From the Mountains to the Sea
Olympic National Park spreads across almost 1 million acres at the westernmost edge of the state of Washington, an area referred to as the Olympic Peninsula. It is unique in that it encompasses a vast range of ecosystems from glacier-capped mountains and old growth rainforests to 70 miles of coastline. Traveling north from Astoria, it felt as if we were going back in time and entering a completely separate region not at all connected to the Washington where we had once lived. There were tiny towns dotted all along the winding route — most providing just the basic services. It made us wonder how the residents manage to get all the things they need. Do they have to make long excursions for supplies? Or have they just figured out how to live without so much stuff?? I’m sure they grow and raise much of what they eat, but it seems even that would be limited in this area that receives much rain — an average of 56″ per year. We chose the right month to avoid those frequent downpours and were really able to appreciate nature’s beauty and diversity.
We began our visit to the ONP in Port Angeles where the main Olympic Park headquarters are located. We took advantage of a full array of resources there — maps, souvenirs, and information from the various park rangers who were very helpful and certainly enthusiastic about their park. There were also interesting exhibits regarding the park’s natural and cultural history. I had done much online research, but it was nice to actually inform ourselves in-person in real time. Due to the pandemic, many facilities throughout the park are either closed or minimally staffed and accessible so it’s important to get the latest information.
We settled in to a small house for our three-day stay in Port Angeles. We love to travel this way because we can make ourselves at home, truly relax, and prepare our own meals. Like many other small towns and out-of-the-way places, the pandemic has taken its toll on services and supplies in Port Angeles as well as other Olympic communities resulting in suspended ferries to Victoria, restaurants closed or forced to close early for lack of food and/or staff, and grocery shelves sparsely stocked. However, this was no problem for us with our self-catering accommodations and our provisions from home.
We launched our exploration into the park at Hurricane Ridge about 30 minutes outside of Port Angeles. Arriving around 7 AM, we avoided the crowds providing a serene and peaceful experience. Stepping out of the car, we were immediately hit with a frigid blast of wind causing us to wonder if we had dressed in enough layers. At an elevation of 5,246 feet, the ridge gets its name from the frequent hurricane-like winds that can blow up to 75 miles per hour. As much as 35 feet of snow falls here each year remnants of which can be seen even in the summer. Directly off the parking lot just beyond the visitor center, you can already take in beautiful views like the one below. These are the Olympic Mountains including the tallest, Mt. Olympus, rising to 7,980 feet. Also visible is Blue Glacier which, like so many others, is rapidly retreating with the effects of climate change.
We hiked a short distance to the Overlook instantly rewarded with views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Port Angeles. That’s Canada on the other side. Moving on, we followed the Cirque Rim Trail where once a glacier receded creating a circular edge into the valley.
Next we connected to the High Ridge Trail and climbed to some spectacular views. Though there were few other hikers, we were not alone. On the way, up we heard a strange sound that we learned was the call of an Olympic Marmot. We were able to spot him perched on a rock down the slope in the distance. The most common marmot noise is a chirp, which is a brief blast of piercing sound similar to a bird chirping. Frightened marmots increase the speed of these chirps into a series called a trill. When extremely scared, a marmot call can even sound like a human scream. The closer the danger, the shorter the call. Presumably, this is because the animal has less time to make noise and wants to beat a hasty retreat. There’s even a marmot sound called a chuck, which has led to yet another nickname for the animals, “rockchuck”. There were also plenty of chipmunks scampering around and a plethora of birds.
Intersecting with High Ridge is a dead end spur trail that leads to Sunrise Point where we could see far and wide in every direction. Here we encountered a family of grouse.
Completing the High Ridge loop takes you back to the visitor center which you can see here in the distance along with those majestic Olympic mountains.
As you can see, we had a great time out on the trail…
One thing to remember when you are hiking is to notice the small things. They can be just as impressive as the magnificent vistas.
Next up in our discovery of the ONP — Lake Crescent. Stay tuned!