Sunday, August 27, 2017

Big Creek & Mt. Ellinor

For a while I've wanted to do a hike out on the Olympic Peninsula, and I had once seen a beautiful picture of Big Creek, so I chose that hike to do this weekend. It's on the eastern side of the peninsula so it's only a 2 hour drive from the city. After looking at it further, I wanted to do more than just a 4 mile hike if I was going to drive all the way out there. I saw that the Big Creek Loop connected to the Mount Ellinor trail, so without knowing much about that mountain, I decided to do both.

Map showing the various trailheads. I started from the Big Creek Campground and took the red loop as well as the trail to Mount Ellinor.

It ended up being one of the more challenging hikes I've done as well as my 2nd longest hike ever. There are three trailheads for Mount Ellinor. From the upper trailhead, it's only 3.2 miles roundtrip, and from the lower trailhead, it's 6.2 miles roundtrip. From the Big Creek Campground, including the loop, my GPS clocked 14.2 miles roundtrip. On the way up, I was looking at the peaks around me and trying to figure out which one I was going to. When I saw Mount Ellinor and the neighboring Mt. Washington, I figured there was no way I was getting up there. It was across a valley and seemed so far away, but that is where I ended up.

Looking up at Mount Ellinor (left) from a mid point in the trail

The first 5 miles up were a gradual, steady incline, so it wasn't that challenging. The last 2 miles were steeper, with the last 1.5 miles filled with seemingly never ending stairs, scree, and jagged rocks.

I also didn't realize how popular this hike was or how crowded it would be. I'm used to solitude on the trails and I tend to get there early to beat the crowds. I started this hike around 8:30am due to the longer drive, but when I was getting up near the top it was later in the day and people were more likely to be hiking. Since the trail is short from the upper trailhead, this makes it more accessible to more people. I saw several people that weren't dressed right for a hike like this - wearing jeans, tennis shoes, and carrying a purse or just one bottle of water. But I guess if you're doing the 3 mile version, you'll survive. This was the first time I finished both of my Nalgene water bottles, and I'll have to bring a third if I do any more hikes with this distance and elevation gain.

Part of the trail. 

This was the most tired I've ever been on a hike. It was 7 miles up and almost 5,000 feet of elevation gain (4,898 feet according to my GPS), so it was already a tough hike to begin with. I ended up trudging along for the last mile. However, I think half of the reason I was so tired is because of all the people. I'm an introvert, so being around people is draining for me. Usually on a difficult hike with steep sections and loose rock, I can just focus on navigating the trail and going at my own pace. For this hike, I had to focus on all the people around me, including managing my pace and figuring out how to pass people who were going slow and if there was anyone faster coming up behind me that I needed to let pass me. There were several points where there were a few of us in a line going up, or times when I had to move over to the side to let a few people come down the trail. On the way down, I was happy to get back down past where the two trailheads joined so I could finally have some peace and quiet.

The awesome things about this hike were finally seeing mountain goats in person, and the incredible views. From the top, I could see Lake Cushman, Seattle, Mt. Rainier, a few other volcanoes/peaks in the state, and other mountains in the Olympic range. Had there been about 100 less people, I would have sat at the summit for longer.

There was a mountain goat on the summit as well, and two of them on the way up to the summit. I've heard they can be aggressive, but these guys were chill and just ignored us while the grazed.

When I was on the Big Creek Loop, the creek was pretty and it was much cooler down there.

I'm glad I did this hike, and I'm looking forward to exploring more hikes on the Olympic Peninsula!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Johnson Ridge - Scorpion Mountain & Joan Lake

Usually I hike on trails off of I-90 in Snoqualmie Pass because it's close and convenient, but one of my goals for the year was to do a hike off of highway 2 along Steven's Pass. It was a two hour drive to get to the trailhead, but it wasn't bad and it didn't seem that long. I spent the last 30 minutes of that driving up a narrow, one lane road up most of a mountain. The trailhead parking was the end of the road. I hiked 9.3 miles round trip along Johnson Ridge, hitting Sunrise Mountain, Scorpion Mountain, and ending at tiny Joan Lake.

Joan lake below

The road up hugged the edge of the mountain in some places and it was a long drop-off below

The road was narrow and the bushes would brush against my car at times

Apparently we were having a silver & white car party at the trailhead

Trail start from the trailhead. There was a sign and information about 30 feet up.

Most of the Johnson Ridge trail itself isn't spectacular. The four mile round trip version is two miles of walking up a steep trail through the woods along a ridge, and it "ends" at Sunrise Mountain where you would turn around and walk two miles back through the woods. You can see Glacier Peak and a few other mountains from there, but if you're going to go all that way you should keep going to Scorpion Mountain and Joan Lake. Once I got to Scorpion Mountain, the views were stunning. I was still on the ridge, but it opened up into alpine meadows and I could see all of the different peaks in the area. From the summit of Scorpion Mountain, I could see Joan Lake below.

Glacier Peak

Trail along the ridge when it opened up to alpine meadows

Alpine meadows are in my top five favorite places to be, and this meadow had a ton of wildflowers and some of the best views I've ever seen. It was worth driving all this way to see just mountains everywhere I looked instead of seeing I-90 below in one direction. I'm also used to seeing Mt. Rainier, but this time I got to see a different major peak: Glacier Peak. The change of scenery was nice and I definitely want to do more hikes in this area.

Looking up at the Scorpion Mountain summit

I love when the meadows seem to meet the sky

The trail was challenging as several portions of it were steep, especially when dropping down along the ridge from one mountain to another. The trail down to Joan Lake was also steep, but the lake basin was nice. There was a small pond near the lake that was full of thousands of black tadpoles. I hadn't seen anything quite like that before.

Lake basin


Tadpole pond

Joan Lake

I walked halfway around the lake and sat on the shore to eat a snack. There was a vault toilet near the lake, and the sign for it was on a huge tree that had fallen over. I found that amusing, but luckily you could still see the sign from the trail and just had to go through the broken section of tree.

Even though the tree fell, it's still effective haha

This hike was a great workout and the views were amazing, so I'm adding it to my list of hikes to do again, and I want to do more hikes in the Steven's Pass area.