By Douglas Scott
High above Lake Cushman in Mason County, overlooking the majority of Western Washington, Mount Ellinor is one of Olympic National Forest’s most popular trails. Seeing upwards of 15,000 people each year, Mount Ellinor can be quite busy in the summer months. As one of the more popular trails in Olympic National Forest, park officials put together a video about the hike for those interested.
In the winter months, the number of hikers on the trail is next to zero, even in years where there is little snow. Standing at 5,944 feet above sea level, Mount Ellinor offers some of the best views in the entire state. Looking from Ellinor’s summit, those willing to make the effort are greeted with vistas of every large mountain in the state, as well as views of the city of Seattle, the interior of Olympic National Park and out toward the Pacific Ocean.
Once the first snows start falling on the majestic peak, the trail becomes vacant, but that doesn’t mean your Mount Ellinor adventure has to end. For those looking for a more extreme hiking experience this winter, hitting the snowy slopes of Mount Ellinor will not only push your skills as a hiker, it also serves as an awesome workout with jaw-dropping views. After a steep climb up a small chute, those who will work for the summit are rewarded with a snowy panorama and an adrenaline giving glissade down the snowy chute you earlier climbed up. Climbing Ellinor isn’t for your average hiker, but rather for those looking for something unique and challenging on a snowy mountain.
Depending on the snow pack, in most winter months, the road to the upper trailhead to Mount Ellinor isn’t accessible. This makes the usual 3.2 mile round trip hike, nearly double, clocking in at 6.2 miles in length. In order to hike and climb to the summit of Mount Ellinor in the winter, there are a few tips you need to know.
Check the Weather and Road Conditions
Before heading out on any hike, one should always check the road and weather conditions for the area they are planning to hike. Weather in the Pacific Northwest, especially in the winter, can take a turn at any minute. Plan a hike based on good weather and clear roads and stay far away from the region during heavy snow and rain events. Mount Ellinor weather forecasts can be seen here.
Have Proper Gear
To reach the summit of Mount Ellinor in the winter, hikers need to always be prepared with the right gear. Once winter begins, hikers need to carry crampons/microspikes and an ice axe. After enough snow has built up, the trail will shift from the summer route to the winter route, which requires an ice axe and a crampons. Dress warmly with layers, including a hat, gaitors for your legs and waterproof boots for your feet. Finally, make sure you know how to use your ice axe properly before you head up Ellinor in the snow. This is not a good first-time glissade.
Be Smart and Safe
Winter hiking is more dangerous than summer hiking, and knowing your limits can save your life. Climbing Mount Ellinor in the winter is a great experience, and can be done by hikers of any age, if done safely. Bring your essentials, know your limits and accept that you may have to turn around. There is never a bad reason to turn around, especially if it is for safety reasons. Hiking in the winter is a different world, and Olympic National Forest officials remind everyone to be extremely safe. More safety tips can be found at this link: http://bit.ly/1ncQHEM
Watch for Goats
Mount Ellinor is known for two things – impressive views and aggressive goats. In 2012, Mount Ellinor was forced to close due to reports of aggressive mountains goats. Mountain goats are an invasive species to the Olympic Mountains, and while gorgeous to see while hiking, have been known to charge, chase and even attack hikers. It is recommended by the National Forest Service to stay 50 yards away from mountain goats at all times. Staying far away from the goats on the trail will ensure not their health, but yours as well. More mountain goat safety rules can be found here.
Know the Route
Hiking Mount Ellinor in the snow is drastically different than in the summer. Typically, there is a well-groomed trail through the snow, kicked in from the handful of hikers that reach the summit each week, and for those with basic route finding skills, the winter route can be easily found. The most challenging aspect of this hike is the climb up the chute during the winter. Steeply kicking in steps, climbing up the chute can be exhausting, especially in the soft midday snow. Hitting the trail early is a key to success, as is following the correct mark. Olympic National Forest’s offices can help for those looking for a detailed route description.
Enjoy the View and Glissade
For those serious about looking for an incredibly great winter hiking experience, reaching the summit of Mount Ellinor means two things. First, you get a fantastic view of the Olympic Mountains, wrapped in blankets of powdery snow. Standing on top of the summit, with the Pacific Northwest at your frosty feet, the view from here is inspiring, rewarding and meditative. Second, once you reach the summit of Ellinor, if snowy enough, you get to glissade down the steepest sections of the trail, sliding down on your bum, controlling your speed with an ice axe and determination. For many, the glissade is reason alone to reach the summit of Mount Ellinor, descending an hour worth of hiking in a few dozen minutes.
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