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Hurricane Hill
posted by John : August 2-3, 2014


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Homework or hiking?


The girls and Amy are leaving for a week at Girl Scout Camp Saturday morning. That means man-time for me and Henry.

Now I just need to figure out what to do. Clearly, we needed to hike. Twin Falls is still mostly closed and although there are plenty of alternatives, I was looking for something more interesting. The weather was looking excellent and I didn't want to squander an opportunity.

The girls were headed west so maybe we'd follow them. Yes, excellent idea. Plus, it'd give Henry a chance to get his Olympic National Park Junior Ranger badge. (Yes, when I announced this to Amy and the girls there was some squawking, but it quieted when they learned they'd get a shot at a badge in a couple of weeks.)

Since it wasn't to be a backpacking trip I tossed the gear we'd need into the car without much thought. This kind of spontaneous adventure has worked the last couple of times and I was hoping this would, too.

We arrived at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles about 3:45pm. It's a long drive with traffic and we'd gotten a late start. When talking with the ranger he asked if we were staying in the park.

"I was going to ask you about that..."

"If you are asking that then you're not staying in the park. Maybe not anywhere around here."

Uh oh. However, we had bigger concerns. There were no ranger presentations taking place that Henry could use to get his badge. At least not until the next day.

No matter! We headed up the narrow, twisting road toward Hurricane Ridge and I firmly believed something would turn up in terms of lodging.

At the visitor center on Hurricane Ridge we ducked through the building (basically a gathering place, gift shop, and cafe) and out onto the patio. It overlooks the hard-to-access middle of the park and has a great view of Mt. Olympus. As usual, Henry was focused on his Junior Ranger book, but I got him to follow me as we headed to the Hurricane Hill trailhead. (Then I realized it was a half mile down the road so we went back for the car.)

The trail is a strange one. It is paved for much of its length, though it's reverting back to a more natural state in some areas. It passes through trees and meadows before ending at the rocky summit.

Henry was wearing new shoes and a new backpack on which he blamed his slow pace. We were in no hurry so I didn't push him hard. He did somehow jump to life when I took the pack and he was free to run.

At the summit we had a late lunch/early dinner while I marveled at the views. To the north was the Straight of Juan de Fuca and across the water was Victoria, BC. To the south were mountains as far as the eye could see. The highest, like Mt. Olympus, were still covered in snow or at least glaciers.

We descended a few feet and saw an Olympic Marmot on the rocks below us. Olympic Marmots are endemic to the peninsula and occur nowhere else on earth. It looked smaller and a lighter shade of brown than the hoary marmots we usually see on Mt. Rainier or the yellow-belly marmots in eastern Washington.

Another viewpoint to the south beckoned us and we got an even better view of a marmot there. Two hikers came out of the brush and said there was a goat behind them. Lo and behold, a goat!

I have had really bad luck seeing goats. On Noble Knob there was a big bunch of them, but pretty far away. On Mt. Rainier a single goat appeared as we were climbing the Inter Glacier. The worst, though, was as we were descending from Headlight Basin and were told there was a bunch of goats at Ingalls Lake... where we had been the night before!

No problems this time. I quickly switched lenses so I could get close without actually getting close and then we swung to our left. The goat was contentedly munching on grass and paying no mind to the swarm of flies buzzing around its head. When it started moving we backed way off and were treated to a flanking shot as it crossed the meadow in front of us. Near the cliffs, we got one last view as it rubbed its chest and neck in the dirt not terribly different from the way Treen does on snow.

Our goat adventure was completed when Henry found a ball of goat hair in a tree. (I had forgotten until later, but we had dubbed hair in a tree a "goat memory" when at Panhandle Gap in 2012) What little boy could resist such a treasure? He held it tight the whole way down. Even when we were forced to pause our descent so a doe and fawn could cross the trail right in front of us.

By the time we got back down to Port Angeles it was dark. The ranger had given me a few possibilities so I started driving. The first campground was full. The second campground was full. I started wondering if this was going to work out. Since we were at the edge of the park there were no old forest service roads we could guerrilla camp on. Driving back through town I spotted the Walmart and a bunch of RVs in the parking lot.

Really? Camping in a Walmart?

What can I say? It was safe, it was free, and it was legal. We pulled in, rearranged the car and were asleep in the back in a matter of minutes. The only problem was early the next morning when I realized I should have cracked more of the windows. We had not only fogged up the inside of the windows, it was as though it was raining.

The whole reason we camped in a parking lot was so we could return to the Visitor Center in the morning and get Henry's badge. We saw the same ranger we'd talked to the day before and he checked out Henry's book.

"Wait here for just a minute. I have to go get something to make this official."

I figured he was getting a badge from the back or something, but he came back with his official NPS Ranger hat. Henry took his pledge, we watched the visitor center's movie (worth 20 minutes of your time, by the way), and headed west.

Wait. West?

Yes, we went west to the Elwah valley to catch a ranger program there. The ranger was thrilled to have people attending her program about the effects of the removal of dams on the Elwah River and did a great job of explaining the science for everyone attending.

Finally official we got on the road and headed for home. Although we'd come by the bridges south of Seattle we took the ferries across the Sound on the way back. (Cheapskate tip: No toll on the Tacoma Narrows bridge going west and driver-only fares going east on the ferries will save you a couple of bucks. Plus gas is incredibly cheap in Port Angeles!)

When we finally arrived at home Henry tried to get out of the car, but only managed to turn around before falling asleep. I left him there while I unpacked, but got him up in time for dinner.

Once again, the spontaneous trip paid off. Although the season of spontaneity is coming to and end we might get one more in. I hear Amy's going to an overnight Girl Scout event near the end of September... Is it cheating if I plan a spur-of-the-moment trip now?

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