The first taste of wilderness is an unforgettable high, forever altering the chemistry of your brain. Surrounded by seemingly endless nature, your perception of life, the universe and everything becomes forever changed. For most of us, that initial high we get from the great outdoors becomes our addiction, leading to us searching over maps and driving down dirt roads looking for our next fix at all hours of the day. We chase it day in and day our, blinded by the addictive properties of our public lands.
I have been addicted since birth, not standing a chance for a life stuck in cities and indoors. In the 1970’s, my parents were hiking junkies. Long hair flowing in their VW Bug, they roamed the backcountry highways of the west. My parent’s craving to find for the next high only grew once they had children. By the mid-1980s, I was already following in their footsteps. In 87, at just six years old, I feel in love with a park and haven’t curbed my appetite for it to this day. I grew up an addict to public lands, but it wasn’t until a decade or so ago that I found my first, pure hit of wilderness. This is the one that transformed my life.
In my 20s, I started to fall in with bad crowds, a product of my upbringing. Lurking in the dark alleys of the local REI, hoping to score some beta or even a hiking partner for a few hours or nights, I knew I needed adventure. I found some good hikes this way, went to a few nice places, but my addiction was raging beyond those I had met. Frustrated, I grabbed a map, scanned every corner, found a trail and a destination and made plans to go the next sunny day. I would be heading to the Olympic Peninsula, taking steps into the Hood Canal region. I knew I would be climbing a mountain. I knew I would have views. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Definitely was not anticipating the life-changing day that I had.
Mount Ellinor is possibly the love of my life. I know this sounds cliche to some in the hiking community, as its popularity has somehow lessened the mountain in their eyes, but the 5,944’ peak looming over Lake Cushman is my obsession. It all started on this first summit, when I was desperately needing another dose of unadulterated, unabashed, unfiltered wilderness beauty in my soul. What Ellinor did to me the first time I was fortunate to reach her rocky summit still makes me weak in the knees. After a scenic drive through the forests of the Pacific Northwest, passing the salty fjord known as Hood Canal, and skirting Lake Cushman, I recall my mood while climbing up the dirt road. I was filled with nervous anticipation.
The trail to Mount Ellinor has been described hundreds, if not thousands of ways. It climbs through a forest, eventually gets you into rocks where breathtaking vistas await, before climbing even more to get to the summit block. After a short and simple scramble, you reach the top of the peak and the beauty of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains opens up in all directions. The views hooked me right away, overloading every sense, leaving me to take a step back and say “Damn.”
To the west, endless ridges ran in all directions, showing off the mountains and lush valleys flanking the rain forested rivers. Far in the distance, the glaciers on Mount Olympus danced in the morning sun, screaming for us to pay attention to their quick retreat. To the north, Mount Washington looked close enough to reach out and touch the summit, leading to a desire to travel the traverse to this stunning summit. This view is always too much, causing me to well up more often then not. For me, this is as good as life gets. Ellinor is a place where the world’s problems fade away, replaced with a bliss only found from a true wilderness high.
Ellinor inspires a lifetime of adventures in all directions. While there may be good views all around the region, Ellinor is hard to beat. Easy to get to, manageable for most hikers and full of unexpected views, even thinking about returning to her summit fills me with a sense of excitement. Ellinor fuels me on, its views keeping me excited to continue my exploration of the Olympics. Ellinor makes me want to reach deeper and higher in my wilderness of the region, seeing it from the valleys, the coast and the summits. Some day, I may not be addicted to it, but until that day comes, I will continue to celebrate this peak.
This Post Was Written and Posted in One Hour as Part of the #NatureWritingChallenge.
Mount Ellinor is a featured destination in Summit Book 2019, a one of a kind celebration of public lands around the PNW. In the Summit Book 2019, the Mount Ellinor sections detail the history, routes and wildlife of the iconic Olympic National Forest trail.