We all have a mountain or trail in our “backyard,” which is hiked often and still captivates your sense of adventure and wanderlust. For me, it is Mount Ellinor above Hood Canal in Washington State, just 90 minutes from my door. At 5,944 feet above sea level, which is found less than 20 miles away, Ellinor is one of the classic hikes in the Pacific Northwest. Year round, it can be summited, rewarding those with a love of breathtaking views with a world class panorama. I have climbed her rocky flanks dozens of times over the past few years, each time different than the last. She is my crush, the object of my desire and more often than not, I find myself daydreaming of trips up her beautiful summit. One such trip was a winter trek, one that I look back on years later with the fondest of memories.
It was the last day of 2014. I was just a youngster, halfway through the 33th year of my life and full of wonder and joy. I had hiked a ton that year and had really found my stride as a hiker and writer. My blog had taken off like a wildfire through the dry hills of Southern California and new plans were in the works. Mathias, my trail running and hiker partner in adventure, and I were getting ready to launch this little website called The Outdoor Society and we were excited with the potential. We decided to enjoy the unseasonably clear weather of the winter and headed up to the snowy summit of Ellinor.
It was New Years Eve and we needed this last summit of the year. We had gone on a ton of hikes the entire year, but we were itching for another summit, another breathtaking day in the wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula. It turned out that we had picked the perfect day for the perfect adventure. The winter of 2014-15 in the Pacific Northwest was one of the worst snowpacks in history and the driest year on record. Early snow fell, but that was pretty much the only snow of the winter. By the end of December, the Ellinor Trail’s summer route was still being hiked, something unheard of for that time of the year. We had heard that the conditions on the mountain were good and that the recent snowfall was mostly untouched.
On New Years Eve of 2014, sunny skies, as far as the eye could see, met us. To say we were stoked was an understatement. Jumping out of the car at the upper trailhead, which was 100% snow free, we grabbed our gear and headed up the short trail. It would only be a few miles to the top, but we could hardly wait. The conditions were so perfect- crisp and cool, but sunny and warm at the same time. It could have been below freezing, but excitement had the blood pumping through my veins. We hiked through the forest, talking about who knows what and easer to get to the first viewpoint.
The first viewpoint on Ellinor is great, giving first glimpses of the entire Hood Canal and Puget Sound, as Mount Rainier rises off in the distance. We took a few pictures of the stunning scene and headed up. We had hiked this trail numerous times and knew that it gets even better. Past the final section of forest, we hiked in a few inches of snow until we got to the first rocky section of the trail. In the summer, this section is full of boulders and scree, letting hikers experience the joyous moments when you first get above the tree line. At the end of 2014, this section was draped in a blanket of snow, highlighting the undulations of the rocks while keeping them hidden from view. Stopping and taking pictures, we discovered that inches of snow rested on the larger rocks, showing layers of snowfall like a pristine tiramisu. Hungry for more, we continued our hike to the summit, already flabbergasted by the gorgeousness we had encountered.
As we reached the giant switchback leading to the final push toward Ellinor’s summit, we skipped stopping and taking multiple pictures. We were to excited to get to the summit and see a snowy wonderland expand in all directions. Occasionally once of us would glance back and snap a quick picture because it was too gorgeous not to do so, but we were on a mission. The snow was five or six inches deep, but it didn’t hamper our strides. We climbed quickly toward the summit, knowing that awesomeness was literally just around the corner.
Rounding the last stretch of trail that day was an experienced burned in my brain for as long as it functions. Mount Washington, which sits nearby and is extremely impressive looking from Ellinor, was 90% snowcapped, giving it’s rocky expanse truly stunning definition. To the west, the Mountains of Olympic National Park reached toward the heavens, covered in snow, but still showing off the dark greens of the pristine wilderness forests below. Far off to the west, the glaciated summit of Olympus beckoned us for a future adventure. To the east, Lake Cushman and Hood Canal glistened from the late morning sun. Rainier rose from the horizon, perfectly outlining it and the other incredible peaks of the Cascades: Baker, Adams and St. Helens.
We sat at the summit for nearly an hour, taking pictures and pointing out peaks and landmarks off in the distance. We knew we needed to get back, but we milked each minute as much as we could. We struggled for motivation to hike down at first, but reliving the beauty of the route up was just as incredible as on the way up. The views continued to leave us in awe and as we took in the last few magnificent views, we felt accomplished. We had found the perfect last hike of an amazing year of hiking and friendship. This is what hiking on public lands is all about.
Reaching the summit of Mount Ellinor on the last day of 2014 was obviously awesome. Hell, here I am in December of 2017 longing for another day like that. Having this type of experience on Public Lands is what has gotten me through hard times in my life. Days like this winter summit of Ellinor remind me that the world is far greater than my problems and that these lands having serious healing powers. Our public lands are special, remarkable, beautiful, and needing to be fully funded and protected. Support the people who support our public lands. Do everything you can to share these experiences with others to ensure that the land is around for generations far beyond our lives.
This post was written in one hour for the first #NatureWritingChallenge.