Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Mount Jupiter

Duckabush drainage viewed from atop Mount Jupiter
14.5 miles round trip, 4700 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Strenuous
Access: No pass required; rough gravel road to trailhead.

Mount Jupiter's distinct eastern position along the Olympic Mountains allows hikers who make the long trek to its summit the chance to see both the many lobes of the Puget Sound and the interior Olympic Peaks that rise above the Dosewallips and Duckabush valleys. From the summit, there are sweeping views of the Olympic peaks, including rare close-ups of both The Brothers and Mount Constance; on a clear day, it's possible to see across the Sound to Seattle and all five of Washington State's Cascade volcanoes. The incredible summit panorama is accessed by a long hike that follows Mount Jupiter's long ridge through forests of rhododendron that bloom in the late spring and early summer.

This hike is tough. The distance and elevation gain aren't the only factors here: the trail is dry, overgrown, and potentially hot depending on the weather. While much of the ridge walk is in the forest, the final mile and a half of the hike that features much of the elevation gain is out in the open on the mountain's southern slopes, making the ascent an oven on a hot day. It's necessary to carry sufficient water for 14 miles of hiking and 4700 feet of elevation gain because there are literally no water sources. While the trail is overall often overgrown, it's substantially more of a problem in the final ascent, as trees and rhododendron in that stretch of trail often cover the trail entirely when the trail is negotiating steep drop-offs. Which brings up another potential issue: those afraid of heights likely won't deal well with the narrow trail and substantial drop-offs at the end of the hike.

I hiked this trail on a sizzling June Sunday, when temperatures in Seattle topped 90 degrees. It takes roughly the same amount of time to access the trailhead from Seattle by going around the Sound entirely, taking the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, or taking a ferry; either way, you'll need to get onto US 101 along the Hood Canal to access the trailhead. I arrived from the north: from Quilcene, I took US 101 south past Brinnon and Dosewallips State Park to the turnoff on the right for the Mount Jupiter Road. The road quickly turned to gravel as I followed it a little ways up the Duckabush Valley before it made a few steep switchbacks up the lower slopes of Jupiter Ridge. The road was rutted in places and quite steep here- it would have been useful to have a four-wheel drive but the sedan I was driving made it through okay. At an unsigned fork in the road after the switchbacks, I took the left fork, which headed uphill and passed by a gate where the road is occasionally closed. I followed that road another 2.5 miles to the marked trailhead on the left side of the road. Parking was limited to wide spots on the side of a spur road. While doable with a small car, having a four-wheel drive on this road certainly wouldn't hurt.

The hike began in the middle of a recovering clearcut; the first mile of the trail traverses privately-held lumber land. The status of the forests in the first mile of the hike are thus very much subject to change; by the time you read this, there may not be forest where there was forest when I hiked. The first couple hundred yards through the recovering cut had views of the Hood Canal, Mount Rainier, and Seattle. Small trees had popped up and the recovering slopes were populated with lupine and paintbrush. As I hiked, the two-peaked massif of the Brothers came into view to the southwest. The trail made a steady ascent through the lumber property.

Seattle in morning light from the trailhead
The trail then alternated between young second-growth forest and recovering clearcut three more times before it entered a very recent clearcut, which could not have been more than a year old at the time when I hiked; here, the soil was still intact but almost nothing was alive. While some might find that the devestation of the clearcut detracts from the experience, I found it interesting to see the effects of cutting. This cut also provided a bit of view up the Duckabush valley and the first view of Mount Jupiter, far in the distance.

The Brothers and Mount Jupiter viewed from the clearcut
At the far end of this last clearcut, the trail reentered the forest and passed from private land into Olympic National Forest. Here, the trail also leveled out, staying relatively flat for the next mile or so as it traversed the south slope of Rhodie Mountain. Rhodie Mountain is appropriately named: many blooming rhododendrons filled its slopes, populating the trail through the forest with numerous clusters of pink and white blooms.

At the west end of Rhodie Mountain, the trail embarked on a set of short ascents and descents as it either climbed or circled around numerous small knolls on Jupiter Ridge. A few of these ascents were more extended and brought the trail higher up as I hiked west along the ridge. A little over four miles into the hike, an outcrop to the left of the trail offered a nice view of the Duckabush valley and the Brothers, the first good view of the hike.

View from outcrop along Jupiter Ridge
Past this viewpoint, the trail climbed steadily up the next few bumps in the ridge, passing the boundary for The Brothers Wilderness at about five miles. From here, the trail continued steeply onwards, quickly gaining elevation as it continued through the rhododendron-filled woods.

Entering The Brothers Wilderness
At about 5.5 miles, the trail started becoming seriously overgrown. As I hiked through a saddle on the ridge, the trail was nearly obscured by the undergrowth and by the rhododendrons that extended their branches into the path. The trail followed the south side of the next knoll and soon broke out of the forest into the rocky upper slopes of Mount Jupiter.

On the exposed slopes, the trail was narrower and steeper, with some eroded sections and other sections blocked by vegetation in such a way that I was forced to work my way somewhat precariously around to not tumble off the mountain's south slope. There was also a decent scattering of blooming wildflowers: I spotted scattered growths of Indian paintbrush, phlox, and beargrass.

The open slopes were hot and steep, making for tough hiking, but made up for it with stunning views to the south of the Duckabush drainage. The Brothers now seemed just a stone's throw away across the valley; as I ascended, Mount Washington came into view further south.

The Brothers and Mount Washington and the trail to the summit of Jupiter
After an earnest climb through switchbacks, the trail popped out on a knoll along the ridgeline that offered the first open view to the north. From this vantage point, I could look back along the ridge that I had hiked in along and see the many bumps I had traversed. To the north, one of the Jupiter Lakes was nestled in a basin far below. The peaks of the Dosewallips and Quilcene drainages appeared to the north and the summit of Jupiter itself appeared directly west. Snow still covered much of the northern aspect of the mountain, but the trail itself stayed snow-free through the summit.

Jupiter Lakes
The last few hundred yards of the trail felt tortuous under the hot sun. I reached false summit after false summit, convinced each time that the rock ahead of me was about to be the last. Yet the summit was ever further on, requiring set after set of switchbacks. I'm not sure if it was the heat, the long approach, or just the fact that the last mile was quite steep: I felt drained in the last push to the top.

Jupiter summit and Mount Constance
I had more or less no company on the trail unless the last few hundred yards, when two hikers passed me on the final switchback push to the summit. On arriving at the summit and spending some time there, I soon saw more or less all of the three other groups that chose to start the hike early that day, which was nearly everyone I saw on the mountain that day. It's hard to find such a spectacular location in the Pacific Northwest during such spectacular weather without having to deal with hordes of other people, so this was a refreshing change.

The view to the west was dominated by the Olympic peaks. Most prominent were Mount Washington far to the south, The Brothers close in, Mount Anderson directly to the west, and Mount Constance to the north; countless other snowbound peaks defined the valleys of the Duckabush and Dosewallips rivers. The view is unsurprisingly good, considering Mount Jupiter's prominence and the peak's former role as the site of a fire lookout.

Dosewallips valley
The Hood Canal and the other arms of the Puget Sound lay to the east. The day was clear enough to spot many features in the lowlands around the sound: I could see the Seattle skyline, SeaTac Airport, the Boeing plant at Paine Field, and the cliffs at the southern end of Whidbey Island.

Puget Sound
The Cascades rose from behind the Sound. All five volcanoes were visible, although a bit of haze to the south made St. Helens and Adams fainter than their sister volcanoes. Baker shared the North Cascades skyline with Shuksan and Glacier Peak was attended by Three Fingers, Sloan, and the other Mountain Loop summits. Rainier was its usual self, rising regally to the southeast.

Glacier Peak and Sloan Peak
Mount Rainier
After enjoying the views for about an hour, I decided that the heat really was too much and made my way back to the trailhead along the same path I came on, hiking for a total of about nine hours.

Mount Jupiter is an excellent hike for those who have explored some more accessible summits in the Olympics such as Ellinor or Townsend and want to try something more difficult with a less often seen view. It's an appropriate hike for fit hikers who can handle a tough summit push after a five mile approach along a dry, hot ridge. It's not an ideal or even a reasonable hike for hikers new to the Olympics or anyone who hasn't had a decent amount of prior hiking experience.

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