I found myself standing on an icy, unstable slope, with a steep drop seeming like inevitability. Hours ago, the day had been safe and enjoyable, 55 degrees in the sun on the first day of February at almost 5,242ft. With well over 110 inches of snow so far this winter, the conditions at Hurricane Ridge were amazing, but, as if by some cruel twist of fate, instead of enjoying the view, I was teetering on a hillside with a very high probability that I would slip and tumble down the snowy ridge until the rough combination of terrain and gravity allowed me to stop. My feet were dug in, but my feet slowly slid in the deteriorating snow. I took a step, briefly slipped, caught my balance and watched balls of snow tumble down the eastern facing façade, quickly bouncing and rolling out of sight below. I took another step as cautious as I could, but as I dig my foot in sideways, I felt my other leg slip and my body dove against the hill, grasping at snow and making my body as wide as possible. I regained my composure, but as I went to stand up, my legs started shaking and I became unsure if I would get out of this without a serious fall.
Thanks to having to get to the train station in Seattle before 7:30am, I had a free day on Friday. Normally, a day off for me means one of two things, hiking or sleeping. With a premium of daylight, and thanks to a wicked combo of energy drinks, coffee and protein bars, I decided to forgo resting and travel up to Hurricane Ridge for the day. Having a car loaded full of supplies and gear that can handle any weather, I decided I would take the ferry to Bainbridge Island, drive across the Hood Canal Bridge and go grab some amazing pictures from Hurricane Ridge, located well above the marine layer of fog currently wreaking havoc on visibility below 2000ft. The ferry ride, the drive through Poulsbo and the quick trek to Port Angeles passed by without incident and soon I was at the entry gate to the Olympic National Park’s beautiful Hurricane Ridge.
(Link: Hurricane Ridge Hikes- http://exotichikes.com/hurricane-ridge-hikes/)
Only open a few days a week thanks to budget cuts, I was anticipating quite a crowd when entering the park. Recently, with record snow levels, the wait time to enter the park has increased from only a few seconds to over an hour wait. However, on this early Friday morning, the Ranger seemed shocked that I was so eager to get up, and after renewing my yearly pass, I was soon driving up the 17 mile road toward my wintry destination.
I parked at the top, grabbed a snack from the trunk of my car, slipped on my snowshoes and went to stand in front of the web camera, with the hope that my hiking partner was free from work long enough to grab the image of me in the foreground and the picturesque ridges in the background. As you can see, he did this in the few minutes I was standing there, and soon I was off to hike around the backcountry. In my pack I had limited supplies. I had a Spot Transmitter, food, water, medical supplies, a GPS and 3 cameras and some extra clothes, a typical load for an easy hike. I decided to forgo the more usual route of Hurricane Hill and instead head off toward the amazing backcountry snowboarding and skiing area to the north of the lodge.
Treading up the ski hill with snowshoes isn’t ideal, but since it was empty and sunny, I didn’t mind having to kick in a few steps every now and then to start a ridge hike. At the top, I glanced around and saw a lone snowboarded walking along the same ridge, about a quarter-mile ahead of me. I followed, mainly to see where the epic drop would happen, and a while later, I noticed they he had stopped to strap on his board. I decided that since I was located around the bowl, I would set up two cameras; one would be running time-lapse, angled at the slope, while the other would be used for close up shots. I set up my small digital camera to take the time-lapse, carefully digging a ledge to set it on. Once I got it started, I changed lenses on my large Canon Rebel. As I was doing this, I heard the unmistakable sound of a block of ice sliding away just a few feet away from where I was standing. While I was fine, the ledge I had placed my camera on slowly slipped away out of sight down the sheer drop to my right. I watched in silence as the camera toppled and tumbled down. Gaining momentum and bouncing higher and higher, I was sure that one of two things would happen; the camera would either shatter or end up sticking in some of the few patches of powder that were not iced over. The camera took one last bounce and slammed down into the snow, coming to a stop hundreds of feet below me vertically. I shook my head in disgust, took a breath and decided that after the snowboard ripped down the mountain, I would figure out what to do.
After a pretty decent run, the snowboarder was out of sight, and my mind drifted back to the camera that had vanished off the ridge. I debated how important it was, and if I should just cut my losses and have to replace a second camera this year. After a few seconds I was torn, but when I remembered that the camera had been recording a time-lapse as it glissaded down the hill, I knew I had to get that footage. I found a route that looked less steep than any others and soon was realizing that I should have returned to my car, grabbed an ice axe and my helmet, and climbed up from the road. Instead, I was down-climbing an icy, snowy incline that was hard to rival on any of my previous climbs. Maybe the right gear would have been easier to use, but as I slid and feared my leg strength was going, it was too late.
Overall, I had to down climb well over 500 feet in snowshoes, only to then walk parallel along the slope, passing below a small group of trees and then climb back up another 120 feet to get to where my camera was resting. The level of adrenaline I was experiencing was unimaginable. At any time, I could have, and probably should have slipped and tumbled down the steep hillside. This jaunt to rescue my camera reminded me of a few things. First of all, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, know your limits. If you look at something and know you can’t climb it, don’t. Secondly, it never hurts to mark the spot you need to go, leave and grab the right gear, and do what you need to do. Climbing in snowshoes is not even close to ideal, and while you can do it, put your own safety first. All this being said, this is just proof of my dedication to bring you all great, interesting unique pictures from around the Olympic Peninsula.
Hurricane Ridge is an amazing place, and easily accessible. It allows you to leave sea level, drive about 17 miles and feel like you are on top of the world. It is convenient and family friendly. A word to the wise though, if you are going to be doing anything in the wilderness, always be prepare for anything and value your life above objects… even if it did capture a pretty rad, albeit fast, video.
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