Friday, February 12, 2016

Mount Rose

Rainier, Adams, and St. Helens from the summit of Mount Rose
6.5 miles loop, 3500 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Strenuous
Access: Good gravel road to trailhead, no pass required

Do you like hikes that take you to jaw-dropping views with minimal effort? If yes, don't do this hike. While the views at the summit of Mount Rose are good, they aren't exceptional for Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. What is exceptional is the trail's grueling 3500 feet of elevation gain in less than 3 miles from the trailhead to the summit. Hikers looking for an intense workout will find that Mount Rose fits the bill quite well; hikers who just want a view will regret not having just driven up to Hurricane Ridge. The peak offers decent views of Lake Cushman and the southern Olympic Peninsula as well as far views of three Cascade volcanoes, a reasonably satisfying reward for those who choose to subject themselves to the steep uphill.

I did this hike towards the tail end of the winter that wasn't- a year when the Olympic Peninusla got less than 10% of its average annual snowpack. In early March, the Olympic peaks are usually blanketed with snow; Mount Rose typically has snow well into May. When I hiked Mount Rose, I saw no snow on Rose or any of its surrounding peaks and a waterfall that usually flows until June had already run dry. While these factors made it possible for me to visit in March, it was also shocking that the weather was so abnormal.

I headed out from Seattle on a clear March morning, following I-5 south to Olympia and then taking US 101 north from Olympia to Hoodsport. At Hoodsport, I took the North Lake Cushman Road, which branched off to the left from US 101. I followed the road past Lake Cushman Resort to a T-intersection; here, the right fork led towards Mount Ellinor while the left headed towards the Staircase region of Olympic National Park. I followed the left fork to the west. The road soon became unpaved; I followed it slightly further until I came to the trailhead for Mount Rose, still in Olympic National Forest. I parked by the side of the road and decided to check out Lake Cushman first before beginning my long uphill hike.

A short descent brought me down to the shore of Lake Cushman, a natural lake that was later augmented in size by a hydroelectric dam. The waters of the lake were perfectly calm that morning and reflected both Mount Rose and Lightning Peak nearly perfectly.

Lake Cushman
After enjoying the view of the lake, I returned to my car and then walked up to the trailhead. The trail itself headed off from the far end of the trailhead parking area and quickly crossed a pretty cascading stream via a bridge. This was the most substantial water source and waterfall seen on the entire hike.

Cascading stream near the trailhead
After making its first switchback, the trail began a brutal climb. The first mile utilized some switchbacks to climb from the more moist lower forest to the drier upper slopes, where I saw quite a bit of the peeled bark of Pacific madrones. Although there were no clear views at any point along this part of the trail, I was able to catch glimpses of the shimmering lake below through the foliage.

About a mile into the hike, I passed a wooden sign indicating that I had entered the Mount Skokomish Wilderness. From here forward, the trail became even steeper. Soon, the trail swung up onto a ridge and followed the ridge steeply up. A short spur trail on the left of the trail led to a stream where there is usually a small waterfall during the early season. However, the extremely low snowfall that winter meant that there was no snowmelt to feed the stream when I visited; thus, no waterfall.

The never-ending uphill
About two miles from the trailhead, I came to the junction for the two sides of the summit loop. I chose to take the left fork, which continued heading directly up the mountain. The remaining one-mile climb continued to be direct and intense the entire way up to the summit. The first true views of the hike came as the trail wandered out into a former burn area: I could see Lake Cushman by looking almost straight down. As the trail charged up this final slope, partial views of the Cascades, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and even the Seattle skyline emerged. A last push brought me to the forested summit ridge. A rock outcrop jutted to the south from the ridgeline; I climbed onto it and enjoyed the 180-degree views. My calves were glad to finally take a break from 3500 feet of climbing.

The views were very enjoyable: I could see up the North Fork Skokomish Valley into the Staircase region of Olympic National Park, with many craggy but forested ridges. Lake Cushman was directly below and Lightning Peak appeared commanding across the lake. Far in the distance behind the southern peaks of the Olympics, I could see the Pacific coast and even the indentation of Grays Harbor. To the southeast, the southernmost reaches of the Puget Sound were visible. Behind the Sound rose the wall of the Cascades, with snowcapped Rainier, Adams, and St. Helens standing out from the pack. Looking north, I could spot the summits of Mount Pershing and Mount Ellinor through the trees.

Staircase Valley
Lightning Peak and Lake Cushman
Lake Cushman
Rainier view
After lounging on the summit rock for about an hour, I continued onwards along the loop. The next couple hundred yards followed the fairly level summit ridgeline of Mount Rose. At spots, there were peeks of the surrounding peaks; however, the ridge was mostly forested. The trail descended slightly as it continued on the ridge until it dropped to a saddle between Mount Rose and Mount Ellinor. From here, the descent picked up speed as the trail began dropping quickly downhill. While not as steep as the uphill on the first half of the loop, the trail was still quite steep here as it descended quickly to the fork where the loop started. The return leg of the loop was 1.8 miles from the summit back to the junction.

I made quick work with the rest of the descent and found myself back at my car less than an hour before sunset. It took me a day or two afterwards to recover from the muscle strain of this hike. Although the hike was only 6.5 miles, it took me a little over 5 hours to complete.

While the views are quite nice, I can't really recommend this hike to anyone but Puget Sound area locals looking for a workout. The trail is generally easy to follow, although it was a little faint in areas along the summit loop; however, the hike was steep at just about every point except for the brief respite along the summit ridge. Good views are common in the Northwest as are intense workout hikes; many workout hikes provide even more sweeping views than Mount Rose (i.e. the Kamikaze Trail up Mount Teneriffe). If you're up for both and want to visit the Olympics, this could be a suitable hike.

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