The Wild Smithberrys summited Mount Ellinor! Why? Because it’s there.
This Sunday we decided to go on a family hike up into the magnificent Olympic Mountains on another family adventure. Since the weather was cool and dry, we decided on a more strenuous climb. Plus, my wife really wanted to see the much adored, and problematic, mountain goats that usually inhabit the area.
Mount Ellinor is a 5,951’ peak in the south east corner of the Olympic Mountain range of Washington State. Although it is not very tall, it provides some of the most spectacular views in the region. From the summit, you can see north to Mount Baker near the Canadian border all the way south to Mount Hood in Oregon and east to Mount Rainier. You also can look across to Seattle and turn around to look into the Olympic Mountains wilderness. A full mile below lays beautiful Lake Cushman. The mountain really gives you an amazing bird’s-eye view of the area.
To reap the reward of these spectacular vistas, you need to work for it, hard. Do not let the mere 1.6 mile trail to the summit fool you into a sense of an easy little hike. Imagine a mile and a half stair case, because that it what it is like. Right from the trail-head you start an unbroken ascent. The route is steep and for most of the trek you are climbing stairs cut into the mountain. It is a serious leg and bottom work-out!
Take your time and bring lots of water. Please remember safety! There are no streams to replenish your water supply on the hike. Towards the top you come out of the trees and are exposed to the elements. That is where the serious climbing starts too.
There is a winter route and a summer route up the second stage. We took the summer route, but still had plenty of snow. We hit the first snow field about three-fourths of a mile up. That one was small and easy. The second one starts at about a mile up. That one requires determination. I highly recommend crampons and poles or at least good hiking boots with large treads. We had good boots and poles, but still struggled. However, we were determined to summit.
A note here: If you are hiking with energetic boys who happen to be on running teams, they will make you feel old and slow. Our boys clambered up the steep snowy slopes like mountain goats. My wife and I followed behind at a more sedate pace. Thankfully, they patiently waited for us in spots.
Crossing the snow field we saw a ghostly white and wooly shape emerge from the thick fog that now enveloped us. It was our first mountain goat sighting! They truly are magnificent beasts well adapted for this rugged and harsh terrain. He made it look easy as he leisurely climbed the barren rock ledges. Show-off!
We continued our ascent as the goat disappeared into the mist. I considered turning back as I looked up at how far we still had to go in the snow. My family, however, really wanted to push-on. So, I obliged and trudged onward and upward. Climbers coming down assured us the exertion was worth the effort. They also assured us that the summit was only another half mile every time we asked someone new. It was a very long half mile.
Finally we broke free of the snow and were on the last push to the top. We spotted a mother mountain goat with her calf beside the trail. I think this little reward from nature made the hike worth the effort for my wife. She was determined to make it the rest of the way at that point.
At the very top we felt exhausted but elated. We did it! Mount Ellinor was conquered! Aaron proudly hoisted his U.S. Naval Academy flag. On the summit were even more mountain goats with newborn calves. They are completely habituated to humans and will come right up to you.
Remember, they are still wild animals and can be dangerous. We kept a respectful distance and did not try to feed or pet any.
We rested and ate our lunch as we enjoyed the beauty around us. Mishele brought pizza for us to enjoy. Dijiorno pizza never tasted better. Aaron, Elijah, and I each ate half of one in minutes. I think we easily burned the calories.
After lunch we reluctantly started the long trek down. Normally, going down a mountain is easier than going up. Not so much in this case. When we reached the snow field, we started to slide. Many hikers glissade down the mountain, which is basically sledding on your bum. We were not originally planning on doing that. That is until Mishele fell into a glissade chute. She slid into one and off she went like an Olympic luger! I am not sure who was more surprised, her or us. She instantly went out of sight. I felt like laughing and panicking at the same time.
Luckily, she came to a stop somewhere down the mountain. Elijah was next up; off he went trying to slide too. Aaron planned a little better and actually got some video of himself sliding. I fell down and was carried away. I was too tired to fight it and went with gravity. Eventually, we all met back up at the bottom of the snow field unhurt and bewildered. Next time, I am bringing a sled. We dropped a few hundred feet in seconds!
We were wet, cold, and tired but still had a mile of downhill to plod to our car. We encountered more mountain goats on the way who at first looked like they were going to stand their ground and not let us pass. We were extremely tired so not interested in playing Billy Goats Gruff. Luckily, they moved aside so we could continue down.
When we finally reached our car we piled in feeling utterly exhausted but proud to have accomplished another family adventure. There is nothing better on a Sunday afternoon than death-defying experiences to bring a family closer together. Mishele and I agreed that the next hike would be flat and snow free though.
For more information on hiking the Olympic National Park, check out Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula by Craig Romano.