High Peaks, Lush Forest, and Wild Coast… Part 3

Olympic National Park

Today we visit the high peaks.

The Olympic Mountain Range is a cluster of rugged mountain ridges surrounded by meadows, lakes, and steep forested-slopes. In all directions mountains and valleys radiate from the 7,980 foot summit of Mt. Olympus like spokes on a wheel. (nps.gov)

Hurricane Ridge, at nearly a mile above sea level, is the easiest place to view the mountains. From the entrance to the National Park in Port Angeles, the drive to the Ridge is 17 miles one way.

As we ascend, an overcast day becomes obstructed with clouds. We stop at a few overlooks and see absolutely nothing. It’s almost like we are blinded by snow! We wonder if we will ever see Mt. Olympus, even at the end of Hurricane Ridge Road.

Then, all of a sudden, we burst through to sunny blue skies! The clouds are below us now and there stands Mt. Olympus named for the mythical home of the Greek gods by English sea captain John Meares in 1788.

Abundant snow and cool summers create the ideal conditions for Pacific Northwest glaciers. A healthy glacier receives enough snow in winter to offset its summer melt. But now this sustaining snow more often falls as rain. From the 1970s to 2010 the Olympic Mountain glaciers lost over 30 percent of their surface area. (plaque at Hurricane Ridge)

Life at Hurricane Ridge is shaped by wind and snow. Winds gusting over 75 miles per hour pound the ridge, hence the nickname “Hurricane.” As much as 30-35 feet of snow falls here annually. (nps.gov)

Unfortunately the Hurricane Hill Trail is closed for repairs and mountain goat capture activities. So, we enjoy looping together 3 smaller nature hikes suggested at a trailhead outside the Visitor Center:

The Cirque Rim Trail winds along the ridge. A plaque explains that a cirque is a bowl-shaped amphitheater scooped out of a hillside by a glacier:

During daylight thaw, snow and ice seeped into rock cracks, refroze and expanded at night, and fractured the slope. Gradually the glacier steepened and cut into the rock creating a round open indention.

I try and capture the cirque with my camera, but you will just have to take my word for it, that this is a picture of it.

According to the sign at the trailhead, it’s possible to see views of Port Angeles, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Canada at this overlook… Not today!

We climb up the steep High Ridge Trail into an alpine setting.

A short spur trail leads up to Sunrise Point.

As we descend from Sunrise Point, notice the trail sloping down to the left. That trail is the Klahhane Ridge Trail. The first 2.8 miles leads to the junction with the Klahhane Switchback Trail. An additional mile on the Switchback Trail climbs 800 feet to Klahhane Ridge. Did I forget to mention that the 3.8 total miles is one way? Oops…

We descend only to ascend again before making our way back down the High Ridge Trail.

We cut through the short Big Meadow Trail that leads us back to the trailhead and Visitor Center.

During summer, wildflowers carpet the subalpine meadows spreading softly before a backdrop of rugged peaks and glaciers. Lucky for us, there are signs along these nature trails that identify most of these.

These clusters of tiny white flowers on dissected leaves are called Partridgefeet. Since this plant thrives on bare ground, it is valuable for revegetating areas damaged by stray footsteps. (But that is no excuse for stepping off the marked trails!)

Broadleaf Lupine are pretty in pink and purple and are relatives of the pea family. Bacteria in their roots convert nitrogen from the air into minerals for the soil. They are a natural fertilizer for themselves and neighboring wildflowers.

Harebell is also called “Bluebells-of-Scotland.” This belle of a bell  is one of the few flowers that decorate these mountain meadows in late summer.

Reminding me of couscous, these tiny Pearly Everlasting flowers are enclosed in a kind of husk, called a bract, that look like petals. They are able to withstand the elements and are unappealing to animals.

Mountain Owl-Clover is a small annual flower that manages to grow in these mountains. Their pink color is a showy bract. The actual flower is an inconspicuous small tube.

Western Wormwood is related to sagebrush. I rubbed the silky leaves between my fingers, and sure enough, they smelled like sage!

I really like this lichen called Ghost Beard Lichen. These wispy, pale green threads fasten to the boughs of firs yet take nothing from the tree. They produce their own food and thrive on the humidity of the trees.

According to wildflowersearch.org, this white daisy-looking wonder is Parry’s Catchfly, also known as Parry’s Silene.

According to my sleuthing skills, this sunny yellow brilliance is a Woolly Sunflower. It contains specially adapted plant hairs or “wool” which protects it from the harsh alpine climate.

This has to be Pearly Everlasting gone to seed… or maybe still blooming?

I think these lavender lovelies are either Alpine Aster or Cascade Aster.

This low growing groundcover is Spreading Phlox.

It’s time for one last pic of Mt. Olympus before we say goodbye and return to Port Angeles and Sequim.

We start our descent into sunshine and beautiful blue skies.

And then, wait for it…

Yep, pull-outs are still smothered in clouds…

At this next pull-out, however, Doe the deer tamely walks up to a visitor who has her hand outstretched.

I mean this woman could pet the deer!

And me? Just look how close I get!

Since there is nothing to view from the overlook, I turn around and look across the road. A plaque explains that what I am looking at is volcanic rock. But how can this be since there are no volcanoes in the Olympic Mountains?

I’m glad you asked that question and I’ll try to make sense of what I am reading…

Eons ago underwater eruptions occurred in the Pacific Ocean and formed pillow-shaped structures of lava from the movement of magma onto the surface of the earth.  The rocks in this valley across the street were formed from sediments blasted onto the ocean floor.

Both kinds of rock were rafted toward North America by ocean floor movement, then uplifted and tilted by powerful  forces.

Traveling down to sea level…

Oh, say can you see Canada and the volcanic peaks of the Cascade Mountains? No…

A little more mist…

And we are below the clouds again…

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