October 31, 1996
Hurricane Ridge trails offer views for those less physically inclined
By Karen Sykes
SPECIAL TO THE POST-INTELLIGENCER
There is a hike for you, no matter what shape you are in, among the splendors of Hurricane Ridge, especially on a clear day. Or even on a day when the clouds hover and all you can see are the bonsai shapes of wind-sculpted evergreen trees silhouetted against a wet gray sky, like a painting that is never finished.
There are short paved trails in the Big Meadow for those who want to experience the bonanza views the ridge offers, without the rigors of hiking.
If it is cold, you can view the peaks from inside the visitor center -- look to the icy chaos of glaciers on Mount Carrie and the Bailey Range. Or you can brave the cold, stand on the ridge and look north toward Port Angeles, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island.
There is much for the geologist to enjoy, as well as the hiker or photographer, but you don't really need to know the difference between shale and sedimentary rock to get a visual lesson in geology and imagine how these mountains were lifted up and formed over eons.
You'll find pillow lava in the vertical faces of road-cuts and near the tunnels of Hurricane Ridge Road. And you'll feel the vastness of time -- the wind that makes you shiver is the wind that rushed down the glaciers, and the sun that warms you is the same sun that unlocks the avalanche lilies in spring as the snow melts.
There are 15 species of native conifers in Olympic National Park, and here you can see those adapted to the harsh conditions of the subalpine zone. Look for subalpine fir, mountain hemlock, Alaska yellow cedar, Douglas fir and western white pine.
In summer, you might be rewarded with the sight of an Olympic marmot, or at least hear its shrill cry if you venture too near its rocky domain. You will almost certainly see blacktailed deer, but it is against park regulations to feed them since their sensitive stomachs cannot digest many human foods. Occasionally, snowshoe hare and even black bears are seen from Hurricane Ridge. The peak of the ridge's impressive wildflower display is mid-July.
By now they're gone, replaced by snow in the higher areas. Plan on winter conditions. The Hurricane Ridge road is closed often in winter when snow flies -- it was closed most of last week because of the early storms -- but reopens regularly when conditions allow. Park snowplows usually get it open Fridays through Mondays for winter activities such as skiing and snowshoeing.
Drive south from Port Angeles on Race Street, which turns into Hurricane Ridge Road and in 18 miles reaches Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.
The Klahhane Ridge Trail begins at the east end of the Big Meadow parking lot near the visitor center, elevation 5,225 feet. The first half-mile is paved before it becomes a regular trail, which winds along the crest of Sunrise Ridge toward Klahhane Ridge and Mount Angeles. The experienced climber can find a route to the summit of Mount Angeles near the south side of the peak, which is sometimes climbed in winter.
The main trail is well maintained and easy to follow, even with a dusting of snow. At about 2-1/2 miles, the trail meets the Switchback Trail, which climbs a steep half-mile from the road three miles below the visitor center. Hike another easy mile or so to Klahhane Ridge, elevation 5,900 feet, and consider other hiking options. Or stay put and enjoy the views of Mount Olympus and the San Juans.
A trail to Lake Angeles descends 1-1/2 miles and continues down to the Heart o' the Hills campground, for a total of 10 hiking miles.
The Klahhane Ridge Trail is seven miles round-trip, with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet. Allow about four hours. In good weather the trail is fine for the whole family. Best hiking season is mid-July through October. For more information, see "The Trail Guide to Olympic National Park" by Erik Molvar (Falcon Press, $14.95). For information on the status of the road, call the park, (360) 452-4501.