, it slunk away before I could snap a picture.  Insects on the other hand were everywhere; mosquitoes erupted near muddy patches in the trail and gargantuan black slugs were never far from decaying trees.  The path was well trodden and we passed a handful of hikers but the man-made bridges were no more.  We crossed the next stream using a downed tree as we traversed deeper into the Hoh; the serenity of nature continued to grow.

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A humongous tree had fallen across the path with a section carved out for safe passage.  The tree so large that the crack running up its core was more than enough room to take a nap.  Before long we heard the distant sound of rushing water.  Sure enough there was a beautiful waterfall feeding the stream that crossed our path.

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Near the gushing water stood a huckleberry bush; a passing traveler mentioned that they were delicious and we decided to try a few.  They were juicy and full of flavor; too bad he picked most of the ones on this trail.  Just ahead a grove of towering redwoods made for some excellent climbing before we continued on.

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The rushing water grew louder; perhaps it wasn’t the waterfall we heard but the enormous Hoh River that the trail was following.  As we rounded the next bend there it was before us.  A massive waterway bringing glacial flow to the valley showed its power with uprooted trees, now white with decay.  Under the shade of an enormous oak we broke for lunch within view of the river.

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44-_DSC3852.NEFThe sun already coming back down in the afternoon we decided to go a few more miles before heading back to camp.  Coming across even more moss laden trees and incredible greenery we passed the Happy Four Campsites.  If we didn’t have plans for Hurricane Ridge tomorrow perhaps we would have stayed the night.  With our shadows growing longer we reluctantly began retracing our steps.  Our trip into the Hoh proved as magical as we had hoped, witnessing the beauty that nature can produce when left to its own devices.

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Read about the next day in Olympic National Park here!