I had one more day to hike in the Olympics. Tonight I would be moving on to Packwood, to serve as my next base for hiking in the Cascades. After the long, hard hike that I did to Upper Lena Lake the day before, I wasn't up for another marathon. I picked the Mt. Ellinor trail. It's not easy - it climbs 2100 feet in only two and a quarter miles to the summit. It would be a good workout but it would be a much shorter one. That also meant a lot less time fighting the bugs.
Which brought me to my next important decision. Since I was doing a shorter hike, I could sleep in. I only had about a two hour drive (once I was back to the highway) to Packwood. I could use the extra rest after the hike the day before. But the later that I started, the worse the bugs and the heat would be. Since the hike was shorter, I opted for the extra sleep. I didn't get out of bed until after 7 am Pacific. Luxurious! I even took my time getting packed up.
Although I didn't have to drive as far north on US101 to reach the turn off, I had a long drive on access roads to the trailhead. It didn't help that the mileages in the guide book seemed to be off for this hike. My car's odometer had agreed pretty closely with the book before today. It made me very nervous too when I passed the point where I was supposed to hit a road junction and nothing was there. The drive in also took a long time because the dirt roads were slow going. I did get some nice views of a mountain that I thought was Mt. Ellinor as I drove closer. Turned out later that it was Mt. Washington, the next peak to the north. It can also be climbed but is longer and harder. It will have to wait for a future trip.
Finally I made it to the trailhead. I was all set to go and hit the trail right away.
The trail was steep right from the start. It has a lot of elevation to gain and not much distance to do it in. The trail started out in the forest so I was in the shade. But although I was in the shade, there also wasn't any breeze in the woods. So it felt hot and humid. I was working hard and in minutes was drenched in sweat. The bugs were also bad in the forest. There were big flies that buzzed around you and made a lot of noise. There were medium flies that were silent but landed and wanted to bite. Finally there were mosquitoes trying to get their share too. I was very popular. I had to admit that the first hour was a trudge and I didn't enjoy it at all. I kept kicking myself for not getting up earlier. Sleeping in didn't seem like such a good idea anymore.
I got to listen to an extended commentary most of the way up the mountain. Two other guys were hiking the trail. They would hike fast and pass me. Then a short distance ahead they would stop to rest and I would pass them. We repeated this about twenty times. They had to have the loudest voices of anyone I have ever encountered on a trail. For an hour I heard their entire conversation. They were both ministers (or something) and I heard about every personnel problem in their churches, gossip about and in their congregations, theology, bible interpretation, suicide prevention, Christian camps, and a hundred other topics. I never could decide which were more annoying, them or the flies. At least I could swat at the flies.
It took more than an hour but finally I started to come out of the forest. Although I was in the sun now, there was also a breeze. That made it cooler plus made the flies less annoying. They weren't gone but now they were tolerable. An additional compensation was that now there were incredible views. I could see down to Lake Compton at the base of the mountain. I could see the Cascades far to the east, with Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams standing out prominently. Once I was out of the forest the meadows were filled with flowers. Probably not the absolute best that I have ever seen (that of course would be Paradise Meadows in Mt. Rainier National Park) but they were close. Certainly the best flower fields that I had seen so far this year. And I have been doing a lot of hiking.
The trail was even steeper here than in the lower half. It was like climbing a staircase and I was doing rest steps all the way. But the trail was well constructed and the footing was secure. Someone had put in a lot of effort. At each pause I could enjoy the view, whether it was the flowers nearby or the mountains in the distance. Hey, this hiking wasn't so bad after all. It was still very hard work but now I could at least see progress.
During one pause I noticed a mountain goat climbing on a rock pinnacle up on the summit ridge. It was incredible how agile it was. I did manage to get a few photos. Up and down the trail everyone had stopped. They were either watching the goat or taking pictures of it. Finally the goat climbed up and over the pinnacle and was gone.
I was going a lot slower now. Not because I was tired but because I was taking lots of pictures. There were distant mountain views, nearby meadows filled with flowers, combinations of both, the goat climbing on the rocky spire, and views of the trail itself.
There was one long, open slope near the top. It was especially steep and each step seemed as much up as forward. It seemed to go on forever. At this point my two buddies, who were nearby, were speculating about how steep the trail was overall. They were guessing 40%, 50% or more. They were only thirty feet behind me so I stopped and said loudly "20%". They both looked at me, shocked for a moment. Then they looked very skeptical. "It's two and a quarter miles and 2100 feet of elevation gain. That's about 20%." "Oh, ok" one of them said. I'm not sure that they believed me. I guess arithmetic wasn't their strong point.
I was hoping that once I reached the notch at the top of this slope that I would be near the summit. I just kept going, aiming for that notch. Finally I reached it and was on the summit ridge. Now I could see to the north and west where I had an impressive view into the heart of Olympic National Park. But there was still more mountain to climb so I turned and headed up the summit ridge. The flower fields here were even more spectacular than below. I kept moving up knowing that I was getting close. I turned a corner and now I could see Mt. Washington nearby to the northeast. It looked like it was higher than Mt. Ellinor (it is) and a harder climb (it's a scramble). But that didn't matter right now. I could see the summit of Ellinor about fifty feet above me and that was a worthy achievement for today.
There were about ten people on the summit. Everyone was in a good mood. Two old guys were talking about all the hikes that they had done. This old guy wasn't bragging and kept to himself. There were a lot of rocks on the top and I found a comfortable spot to sit. I enjoyed the view for about half an hour. I could have stayed there a lot longer. Before I left though I made a point of climbing up the rock that was the highest point. Maybe it was silly but I had come this far and I was going to stand on the top of this mountain. I was surprised that no one else did it. Then I was ready to start down.
It had taken me over two hours to get to the top. It took me an hour and ten minutes to get down. Unlike the day before, I wasn't worn out by the climb so I could make good time on the downhill. As usual there were lots of people still going up in the heat. And I thought that I got a late start. Then I was back at the car, cranking the air conditioning to full blast, and driving down the mountain. Unlike the trail, the dirt roads took as long to go down as to go up. Eventually I stopped at a store near Lake Cushman to get a cold soda. I was completely soaked in sweat so the ride down was a bit uncomfortable. When I reached Hoodsport and the highway I pulled off the road. I changed into dry clothes (and shorts - it was really warm down here). Now I was ready for the ride to Packwood, which took about two hours. When I got there I checked into my hotel, showered and changed, and went out for dinner. I had a salad and pizza and it was delicious. I had been trying to find pizza for the past two days in Shelton without any luck. Now I was a happy guy.