I have a friend who has a wonderful way of looking at an opportunity and seeing only the potential and none of the difficulty. She plans for the challenges and then leaps without dwelling on them, finding herself stronger on the other side and often with a good story to tell. I am quite the opposite – the planner, the worrier, the cautious. But, I have learned that when she shoots me a text asking if I’m free on Saturday, I should absolutely say yes. The best kind of friends are the ones who push you just outside of your comfort zone.
This Saturday, I went along for the ride. It was a *catch the first ferry to hope for the last parking spot at the trail head which leads up a mountain twice as tall as any I’ve climbed before in an area where bear spray is a necessity but you’re more likely to be charged by a mountain goat* kind of day. Of course, as always, it was worth it a thousand times over, and my comfort zone has expanded, noticeably.
Mount Townsend is in the Olympic range – a small group of Mountains crowded between Puget Sound and the actual coast. The foothills are a mossy rainforest that looks straight out of a fairy tale, and the peaks are snow-capped year round. Truly, the Olympic peninsula epitomizes the uniqueness of the PNW with the close proximity of lush forests to stunning beaches and steep peaks rising above it all.
We started our hike in a mid-elevation forest, with thick undergrowth representing every shade of green, and the last few blossoms of the numerous rhododendrons reminding us that every hike should be done in as many seasons as possible to fully experience. As we climbed higher (immediately, continuously, and steeply I might mention) the undergrowth thinned and the trees became scraggly and weathered looking, smelling toasty and wonderful in the early morning sun. The numerous switchbacks became less shaded and every sunny meadow was suddenly bursting at the edges with wildflowers of every color – lupine, phlox, Indian paintbrush, columbine, columbia lily, Olympic violets, and too many others for me to even try to stop and identify.
The higher we climbed the thicker the carpet of wildflowers, and the fewer shady spots to rest. The views of the Cascades in the distance grew more and more spectacular with every switchback we rounded, and soon we were able to see an ocean of clouds separating us from our more iconic mountain range. We pushed on until we reached a nice overlook, desperate for a snack and a rest. With our legs hanging over a cliff we had lunch; aware of the lone young mountain goat casually snooping around the trail.
With our energy renewed and the goat making us nervous, we took off for the final short push to make it to the peak. There we were greeted by unexpectedly clear views in all directions. The Sound and Canada beyond; the entire Washington Cascade range; a slight glimpse of a foggy sea to the west, and just behind us the stunning crowd of the other Olympic mountains. I could only think of how this peak (6,243′) felt like the top of the world compared to my other frame of reference for 360° views of this part of the state – Mt. Constitution (2,398′). This is easily one of the most rewarding hikes I’ve been on, not just for the incredible view at the top, but for the ridiculous amount of beauty crammed into every step of the way up.
It is remarkable to me that I have lived this close to this mountain range for most of my life, and have never really bothered to try to explore it. This hike, while a bit strenous, was certainly always within my capabilities, but I never really considered it to be an option. It took someone else giving me a nudge to get me up there, but I could have been pushing myself! Maybe next time I can be the one asking my friend if she is free to try a new adventure with me.
Areas visited: Mt. Townsend (upper trail) – Quilcene, Washington.
Species observed: Mountain Goat, Snowshoe Hare, Robins, Juncos, and a yellow-throated warbler.
If you go: Get there e-a-r-l-y. Like 6AM early. This is a very popular hike and parking is quite limited. Also, consider bringing a map with you – there is no cell service on the forest road and the are many confusing turnouts. For the hike itself I would definitely be prepared for a tough one – we were thankful to have brought hiking boots, poles, and lots of high-calorie snacks. If you really want to enjoy those magnificent views, you might consider backpacking up and camping at the peak to see the sunset/rise!