We head into the Olympics for an early spring summit. If you can handle some steep drop-offs, you are rewarded with stunning views. Mount Ellinor can be seen from Seattle as the furthest snow-covered prominence to the south.
There are two trailheads you can take: the upper and lower. Both bring you to the same destination, but the upper trailhead cuts off about 2 miles and goes straight for the steep stuff! However, due to a snowed-in road, we begin this hike at the lower trailhead.
The first part is a pleasant walk on a well-marked path through the trees. Nothing but a couple of mild switchbacks. Don’t worry; it gets tougher!
PHOTOS: Ben Dery's hike to Mount Ellinor
There are a couple breaks in the evergreen canopy where you can see the mountain you have left to conquer. You can also mark your progress upwards with wonderful views of Lake Cushman below.
Walking on hard, crusty snow does provide its challenges. At times, it’s difficult to tell exactly where the trail is. Make sure you walk slowly and look for orange trail markers that lead the way.
After a slippery trip through the trees, you finally break out into the open. However, this is where the trail becomes really steep. See the picture of my trekking pole? It’s actually stuck straight up and down! The steepest elevation gain is at around a 50° angle. Combine that with constant post-holing, and it can be a slog. At least you get to glissade back down.
The ice ax was put to good use and is a necessity if you’re planning on hiking this anytime soon.
On our hike, visibility lowered the higher we went. Once we passed the steepest stretch, we entered a relative bowl where you could barely see 100 feet in front of you. Up past the bowl, the view gets better, but now you’re walking next to the edge of a cliff. This is where strong nerves are needed! Know that cornices are weakening with the warming temperatures, so stay away from the edge.
Once up top, you are treated to magnificent views. Mount Washington is the big mountain to the northeast, the rest of the Olympics are to the north and west. And if the sky is clear enough you can even see Seattle and Tacoma.
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