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Olympic Peninsula, Wa

The Day Winter Started on Mount Ellinor



It was January 2nd, 2014.

The weather was cool as the smoke from chimneys contrasted against the sky above Olympia, a piercing blue canvass that only cold winter mornings can emit. I laughed at my luck for the day’s hike. Normally on January 2nd, the Olympic Mountains are snow-capped and the roads getting to the trailheads are impassible to all those without amazing 4-wheel drive vehicles with huge clearances. Normal winters, the sky is dark and dreary, but that day seemed kinda odd. It wasn’t perfectly clear, but it was still mostly sunny.


The road to the upper trailhead of Mount Ellinor was snow free. I had just gotten back from a whirlwind winter Yellowstone trip and I was itching to get back into the Olympics and with such great weather, I figured I would enjoy one of my all-time favorite views.  I would have hiked up from Big Creek if I had to, but I was eager to get to the summit. There was a small chance of rain, but it was going to be yet another remarkably dry winter day.


The winter of 2013-14 was off to a ridiculously slow start. The snow pack in the Olympics was less than I could remember and I was legitimately worried that the year would be a dry one. At the end of January of 2014, the Olympic Mountains only had 24% of normal snowpack. Who knew that, through April, we would be having one of our wettest years on record? All I knew that day is that I wanted to stand on top of something beautiful and reconnect with nature.


I find my inner peace on a summit. I know it sounds hokey to some, but when I get to take in the view from any summit, large or small, my soul becomes calm and my brain reconnects with the important things in life. Standing atop a rocky outcropping and looking down on a lake, river, valley, ocean or the entire Pacific Northwest is where I feel most alive. I crave the feeling over being overwhelmed with beauty, and after the holiday season, a trip to a simple, yet gorgeous mountain above the Hood Canal of Washington State was much needed.


The drive to Mount Ellinor is a simple one, and as I sang along to artists I am much too embarrassed to share in public, the mountains got closer and closer. As I got my first glimpse of the mountains near Shelton, I became more excited to get up top and take in the view. Miles passed and soon, after a stop at my favorite overlook of Lake Cushman, I was parked at the upper trailhead parking lot next to two other cars. There had been one car at the lower parking lot, so I knew it would be a relatively empty day on the trail.  High clouds were rolling in, but the menacing clouds looked to be just hitting the coast.


At 3.2 miles round trip, with 2,400 feet of elevation gain from the upper parking lot, the trek to the summit is short in distance, but steep. I wasn’t concerned, and ended up standing on the summit in about an hour. The summer trail was 95% snow free, with only a few sections of ice in the scree of the boulder field. The last corner as you reach the summit was also a little icy, but I was so locked in to reaching the top I didn’t care. I was driven and focused. Probably too focused, as I hadn’t noticed that the dark clouds over the coast had now almost reached me.


As I looked at the swirling dark clouds approach me, I knew I had a choice. I could climb down and try to beat the rain, or I could stay on the summit and experience the first rain and snow of 2014. The choice was easy, and within minutes I had thrown on another layer and prepared myself for the onslaught.


The sky grew darker and soon the wind started picking up. Within a few minutes, gusts were slamming the peak. I was starting to second guess whether staying in the weather was a good idea when the wind suddenly died down. Soon I was able to watch in an eerie silence, large storm clouds swoop and dip above me. Bands of rain and snow would fall on the neighboring peaks for a few minutes before they would vanish and the view would return. Dark, talon-like clouds would reach down and touch the craggy summits of the other other peaks, but Mount Ellinor stayed dry. It was at that moment I felt reconnected to the Olympic Peninsula and my soul was refueled. I stayed on the summit long enough to watch the clouds roll over Mount Washington to the north, which was also when the first snowflakes started to fall on me.


While the rain and snow started to fall, my smile stayed on my face for the entire trip back to my car. I had just watched a storm roll in from the Pacific Ocean and cover the majority of Western Washington. Little did I know, but that would be the first of many storms to officially kick of the winter. On January 2nd, winter was officially starting on Mount Ellinor, and I was there to see the first snowflake of the New Year fall. Winter had started right before my eyes, all because I decided to go hiking.


You never know what you are going to find on an adventure. I have been on the Mount Ellinor trail more times than I can count, but each time I summit it is unique and different. Hiking doesn’t have to be competitive, it doesn’t need to be about checklists, and it doesn’t need to be a chore. Hiking exists to replenish your soul and open your eyes to the beauty of nature. Go hiking, reach whatever you decide is your destination and sit back and enjoy the universe. You might just witness the day winter starts in the mountains.



The Top 10 Images of Winter Arriving on the Olympic Mountains



2 4 5 6 7 8 10 11 13 17







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