Easy Access Mt Ellinor
Last weekend some friends and I rented a cabin at Lake Cushman. Looking at a map of the Olympic Peninsula, I saw the peak Mount Washington just above the Lake, and its little sister, Mount Ellinor to the south. The plan was set: a relaxing cabin weekend and an invigorating mountain climb.
The next day, we could see Lake Cushman and Mount Rose from the porch of the cabin. Mount Rose is a hike through the trees up to a peak at 4,500. We opted to drive through the majority of these trees instead and head up to Mount Washington's trailhead, which starts around 3,000 feet… closer to the alpine level. This was only a fifteen-minute drive through the woods. At the end the snow became too deep for the car, so we parked at Lower Mount Ellinor trailhead. Being a few miles away from the Mount Washington Trailhead, this essentially ruined the possibility of Mount Washington.
What happened at the Mount Ellinor trailhead would be easy to overlook -- we changed our baring and set out to climb Mount Ellinor instead -- however, there is something amazing in this simple change of plans. Being a goal-oriented people, I imagine how often Americans have a goal in sight, and will do anything to achieve this goal. How over-confident and fragile this concept is: it is as if the thinker of this plan is the only entity in the universe. No other human, no part of nature, no rules of physics will hold this person back. Of course there are other people with other plans, and there is a nature with its rule book that must be followed. And the fragility of this plan: if there is an obstacle, which as I've illustrated is quite possible, how crestfallen and inept the thinker feels at not being to use their strength and will to proceed.
In our case, our plan's obstacle was nature; our trailhead was unattainable because of the snow. Without this ever seeming to affect us, we pulled out the map for plan B, Mount Ellinor, and we never thought of this as a compromise.
The trail began at around 3,000 feet above sea level, and our summit was at about 6,000 feet. And I don't know if it was pleasing or teasing that the peak was viewable the entire trail. Through the woods we hiked in the firm, shallow snow, two brothers, two ladies and two dogs.
Finally, the grade began to level and the trees began to thin out. Soon enough we entered a basin with views that spanned over the hood canal and Mount Cushman all the way to Mount Rainier. It was nearly dizzying seeing the lake where we spent the night at a significant angle downward. We lunched on a point of the snow where the views were magnificent in all directions. Looking towards the rest of the climb, Colin and I could see it would become technical. The grade steepened to around 45º and an ice axe would be required. Now should we return with Michelle and Erin? Should we try to coax them into the final 1,000 feet of the climb to the Summit? What about the dogs? Should they wait here for us? Colin and decided to go it alone to the Summit while the girls descended to the car.
We donned our ice axes, crampons and glacier glasses and I finally felt like a climber; how much better I felt holding my ice axe ascending the mountain. And how fast we were going now! Only ten minutes passed and looking down we could see the lookout far below us. Up and up this chute we went, step after step, and feeling completely energized. This is our element. We crested this chute after about 20 minutes, which to us was amazing considering how it looked from our perch at the lookout. Above the chute, the terrain was truly Alpine, rolling mounds of snow, sharp jagged rocks protruding and covered partially by the snow. We finished up this climb in spades and stood atop our first Olympic Summit and took a long breath. Not having any more mountain to climb is a thrilling feeling.
After coaching some beginning climbers how to glissade using an ice axe -- to hold the shaft low by your hips in your left hand, and up by your shoulder on the top of the axe with your right, and to use the pic to slow your decent -- we begin our ride downward. In five quick minutes of extreme sliding we were down to the lookout again. And in another few minutes we were back at the car gawking up at where we just were an hour ago. The sad thing was that my legs still wanted more work out, but I could suppress that.
Ten minutes later, we were back at the cabin for creature comforts: beer, macaroni and cheese, but most importantly beer.
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