Road Trip with Jess’ Family | Weekend on the Olympic Peninsula | Hiking the Klahhane Ridge Trail to Lake Angeles | June 2021
On Saturday morning, one week after we had departed from Omaha, we packed up the car and finished cleaning our Tacoma rental house before hitting the road. We had another rental house reserved in Port Angeles, where we planned to enjoy a few more days in Washington before driving back East. Our timing for getting out of Tacoma was perfect, as the city (along with the rest of the Pacific Northwest) had extreme heat warnings for the weekend and into the start of next week. Port Angeles would also be unusually hot, but only in the lower 90s compared to Tacoma in the 100s.
We couldn’t check in to our next rental until after 4, so we decided to take a longer route and planned a few stops along the way. We began by driving South on I-5 to Olympia, where we stopped to see the Washington capitol building. After walking around the capitol and other government buildings, Charlotte led us to a trail that switchbacked down to the Capitol Lake waterfront. She lived to regret this decision as the only way back to the car was by walking back up the switchbacks, and it was already starting to heat up by this point. I had a number of ideas for short hikes along the Eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula, but after this foray in the summer heat, we decided it would be better to just do drive-up scenic view type stops.
While driving up US-101, we diverted from the highway to drive by Lake Cushman. The lake access areas were full of people trying to beat the heat, but we found a quieter pull off with a view and enjoyed the views of the mountains surrounding the lake. Some mountains even still had snow, and I wished we could transport the dogs up to that spot because I know how much Charlotte loves snow! After this, we decided to drive up Mount Walker, something that Curtis and I had done last time we were in the area. We drove up and parked at the West lookout, and walked the road between the two viewpoints since the road was mostly shaded. Curtis found a letterbox, and this time we noted there was more snow on the Olympics than last time we were here (of course, because we had last visited in September). From the East viewpoint, we were able to see Mt. Rainier, which we are pretty sure we couldn’t see last time either because of haze or wildfire smoke.
When we arrived in Port Angeles, we still had 30 minutes to kill, so we drove out on a narrow peninsula on Marine Road to a spot listed on Google Maps as Ediz Hook Reservation for Native Birds. We walked along the water for a bit, enjoying the breeze and views of the Olympic Mountains to the South and Vancouver Island to the North.
Finally, we were able to check in to our rental. We arrived and settled in — the house turned out to not have air conditioning, but thankfully had several fans which we positioned around with open windows to help with air flow. Besides that, we really liked this house. It was in a quiet neighborhood South of town and very close to the road up Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. We saw deer walking through the backyard often, even once a deer with twin fawns.
That evening, after being disappointed with the recommendation for seafood in Tacoma, we decided to try again and we got dinner at Downriggers on the Water. While waiting for a table, we walked around the downtown area and checked out a local bookstore. Here I found a National Geographic map detailing the Olympic National Park and some of the forest, and bought it on impulse since we’ll probably want to get it eventually, and why not support a local shop instead of Amazon?
The map would prove itself worthy of purchase almost instantly. Curtis really wanted to go for one big hike while here, and over dinner he came up with a plan: The next morning, we would drive up Hurricane Ridge for sunrise, then drop him off at the top, and he would hike back down, summiting Mount Angeles along the way. After that, we could pick him up near the entrance to Olympic National Park and then drive out to the coast for the late afternoon and dinner. He thought that the early morning start would help him to stay out of the heat, and that the entire hike would take 6 hours. We talked about all the shorter, easier, and potentially dog friendly trails that we could do while waiting for him to finish the hike.
Then I went back and forth on whether I wanted to join Curtis or stay with my parents, but ultimately decided to go with Curtis. I did a little research and decided I wasn’t interested in summiting Mount Angeles, but thought the rest would be fine, and was sort of under the impression that this would be an easier hike, mostly going downhill.
The next morning, we got up around 4:30AM and began driving up Hurricane Ridge by 4:45. We could already see the mountains on Vancouver Island lit up with pink and purple light as we began our drive. Arriving at the top of Hurricane Ridge gave me the same feelings that I had the first time we visited. The view is so breathtaking, so vast and wide, and the pastel colors reflected on the peaks made it all the more beautiful. This has to be one of my favorite views in the world, and I was so excited to share it with my parents. We took some pictures, then Curtis and I said our goodbyes and set off on our hike.
We started on the wide and easy Klahhane Ridge Trail, gradually going uphill, passing by other sunrise watchers. The views were incredible in every direction and I was so grateful to be here, hiking in this beautiful place. We followed a ridge, the ups and downs of the trail, and saw deer, a marmot, and wildflowers along the path. Our spirits were high and I was already thinking of this as the “perfect hike.”
However, I was woefully unaware of the challenges this trail would present. I was under the impression that because we had already driven up Hurricane Ridge that most of the elevation gain was already over. I thought that things wouldn’t be technical or challenging for me because I wasn’t summiting Mount Angeles with Curtis. And the thought of snow didn’t even cross my mind because of how hot the temperature had been, and would be later today. In my mind, this trail would be about a mile uphill and nine miles of descending through the shaded forest.
All that changed when we came over a crest and rounded a corner, and completely lost the trail under several feet of snow on a North-facing slope. There weren’t even footprints to follow and know exactly where we were supposed to go, and we had no phone service at this time. But after wandering around a little, Curtis was sure that we were supposed to go down. And so down we went, zigzagging and trying to keep our balance until I gave up and sat down and let myself slide the rest of the way – the technical term is glissading. We found the trail, just as clear as it had been before the slope, and continued on our way. Despite being unprepared and unsure about snowpack situations like this, I was okay continuing and again let myself believe this was the “only time” it would happen.
After 2 miles of hiking, we came to the spur trail for Mount Angeles. I knew this trail would be more technical, gain 1000 feet of elevation in a half-mile, and require rock scrambling/climbing, and so I gave no second thoughts to the idea of just sitting down by myself for an hour at the trail junction while Curtis summited the peak. He took my camelback and camera and left me with his heavier backpack, and went on his way.
I pulled out my phone and since I didn’t have service, I just killed time looking through photos and videos I had taken over the past week. About 10 minutes after Curtis left, another hiker came from the direction we would be heading, and also started up the trail to Mount Angeles. I pulled out a snack from the backpack and ate that, then continued sitting quietly in the shade (besides swatting at a few mosquitoes) and enjoying the views.
Curtis: The spur to the summit scramble of Mt. Angeles was well beaten and easy to follow, if steeper than the trail thus far, but I made good time and soon reached the base of the peak. Here, the trail became trickier as I had to walk up a scree slope consisting entirely of loose dirt and gravel in order to reach the summit block. I reached the summit rocks on the North side and started a slow scramble up the remaining 50-100 ft. About 20 feet below the summit I found myself on a fairly exposed rock face and opted that the hiking pole I was carrying would hinder me rather than assist, and left it for the journey back down.
Even in Arizona, most of our summit hikes were simple walk ups with no climbing technique required. So to say I’m inexperienced in scrambling is accurate (perhaps an understatement). But I made it to the peak, adrenaline racing. I took some pictures, and then stared disheartened out to the East where a pinnacle of rock suggested a higher peak. Peakbagging is fun (if a little ridiculous) but I had enough scrambling for one day and decided – if I climbed the wrong peak so be it, let it be a lesson (turns out I did climb the true summit of Mt. Angeles). BUT, in my adrenaline fueled push to the peak I found myself turned around and unsure what chute I had come up. When I looked down one couloir into open air, I thought ‘surely I didn’t climb up this!?’ and second guessed myself and went down another. Soon it became clear that I was not going down the same chute I had come up. I stopped, took a moment, and had the clear realization of how easy it is to get lost even a tenth of a mile from the trail. Which isn’t to say I was lost, I knew where I needed to get to and could see it, but it did mean I left my hiking pole on the summit of Mt. Angeles – reprehensible.
Jess: 20 minutes after Curtis left, I heard something near the trees about 20 feet away from me. I brushed it off thinking it would just be another marmot or deer, but when I actually looked over in that direction I saw the unmistakeable hairy backside of a BEAR! The first bear that either Curtis or I have ever seen in the wild! I dropped my phone and hiking pole (which had been lying across my lap) somewhat loudly as I scrambled to stand up… ripping my pants in the process. I picked up my phone and pole, swung the backpack (full with snacks!) over my shoulder, and fast-walked in the opposite direction until I was far enough away. It didn’t follow me, and I didn’t see it again. But now I certainly didn’t feel comfortable being by myself, so I stayed in that spot where I had good visibility in all directions for the next 40+ minutes until Curtis returned. Before I saw him return, I saw 2 deer coming from that direction, and the other hiker descended and continued hiking in the other direction.
When I finally saw Curtis, I didn’t wait long until breaking the news to him. “I saw A BEAR!” This has been a long-time running joke in the family, because despite Curtis and I living and hiking in different bear country areas on and off since 2013 (2011 even for Curtis), we had never seen one outside of a zoo. Meanwhile, my family went on vacation to Maryland/Virginia in 2014 and on their FIRST HIKE, even before they got out of the car, they saw a bear right away! I guess all it took was for Curtis to leave me alone for long enough for me to break the “curse.” Just as I expected, he was pretty jealous, and I made sure to give him a hard time about not being there for either of my recent “scary” wildlife encounters (the other being the mountain lion on the Centennial Trail). I do wish I had a picture to share, but in the moment that wasn’t on my mind at all — and I certainly didn’t want to be the person that shows up on national news after a bear attack and is known for taking pictures or video instead of getting to safety!
After sharing my bear story, Curtis broke the news to me that when he was at the summit, he could see on the North/East slopes that there was more snow, and we’d likely have to pass through it eventually. We started to think about other options. We could turn back, though that would require going up the snowy slope we had already come down, and both of us felt we would be disappointed to turn around at this point. Then we discussed continuing on the trail another half-mile and then taking another trail down to the road, but we knew we’d have to hitch hike back down the mountain because we didn’t have phone service to inform my parents of our change in plans. However, we also could tell by now that this hike would likely take longer than the 6 hours we had originally planned, and were worried we might end up in the heat.
Finally, we decided to just keep going, and use the other trail down to the road as a plan B, even if it meant backtracking. The trail would soon start switchbacking up to a saddle, and hopefully by then we would be able to see what the snow situation was and maybe even find phone service. And so we continued, passing by the other trail a half mile later. From here, we switchbacked up to the saddle, gaining 900 feet of elevation in just over a mile. It started to feel hot as we were working our way uphill, but the views from the top of the ridge made it all worth it. Better yet, we still had a clear trail as far as we could see, and soon we had phone service so we were able to tell my parents that we probably wouldn’t finish until 1. And just like that, all the positive and happy feelings I had experienced when we started the trail returned, and I was once again just happy to be here.
Over the next mile, we enjoyed a pretty easy ridge walk. Sometimes there would be patchy snow over the trail, but not too difficult to get over, it was even fun. But once it came time for our descent to Lake Angeles and beyond, things became a little more challenging.
It became clear that we would have to cross over more snow pack, but at this point that seemed better than the alternative which was hiking back over the ridge and down to the road, which was almost 2 miles away. At first it wasn’t too hard to figure out where the trail was going, we could simply look further ahead past the snow and see a path between trees or bushes. We were playing leap frog with another hiker, sort of helping each other find the continuation of the trail. But at one point, we came upon him sitting on a rock, and he told us that because of what he saw ahead, he likely wasn’t going any further, and said “good luck.” However, since we were doing this as a through hike and not out-and-back like he was, we decided to press on.
It wasn’t long after that we completely lost the trail. Curtis told me to stay put while he wandered around looking for any clearing or obvious path, but he was unsuccessful. Our new map didn’t have enough detail, AllTrails wasn’t loading, and Google Maps didn’t have this trail on its map. Maybe this is where a GPS would have come in handy. When Curtis was trying to return to me, he needed me to talk loudly so he could find his way back. He didn’t know what we could do, had no idea where the trail went, and doubted that bushwhacking our way down was smart.
In a desperate attempt to help, I opened up Pokemon Go on my phone, and low and behold, it had the entire trail loaded! We were literally on the trail, going the right way — it was just covered in 2-3 feet of snow! We continued going downhill carefully, personally I went between walking and doing a controlled slide, sometimes on my feet, sometimes sitting. My pants were already ripped from the bear sighting, so it’s not like I really cared about them anymore.
We finally made it past the snow, though for a while after the trail was wet and felt unstable from snow melt. It was also very steep. But that did mean one thing – waterfalls! At one point we had an excellent overlook of Lake Angeles and an impressive 100+ foot cascading waterfall of snow melt.
In all the trail reports I had seen of hiking to Lake Angeles from near the entrance to Olympic National Park, everyone talked about how steep it was, but in our experience the trail from the ridge down to the lake was much steeper. In 1.5 miles, we lost 1500 feet of elevation. Finally making it to the lake and under the tree canopy was such a relief, because the trail became a bit less steep, much more secure, and had a lot less snow. From the lake, we still had 3 miles to go, so we texted my parents and pushed back our arrival time by another 30 minutes. We made much better time hiking down the rest of the way, and saw a lot of other hikers on their way up for an evening by the lake.
Finally, 8 hours after we started, we made it back to the trailhead and found my parents waiting. It turns out that the entire trail was about 2 miles longer than Curtis had thought, and was definitely much more challenging than I was expecting or planned for. Still, we were proud of ourselves for finishing safely, and felt that even though we had gone out unprepared for snow, we were never reckless. Certainly a valuable experience to add to our hiking skills. We went back to the house to shower and change, then we all piled in the car with the dogs and headed for the Pacific coast.
Our first stop was in Forks, where we ordered some pizzas from Pacific Pizza. While waiting, we did a short driving tour of different “Twilight” related places. Of course, the movies weren’t actually filmed here, so these were just places that claimed to be related to the movie. Our plan was to take the pizza to the beach and have a picnic, but the outdoor temperature was quite worrisome. It was 103 degrees outside, much too hot to be out with dogs! We hoped that the sea breezes would be enough to make it comfortable.
Once we had obtained the pizzas, we started the 20 minute drive out to the coast — and to our delight, we watched the temperature drop 30 degrees as we neared the ocean! We drove to Rialto Beach North of La Push (reservations are still closed to non-residents due to Covid-19) and found a place to sit and eat and watch the waves. After eating, we went for a long beach walk, as far as we could go with the dogs. It was Archie’s first time at the ocean, and we calculated that it had been almost exactly a year since the last time Charlotte had been to the beach in Hawaii. She did the thing she does every time we take her to the beach: wades in the waves until she gets hit by a big one, then spazzes out and runs like mad, kicking up sand as she goes.
When we were finished, we walked back to the car and drove back to Port Angeles for our last night. Our time here was too short, but we packed it full of fun and we’re so glad we added it to our itinerary. Coming up next, our long trip home!