The smoke cleared! Mostly. For a little while. Where we happened to be. Yee-hah!
Olympic National Park is one of the larger NPs in the lower 48. Although about half the size of Yellowstone, it feels bigger. Unlike the Grand Loop, a 100-mile scenic drive through the heart of Yellowstone, Route 101 circumnavigates Olympic NP. Along those 300 miles, there are just 9 side roads, plus a handful of fairly short forest service roads, to provide access to the park’s Visitor Centers, campgrounds and trailheads. For this visit, our first, we explored the northern parts of the park which allowed us to see a section of the western rain forest (150 inches of rain per year) as well as the eastern rain ‘shadow ‘ (60 inches).
Although the skies were still smoky from the Canadian wildfires when we arrived, the weather forecasts and the park rangers suggested that the smoke would decrease over the course of the week. Having recently experienced a 4000-foot climb without any views as a reward, and not excited to repeat that experience, we strategized about our adventures…
Let’s go to the Hoh Rain Forest first! If it’s raining and we’re hiking in the lowlands along a river, perhaps we won’t notice the smoke in the air. Brilliant! Despite this summer’s drought (it hadn’t rained in 2 months), we hiked for miles in shoulder-tall ferns surrounding western hemlocks, red cedars and douglas firs that were 8 feet in diameter. Did I mention moss? Lush, shades of green, everywhere! The end of our trail was an island in the Hoh River with a smoky yet recognizable view of the glaciers on Mount Carrie on the horizon.
The most spectacular road in Olympic NP is Hurricane Ridge. We drove to the Visitor Center to see what there was to see. Turns out – everything! The road itself switchbacked itself up and along the ridge from sea level to over 5,000 feet in about 18 miles, exposing gorgeous views prompting the urge to say Wow! regularly, and reminding us once again to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. A wide open view of the Olympic Wilderness to the south featuring the nearly 8,000-foot Mount Olympus with its Blue Glacier and the Lillian and Elena River Valleys greeted us at the top of the ridge. We also located Mount Carrie from up there, providing perspective on where we’d hiked before. The smoke had begun to dissipate, leaving just enough to enhance our photos with a hazy, romantic vignette. Sunrise Point was a short, easy hike from Hurricane Ridge providing stunning views of Mount Angeles and the Klahhane Ridge – where we hoped to hike the next day – to the north.
On our last full day at Olympic NP, the weather and dissipating wildfire smoke aligned. It was our best chance for a ridge hike with views. The innocently named Heather Park/Lake Angeles Loop Trailhead was conveniently located by our campground. OMG! This pretty, forested trail, with noticeably fewer and smaller ferns, soon became a series of aggressive switchbacks making its way up alongside a steep ridge to Heather Park. Traversing the park was like walking through a rocky meadow tipped up to about 60 degrees. A few more switchbacks took us to the Heather Pass with more views of the Olympic Wilderness. And Mount Angeles was in our faces, almost close enough to touch. Squeals were audible as we hiked the next section of trail that climbed though, around and sometimes over craggy rock structures surrounded by wild flowers leading to Mount Angeles pass, opening up stunning views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Victoria, British Columbia and the BC Coastal Mountains, along with the steep, steep, deep valley beneath us – into which our trail descended – and the Klahhane Ridge beyond.
The trail continued as a narrow switchbacked path through the steep, steep scree, below and across a rocky scrag, climbing up another narrow, steep switchbacked path to Klahhane Pass. Feeling our inner mountain goats, we rounded the last switchback to see – a herd of real mountain goats cooling themselves on a lingering patch of snow. The inner goats certainly helped us over the Klahhane Ridge as the narrow, winding trail followed high up on the ridge alternating wide open views of the wilderness to the south and Canada to the north. A tight set of switchbacks lead us through the drop down to Lake Angeles, a glacial lake surrounded on 3 sides by cliffs. From there, it was a pleasant, forested walk back to camp. What a day!