Hike O' the Month: View from Blue Mountain worth effort

Seabury Blair Jr. Mr. Outdoors

Hike O' the Month: View from Blue Mountain worth effort

The snowshoe hike or cross- country ski up the Deer Park Road to Blue Mountain can be enjoyable in just about any weather Old Man Winter can throw at you.

When it is snowing or foggy, there's no problem finding the route, because it follows the road through forest to the summertime campground at Deer Park.

And when it is sunny and clear, you can see all the way to Fiji.

Another plus: While the Deer Park Road is located within Olympic National Park, you won't be asked to pay a $10 entrance fee because the road is used infrequently especially in the winter.
You will pay a price, however, because winter weather sometimes closes the road well below the spot, four miles below Deer Park, where it is gated in the winter.

The best time to ski or snowshoe the Deer Park Road is when the solid snow begins around 3,600 feet above sea level. That's about the elevation where the road is gated in the winter.

The road to the Deer Park Campground is just over 17.2 miles long and you'll pass the park boundary at about nine miles. Check your odometer here, so you'll know how far you've got to hike should the snow level be below the winter gate.

Skiers and snowshoers park as far off the one-lane road as possible below the gate to allow other motorists room to turn around. You'll be able to park in several wide turnouts below the gate. Once on the road, snowshoe hikers will often find the snow packed by the white stuff falling from the trees above the road. Skiers should be able to climb the road with waxless skis, although climbing skins will make the job easier, especially if the road is icy.

In any case, while snowshoers won't encounter any difficulties climbing or descending the road, beginning skiers may find the descent steep enough that frequent trips to soft snowdrifts on the uphill side of the road may be advisable. Intermediate skiers who can snowplow or telemark should have no difficulties.

Still another advantage to this hike is the fact that the potential for avalanche is low on all but those days when forecasts predict extreme danger.

Hikers should use greatest caution when navigating the steep gullies about a mile below Deer Park, along the west-facing slopes of Blue Mountain above.

The road climbs through old forest, below the crest of the ridge that ends at Blue Mountain. The forest drops steeply off the road to the twin valleys of Maiden and Morse creeks, and the view to the south is of Green Mountain and the Elk Mountain ridge running to Obstruction Point.

As you climb toward Deer Park, the view opens as the road enters the alpine country. You'll look south to the wild, jagged Gray Wolf Ridge and The Needles.

The road splits just below Deer Park. The way to the right drops to a trailhead and summer ranger station, while the left route climbs to the Deer Park Campground. Both roads merge again near the campground entrance.

Deer Park is a wide, south-facing alpine meadow, 5,400 feet above sea level. A three-sided shelter in the lower campground loop is a good lunch retreat in bad weather.

The road turns north just above the campground, and begins a 600-foot climb to the summit of Blue Mountain. The slopes to the west and south provide plenty of challenge for telemark skiers, although these slopes are frequently scoured by wind. A steep, 500-vertical-foot bowl yields great snowriding for experts to the east off the summit.

GETTING THERE

West Sound residents should allow about 2 1/2 hours to drive to the Deer Park Road starting point. Good weather and road conditions might shorten that time.

Follow Highway 104 across Hood Canal Bridge and take Highway 101 north to Port Angeles. Turn left on the Deer Park Road at the auto dealership and multi-screen movie theater just before the highway turns to drop into the Morse Creek valley.

Drive nine miles to the park boundary and as far as possible beyond, or about 15 miles to the winter gate. The Deer Park Road is not maintained in winter beyond the park boundary. Recorded weather and road conditions for the Hurricane Ridge Road is available by calling (360) 565-3131; expect similar weather conditions on the Deer Park Road.

For 13 more ski or snowshoe routes in the Olympics and 70 winter routes in Western Washington, see "Backcountry Ski! Washington," (Sasquatch Books, $15.95) by Seabury Blair Jr. Published in The Sun: 02/03/2002


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