Olympic Peninsula, August 2005

Click on the small pictures to see larger ones.

In August, as my last fling in the Seattle area, I did something I'd wanted to do for quite a while: take a long weekend tour around the Olympic Peninsula.

Setting Out

I left on a Friday afternoon, picking up a cute little Mazda Miata for the trip. I took the ferry from Seattle across to Bainbridge Island, and then drove to Port Angeles for the night. In general I had good weather for the trip, and the convertible was a lot of fun. I discovered that the rain doesn't come in with the top down, as long as one drives fast enough, and there aren't any traffic lights...

The Olympic Peninsula, courtesy of Google. One can see that even though it's quite close to all the urban density of Seattle, the Pensinsula itself is practically deserted, with no towns of any consequence.
Waiting for the ferry, with my car basking in the sunshine. It being a Friday afternoon in the Summer, I had to wait a ferry cycle.
On the ferry, approaching Bainbridge Island.
Friday night, I stayed at The Tudor Inn in Port Angeles. Here it is on early Saturday morning, before a lovely breakfast.
Apples on a tree.
A cargo ship in the harbor, looking across to Vancouver Island.

Hurricane Ridge

On Saturday morning, I drove up to Hurricane Ridge, a spectacular 17 mile ride from Port Angeles, about 1 mile up into the Olympic Mountains. Its name derives from the strong windstorms it gets in the Winter, but I arrived on a gorgeously pleasant day.

A view of the Visitor Center, with Mt. Olympus and its glaciers beyond.
The view from the Visitor Center itself.

Below, a panorama from the same spot.
Looking North to Mt. Angeles.
On the walk to Hurricane Hill, a chipmunk hiding in the rocks.
Mt. Baker, about 90 miles away near the Canadian border.
The survey marker on top of Hurricane Hill, 5757 feet high. It's a relatively easy walk, mostly paved, though I did get out of breath and my heart racing doing it fast in the altitude!
A closeup of the Mt. Olympus glaciers. This is the highest spot on the peninsula, at 7,965 feet. That's not so very high, but the mountain peaks catch the Pacific moisture, shielding the down-wind parts (such as Port Angeles) from the precipitation, and receiving 12-14 feet per year themselves. This is probably about the smallest the glaciers ever look, at the end of a Summer after one of the lightest-snowfall Winters on record.
Looking down from Hurricane Hill.
Another view of Autumn grass and glaciated peaks beyond.
After coming down Hurricane Hill, I proceeded a bit further to have lunch in a quiet place. I found a spectacular spot! Ahead of me, a mile down, the town of Port Angeles, and across the water, Vancouver Island and the San Juan Islands. Turning my head, I could see Mt. Olympus and the surrounding peaks behind me. (This is a 2 MB Quicktime movie.)
Tiny alpine wildflowers by the path.

Lake Crescent and beyond

Saturday afternoon, I drove West, first to the Lake Crescent area, then to dinner by Kalaloch Beach. It was an amazing experience to go from mountains and glaciers in the morning, through lakes and forests, to the Pacific shore in the evening.

Marymere falls. This is just a small waterfall, at ninety feet, but quite pretty.
Inside the Lake Crescent Lodge.
On the pier looking over the lake. The lake is quite deep, as glacier-carved lakes often are, going down 624 feet.
Looking back at the shore from the pier. On the this day, the water was warm enough near shore for kids to be enjoying swimming.
On the Pacfic, Kalaloch Beach in the evening.
Kalaloch Lodge.

Hoh River

Sunday was focused on the Hoh River and the temperate Rain Forest. This is on the "wet" side of the rain shadow, and gets over ten feet of rain per year. I got a dry hike, but then the rain started pouring down as soon as I stepped off the trail!

The previous night, I stayed at the Hoh Humm Ranch, a working farm and bed and breakfast on the lower Hoh River. The Huelsdonk family were among the first homesteaders in the area.
The farmhouse, with a few flowers in front.
Views over the fields, with the Hoh in the background.
Finally, into the forest itself: a shaggy phone booth at the visitor center. The western coast is sparsely inhabited. Cell phone reception and even radio stations die off South of Forks. The Hoh River trail itself is really in the midst of wilderness, though the road to the park entrance is quite fine.
A black-tailed deer, quite tame around the visitor center. There is much bigger wildlife around, notably bears and Roosevelt Elk, which keep the undergrowth relatively clear. I didn't see any of the latter, though there were some suspiciously large and fresh poops on the trail...
Very tall trees, soaking up all that moisture and going up 200 feet and more.
Gnarly trunks.
Exposed roots in fantastic shapes and colors.
Gothic looking trees. The hanging moss seemed to especially like the Big-leafed Maples.
More moss-laden trees.
A pretty stump in a beam of sunshine.
Berries.
A Douglas Squirrel.
Organic-looking rock formations along the Hoh, presumably polished by ice and gravel.
Another view of the rocks, looking like the body of some long-lost creature.
A little side stream rushing to join the Hoh.
Some tiny flowers along the trail.

Soon after this, unfortunately, my camera battery died, as I'd forgotten to bring my charger with me on this trip. Ah well, soon enough it was time to turn back. And then the rain started. As one of my guide books says ("Day Hike! Olympic Peninsula", by Seabury Blair Jr.), "Hikers from dry climes like Arizona or New Mexico may wish to carry snorkels on this walk through one of the wettest spots in the Lower 48. Here is the spot where Gore-Tex is about as useful at keeping you dry as a wet sponge, and an umbrella will serve you better. But that is what the rain forest is all about - rain. If you arrive on a rare sunny day, you must wait until it starts to rain before taking this gentle walk. You can be cited in Clallam County for dry pedestrianism, a gross misdemeanor, if you walk on a sunny day."

Another interesting sight along the trail is mountain climbers. This is the path to get to the glaciers, though it's a 17 mile hike (and presumably an overnight camp) before the climb.

Sunday afternoon, I stopped by the beaches again on my way South. I was most impressed by Ruby Beach, with some magnificent sea stacks, or rock outcroppings, just offshore. There are supposed to be tiny garnet chips in the sand, but I didn't see them.

Lake Quinault

My final stop, on Sunday night, was at the Lake Quinault Lodge. It was built in 1926, one of the grand old National Park inns, with an Elk's head over the fireplace in the lobby. It feels like an old-fashioned place, a spot of refinement in the wild countryside.

On Monday morning, I stopped off at the World's Largest Stika Spruce (though there are taller ones in the Hoh River reserve). Then I drove the long drive back to Redmond around the South side of the Park, through Olympia and Tacoma.

Three days and 500 miles later, I was very glad I'd finally made the trip. The Olympic Peninsula is a world apart, with its spectacular beauty, enormous range and variety of landscape and climate, and unique plant and animal life. It's amazing that it's all there just a few hours away from the "big city" of Seattle.

These pictures were taken with a Canon EOS 10D digital camera. Images were raw-converted with Phase One's C1 LE, and cropped, balanced, etc. with Adobe Photoshop Elements.

schooler@alum.mit.edu