Hurricane Ridge – Washington’s Gem

Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Trail overlooking Hurricane Ridge. Photo by: Sandie Will

Near the northwestern end of Washington state, lies an enormous mountain range known as the Olympics and within it, the beautiful, snow-capped mountains of Hurricane Ridge. Part of Olympic National Park, you can experience these mountains by walking alongside them on a 1.5 mile trail that leads you to Hurricane Hill at 5,757 feet and a reportedly breath-taking, panoramic view of the coastal area, Vancouver, Mt. Baker and the Pacific Ocean.  I first went to Hurricane Ridge in the early 2000s, only to have to turn around after a short hike on the trail due to shortness of breath from the elevation change.  So, in 2010, I made the decision to re-visit this area again to finally experience this illusive view.

I entered from a small town named Port Angeles just north of the park. There’s a self-guided auto tour that starts in Heart O’ the Hills about five miles from town which winds into the foothills on a paved parkway that leads up to the Visitor Center at 5,230 feet.  The drive up has several lookout points but is relatively easy to climb with the exception of one steep curve that gives the illusion that there’s no roadway on the other side which made me cringe and clutch the door handle, but I will admit that I’m afraid of heights.  It’s short-lived though and before you know it, you’re at the Visitor Center and walking on the Hurricane Hill Trail which takes you alongside these sweeping, snow-capped mountains that appear so close, it feels like you’re holding hands with your best friend as you walk together along the trail.  During June, the pallet is a lush green and blue topped with white accents, and the air is cool and moist with the fresh smell of mountains.

The trail starts flat, but then steadily climbs upward. Along the way, there were an assortment of natural finds such as blacktail deer with their fawns and playful chipmunks; numerous conifers including subalpine fir, mountain hemlocks and Douglas firs; and plants including the dainty, white Avalanche Lily and deep purple, broad-leaf Lupine. The most enjoyable find, though, was the black-capped chickadees that suddenly swarmed the interior of a fir and proceeded to chat with each other so feverishly, it drew me in to stop and listen – and enjoy.

I continued my hike and noticed my breathing was cooperating and did not feel labored. About halfway up, though, I started to notice the fog setting in, and within minutes, I was engulfed in it. Once again, returning hikers commented on the awe-inspiring view they just witnessed, but I knew all I would be seeing at that point would be the interior of my car. It was a little dicey hiking in dense fog on a trail along a steep hillside, but I made it back to the car with no incidents minus the little, friendly chipmunk looking for a handout.

As I looked back at the trail once again, I was still grateful for the experience. Despite having to stop the hike short on both visits, the brief period of time next to the glistening mountain caps was well worth the trip. Maybe next time…

Geology Short

Hurricane Ridge is located on the northwestern end of the state and is part of  the Olympic Mountain Range which was formed by processes surrounding a deep rift located just off the Olympic peninsula known as the Juan de Fuca Ridge.  Before the mountains existed, lava called basalt escaped from the rift in the ocean for millions of years.  At the same time, layer upon layer of muds and sands called sediments also accumulated on the ocean floor. Faults opened up throughout the ridge, causing the lava to seep through, and between the heat and the pressure of the accumulated material, the sediment transformed into sandstone, shale and slate.  As you may know, the earth’s continents move on plates which collide and separate through time, and as you can imagine, the force behind two plates colliding is immense which causes the continent to buckle and deform.

Well, 30 million years ago, the oceanic plate in this area collided and moved downward below the continental plate which in geologic terms is called subduction. As the plate moves downward, it not only causes the continental plate to buckle, it also melts as it reaches the heat of the mantle and given the right opportunity (for example faults and fissures), lava can flow back to land surface.

So, in the Hurricane Ridge area, this process caused the layers of oceanic lava and sediment to fold upward, downward and inward from the force of this collision, forming a horseshoe of rocks known as the Olympic Mountains, as well as volcanic eruptions. Through time, erosional forces from wind, water, snow, and glaciers cut deep valleys, formed sharp ridges and carved out basins.  Hurricane Ridge is located at the northern end of this arch of sedimentary rocks and basalt with the oldest rock being 55 to 65 million years old.

What this process left behind is what we see today.  And it’s quite a spectacular view.

Sources:

Stewart, Charles. “Guide to Hurricane Ridge.” Nature Education Enterprises, 1995.

National Geographic: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/olympic-national-park/

http://www.cokesmithphototravel.com/geology-of-the-olympic-peninsula.html

More in-depth geologic paper:

http://www.nwgs.org/field_trip_guides/olympic_mountains.pdf

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