Working our way clockwise around Olympic National Park, we had a few days to check out the interior of the peninsula. Since we knew we’d be day-hiking, we looked for a trail that would give us some solitude from the crowds. Helping achieve this goal was the fact that we never quite adjusted from Central time so we were always two hours ahead. While we found ourselves tired early, we got to experience some breathtaking sunrises. Nowhere did we benefit from this more than when we chose the hike to Mount Angeles.
We were pleased when the only car in the lot at the Hurricane Ridge visitor’s center was ours. That rare occurrence was matched with an equally rare clear sky. I don’t know how long I’d have to spend in this region to become complacent to walking above clouds but, after 5 days, it still left me astonished. Our hiking pace was modest as we stopped at nearly every overlook to watch clouds wrap over mountain peaks. For the next 4-5 hours, we could look any direction and not see another person.
This experience also reinforced a thought Aly and I started to discuss. Some parks have access roads that bring you right into the heart of the park and then you branch out from there (i.e. Yosemite). Alternatively, Olympic’s core is only accessible by backpackers and mountaineers. You can chip at the edges with day hikes but, we wished he had backpacked several days to really experience the peace and respite from modern life we seek when we go to places of amazing nature.
We finished our summit of Mount Angeles with some slightly-sketchy scrambling and down-climbing and headed back to our car. At this point, fellow trail travelers began appearing and cars became visible on roads below. As our trip was nearing its end, civilization would only become more apparent as Port Angeles then Seattle were on the docket. However, we’d squeeze in a little more birding at the Ediz Hook. A long, narrow strip of land that runs parallel to the strait, this spit is separated from the mainland by a huge paper processing plant. As we drove past the thousands of tree trunks, felled to be turned into paper, we expressed gratitude for how much of the peninsula has been preserved by the national park. I would have been so easy for the forests to all be turned into tree farms and old-growth wonders like the Hoh Rain Forest, lost forever.
The birding at the hook was good and after some obliging views of sea lions, Pigeon Guillemot, and Harlequin Ducks we started to head further east, towards our ferry to Seattle. Luckily, we were running a bit ahead of schedule and got to stop at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. The spit at Dungeness is awesome and apparently the longest of its type in the country. I would love to have this place be my local patch and spend a Saturday afternoon during migration walking the 5.5 miles to the tip of the sandy land-form. Plovers and pipers were present and the forest and meadow produced several year birds and the last lifer of the trip, a Red-breasted Sapsucker. I had hoped to tour the recently restored Elwha River but, due to flood damage, most access was closed. For those who aren’t familiar with this dam removal project, check out this article, it’s hope-inspiring for those of us who live in areas where nature is always subverted in the name of growth.
This entire trip felt a little like a teaser trailer for a future trip. There were so many things we just barely explored, it left us wishing we had 3-4 weeks here rather than one. The short ferry ride into Seattle makes the Olympic peninsula seem so close that even as I now sit in Chicago, typing this, I feel like I could jump on a plane and within hours, be bounding about the green mountains or be walking endlessly on foggy shores extending indefinitely into the distance.