Backpacking in Olympic National Park: Klahhane Ridge

It’s been a long stretch since my last post (way back in November), but I’m happy to share some photos from my first real hike of the 2013 season! Woot woot! Since most of my stomping grounds in the Cascades are still under several feet of snow (and will likely still be that way for a few more weeks), my buddy Tim and I opted for an overnight trip to the Olympic Peninsula. Despite only being a short ferry ride away from home, we rarely ever venture out to this part of the state so we thought it would be a good opportunity to explore some “new territory”.

We got up bright and early to catch our morning ferry to Port Townsend, where we then drove onward to the Olympic National Park Visitor’s Center in Port Angeles to register our camping permit and pick up a bear can to stash our food in while up on the mountain. From there we drove 40 minutes up the well-paved road through lush forests and grassy alpine meadows to Hurricane Ridge. This is a popular tourist destination here in Washington State and on a clear day it offers spectacular views right into the heart of the Olympics. Not this time, however, since thick clouds had rolled in the night before. Fortunately, this meant less people out and about and being the middle of the week, there were only a few cars in the parking lot.

3D map of the ONP at the visitor's center

Both of us have actually visited Hurricane Ridge in the past, but it was our first time hiking beyond the visitor center/tourist bubble into the “real” Olympic National Park. Our destination was Klahhane Ridge, which lies just to the east of 6458 foot Mt. Angeles. This is the same location where a hiker was gored and killed by a mountain goat in 2010. We didn’t see any goats on this trip, but we did encounter lots of other critters. In just the first 15 minutes, we saw several deer, a few marmots, and even a black bear crossing a snowfield below us on the north side of the ridge.

Bambi

The Klahhane Ridge trail can be accessed from four different approaches: from the north via the Heather Park Trail, the Lake Angeles Trail (another route from the north), the Switchback trail from the south, and from the Sunrise Ridge Trail from the west. We took the high road via the Sunrise Ridge Trail, which eventually connects with Klahhane Ridge via the Switchback trail.

From the parking lot, the trail starts off rising gently along a grassy ridge. As expected, there was a lot less snow on the ground than what we are normally accustomed to this time of year in other parts of the state. We only had to deal with a couple patches of snow here and there for the most part. There was only one section where we couldn’t see the trail at all under the snow and had to glissade down a hill to get the next dry spot. We only encountered four other people along this trail over the course of 3.1 miles. Once we got to the Switchback Trail, we were on our own for the rest of the trip.



The Switchback Trail was less spectacular than the previous trail we had been on. Like the name suggests, it switchbacks up a steep hillside for about a mile. It’s a surefire way to get those buns and legs a good workout! At the top near where the Klahhane Ridge Trail starts, we came across a marmot sitting on a rock outcrop who was not phased at all by our presence. I got some pretty good closeup shots of him, who seemed to pose in every photo I took.

Marmot
Marmot

We followed the Klahhane Ridge Trail for a ways, getting caught up in the clouds drifting by. Every now and then it would clear up enough to where we could see the road far below us and the distance peaks around us on the south side. Then just to our left, a sheer drop into a white abyss as the ridge acted as a natural barrier to clouds coming in from the north side. We found a fairly flat spot to set up the tent and as soon as I took it out of my pack it started raining (talk about good timing!). And that’s how it stayed for most of the afternoon, raining on and off with the wind picking up in the evening. Since there wasn’t much to see due to the cloud cover and poor weather conditions, we didn’t get to do a lot of exploring around the other parts of the ridge. Instead we had an early dinner (beef jerky, dried cranberries, and a hearty bowl of dinosaur egg oatmeal) and headed off to bed.

Mt. Angeles hidden in the clouds
Mt. Angeles
Hiking up into the clouds
Clear on one side and a white abyss on the other
We hit larger snowfields at the top of Klahhane Ridge
Our campsite high on a windy hill
View of the valley from near our campsite

The next morning we got up bright and early to foggy and windy conditions and made it off the mountain as soon as we could, taking the Switchback Trail all the way down to the road and walking back to the Hurricane Ridge parking lot.

Overall, not a bad hike despite the clouds and rain. I’ll probably be back in this area again later this summer if the Obstruction Point Road to Grand Ridge opens. Thanks for reading!

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