As yet another gust of wind slammed into me, nearly pushing me off the trail down a steep slope, I thought to myself “Man, everyone else is missing out on this!”
We decided to summit today, and with the incoming rain clouds slamming against the Olympic Mountains, we were hoping for great pictures. What we encountered was strong wind, stronger wind and near Hurricane Force Wind Gusts. Having been on top of this mountain over 30 times, I can say it is always different, and today was one for the ages.
Starting out, the weather was good. A little wind blew through the forest and the temperature was in the mid to upper 40s. The weather continued to be good until we were about 500 feet in elevation from the summit. At that time, the wind picked up and didn’t stop. Gusts were nearly knocking down hikers standing at the summit. The wind chill was near freezing and while taking pictures at the top, snow started to fall as the menacing gray storm clouds raced overhead. It was a rough day at the summit, but the 5,944ft Mount Ellinor is snow free.
Climbing Mount Ellinor in January is usually much different. In a usual winter, the summer trail is inaccessible, and the winter trail is a climb up snow, next to the well-worn glissading tube. Winter on Mount Ellinor is typically rough, and driving to the upper trailhead is something only dreamed about. Winter up there is extreme. Well, it usually is. Usually I need crampons and an Ice Axe, but today, I needed trekking poles and gloves.
As of January 2nd, 2014, the conditions at Mount Ellinor seemed more like late June than early January. The road to the upper trailhead is free of snow and easy to drive. Basically, the entire experience is like the summer, minus the warm temperature, the crowds and of course, a clear trail. The trail is pretty good, but there are a few sections that can be difficult, thanks to residual snow, slowly melting and refreezing every night. I fell, I bled and I summited, and I am thinking the majority of you can do the same. Hopefully, minus the bleeding and falling.
CONDITIONS BY SECTION
Road: Clear for all vehicles to Upper Trailhead
Bathroom at Upper Trailhead: Smelly, but clean
Trailhead to Summer Route Junction: Clear
Winter Route: No Snow
Summer Route Junction to Boulder Field: Ice on sections of trail, can be extremely slick and slow going
Boulder Field to Saddle: Minimal Snow, but the last 10 feet to the saddle can be extremely slick
Saddle to Summit: Occasional snow and ice on the trail until the last section, where crampons/micro-spikes are recommended. A fall in this section won’t be horrible, but it won’t feel good.
Why Hike it Now?
Hiking Mount Ellinor is tough. It is steep, has large steps and the occasional Mountain Goat. In the winter, it can be daunting, as an ice axe, crampons and occasionally a helmet is needed. Right now, with our non-existent snow pack, it is an awesome, snow free hike. Hiking Mount Ellinor this weekend will give you not only the bragging rights to say you summited in January, but it will also give you a rare opportunity to experience winter on one of the most popular summer hikes on the Olympic Peninsula. With most people staying away, assuming there is snow; you can summit and take in the views of Mount Washington, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mt St Helens and Mount Olympus. Stand above the Hood Canal and Lake Cushman while catching a glimpse of Seattle, all from this snow free summit. Hike it soon, because the snow might return and usually doesn’t melt until July.
Snow Pack Information: http://exotichikes.com/the-2013-14-snowpack-for-the-olympic-national-park/
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