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Outdoors: Parks

High-rise scenery

Hurricane Ridge offers stunning introduction to Olympic Mountains


Originally published October 16

PORT ANGELES -- From the spectacular to the sublime, the view from Hurricane Ridge takes it all in -- 180 degrees of rugged mountain peaks to the delicate alpine flowers at your feet.

"To see the Olympic National Park, you have to come here," park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said.

And lots of people do. The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, at 5,242 feet above sea level, gets about 50,000 to 80,000 visitors per month.

"A lot of our visitation is weather dependent," Maynes said. When it's foggy or misty the numbers drop off.

Still, it's the best place to get an intimate view of the wilderness interior of the Olympic Mountains, she said. And you can drive to it. The road to the visitor center is the only paved road that high in the park.

In the summer the wildflowers bloom in profusion, and in the fall it is still is a good place to take in scenery and enjoy day hikes.

Natural sights

Bill and Marilyn Deray of Sequim make the drive regularly to do just that.

"It's an interesting place," Bill Deray said as he scanned with binoculars, looking for black bears in the patches of bright red huckleberry bushes on the ridge leading up to Hurricane Hill.

The retired couple enjoyed the warm sun on a recent visit. More often, the ridge is cold and windy, Deray said. But they like to come for the peace and quiet, to relax, enjoy the view and the wildlife.

"It's rarely crowded," he said, as a gentle wind rattled dry grasses beside the Cirque Rim Trail.

A raven floated by soundlessly, riding the updraft off the steep, north-facing slope. To the left, the trail heads toward Hurricane Hill. To the right, it winds up Alpine Hill toward Mount Angeles. The raven disappeared in a grove of wind-sculpted firs.

At the visitor center, park rangers offer guided nature walks, talks that cover natural and human history of the area.

Some of that history is written below the visitor center on the forested slopes that show the scars of past fires and recovery in a mosaic of new growth.

Far below, large, old-growth trees loom over the surrounding forest in the Elwha and Lillian river valleys.

From there one can look across to the glaciers that feed the storied Hoh, Bogachiel and Sol Duc rivers. The rugged mountain peaks, some reaching just shy of 8,000 feet, are carved by glaciers from ancient ocean-floor sedimentary rock and eroded by time and weather.

To the north, the view from the ridge spans the city of Port Angeles, the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria and the hills of Vancouver Island.

Outdoor classroom

Not just sightseers and hikers come up here. Scientists working on global warming research are studying the encroaching subalpine firs on alpine meadows, Maynes said.

The Olympic marmot, found only in the Olympics, is a close relative of the hoary marmot and rock chuck. Black-tailed deer, black bear and cougar also find homes in these mountains. Up here on the wind-swept ridge, subalpine fir and mountain hemlock give way to sedges and alpine meadow grasses.

Deray did not see any bears on this day.

With winter fast approaching, especially in the high country, it soon will be time for skiing and snowshoeing at the top of this mountain ridge. But it is a step back in time here. It is not the fast-paced activity of more modern ski resorts, Maynes said.

Slopes and lifts are available for beginners, intermediate and experienced skiers, as well as trails for snowshoers.

But skiing also depends on the weather -- it has to wait for enough snow to cover the rocks and trees -- and a lot of the snow gets blown away.

"This place catches a lot of wind," Maynes said. "That's why they call it Hurricane Ridge."

N.S. Nokkentved covers the outdoors for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5445.

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