Thursday, August 31, 2017

Grand Ridge to Maiden Peak

Grand Valley
8 miles round trip, 1700 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate
Access: Steep, narrow gravel road with drop-offs to trailhead; Olympic National Park entrance fee required

The terrain along Grand Ridge on Elk Mountain is the highest trail-accessible point in Washington State's Olympic National Park, making this an excellent hike for nonstop views of the alpine interior of the Olympics and of the blue waters of the Salish Sea. Maiden Peak makes an excellent day hike destination from Obstruction Point, providing the opportunity to visit two lofty Olympic summits with relative ease. Fairly little effort is required for such awesome views: the trailhead at Obstruction Point is at over 6000 feet above sea level, the highest road-accessible point in the Olympics. The trail itself is often narrow as it traverses steep slopes, especially on the stretch between Elk Mountain and Maiden Peak, making this potentially a challenging hike for hikers with a fear of heights.

I hiked out along Grand Ridge on an August afternoon with clear blue skies. Leaving Seattle a little before 9, I took the Tacoma Narrows and Hood Canal bridges out to the Olympic Peninsula, following US 101 to Port Angeles and then taking Race Street up the hill to the turnoff for the Hurricane Ridge Road. Once atop Hurricane Ridge, I turned left onto Obstruction Point Road just before reaching the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center and followed this steep and narrow gravel road through alpine terrain with occasional drop-offs to one side until I reached its terminus at the Obstruction Point Trailhead. The drive along Obstruction Point Road was filled with grand views of Mount Olympus and other snowy Olympic peaks.

Two trails emanated from the Obstruction Point Trailhead: the trail along Lillian Ridge to Grand Valley headed off to the right, while the Obstruction Point-Deer Park Trail, which here I'll refer to as the Grand Ridge Trail, led off to the left. I took the Grand Ridge Trail, which began to wrap around the side of Obstruction Peak and quickly came to a view of bulky, massive Elk Mountain. Elk Mountain is not a particularly elegant looking mountain: the summit ridgeline seemed almost flat and the mountain's sloppes were for the most part barren; it was, however, exciting to think of the views that would from hiking atop such an open landscape.

Elk Mountain
The hike began with a slight descent from the parking lot before the trail leveled off while wrapping around Obstruction Peak. After passing an unmarked junction with the primitive trail descending into Badger Valley about a quarter mile from the trailhead, the trail made its way across loose talus slopes on Obstruction Peak. The trail here was often quite narrow and at some points had clearly been recently rerouted over small landslides. Views opened up to the southeast down meadow-filled Badger Valley and I spotted Mount Deception, which would accompany me through the rest of the hike.

Badger Valley
The trail climbed up towards a saddle between Elk Mountain and Obstruction Peak, then turned onto the slopes of Elk Mountain before actually reaching the saddle. As I ascended Elk Mountain, views of the Olympics widened in all directions. The rocky block of nearby Obstruction Peak looked particularly imposing from this vantage point.

Obstruction Peak
Most of the wildflowers were gone, having bloomed a month earlier, but I still found some small pockets of gentian, a late bloomer.

Trailside gentian
Elk Mountain consists of a long ridgeline with many small summits; it was unclear from the trail which hump constituted the true summit. The trail stuck to the south side of the ridge, keeping views confined to the Olympics during this part of the hike.

Olympic Mountains view from Elk Mountain
Soon the icy throne of Mount Olympus and the snowcapped Bailey Range emerged into view from behind Obstruction Peak. From this angle, I could see both the West and Middle Peaks of Olympus, with three glaciers pouring off to both sides and between the peaks; the massive Hoh Glacier lay to the left of the Middle Peak, the Blue Glacier filled the space between the peaks, and the Snow Dome covered the shoulder of the West Peak. In total, Olympus is cloaked with seven named glaciers despite being less than 8000 feet above sea level. The Bailey Range topped out at Mount Carrie, which boasted its own small glacier.

Mount Olympus and the Bailey Range from Elk Mountain
While I stayed on trail on the hike out to Maiden Peak, on my return trip, I took a detour to what appeared to me to be the 6764-foot summit of Elk Mountain, making my way cross-country from the trail to one of the peaks. The views from the summit were stunning, encompassing not only the view to the south of the Olympics but also of Mount Angeles and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north, with Vancouver Island and Mount Baker also visible. The views to the south of Mount Deception, Grand Valley, and Mount Anderson was largely the same as the one seen from the trail itself.

Elk Mountain views
Those Salish Sea views were soon accessible from the trail, as well; after passing a second junction with a trail leading up from Badger Valley, the trail started descending off the east end of the Elk Mountain Ridge, coming to some ridgetop viewpoints of the water. Hikers who aren't up for the full hike to Maiden Peak can turn around here for a hike of about 5 miles round trip. The three-humped summit of Maiden Peak was visible further down the ridge, as was Blue Mountain, the peak at the end of the Deer Park Road. The Gray Wolf River watershed stretched below to the south.

At the east end of Elk Mountain, the trail began a steep descent, sometimes with switchbacks, down Grand Ridge. The trail had some exposure and was cut into a rocky slope so this area may be challenging for those who have a fear of heights. As the trail descended, it entered small groves of windbent trees; this was the only point at which the trail was not out in the open.

The trail bottomed out at the Roaring Winds backcountry campground, where a few sites were scattered amongst low trees; at 6000 feet, this is the only sanctioned camping area along Grand Ridge and permits are limited.

Obstruction Point-Deer Park Trail on my way to Maiden Peak
From Roaring Winds, the trail climbed onto the shoulder of Maiden Peak and passed under the westmost of the three summits of that mountain. I continued hiking along the Grand Ridge Trail as it passed downhill of the saddle between the west peak and the main peak until I came to a fairly obvious side trail marked by a cairn that made a sharp turn to the left. I took this side trail, which led from the Grand Ridge Trail up to saddle just west of Maiden Peak's true summit. The path died out at the saddle; from there, I made my way along the ridge to the 6434-foot summit, which had no clear path but also involved no real scrambling.

At the summit of Maiden Peak, I had a 360-degree view of the mountains and water around the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula. I could see both the Hurricane Ridge Road snake up Mount Angeles and the Deer Park Road wrap up Blue Mountain; Port Angeles and Sequim were visible in the lowlands and I spotted both the Ediz Hook and the Dungeness Spit reaching out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Sunlight reflected off the buildings in Victoria across the Strait and the layer upon layer of mountains on Vancouver Island were mirrored by the layer upon layer of islands in the San Juans and the Gulf Islands. On this exceptionally clear day, I was able to make out the entrance to the Howe Sound and the forms of Mount Tantalus and Mount Garibaldi, both north of Vancouver; stateside, I could see the cliffs on Whidbey Island and the Boeing factory north of Everett in the lowlands. Mounts Baker and Shuksan were easily recognizable in the Cascades, while the serrated alpine ridge of Eldorado Peak was more difficult to discern. Three Fingers, Whitehorse, Dome Peak, Glacier Peak, Sloan, and Pilchuck were also visible.

Mount Baker, San Juans, Dungeness Spit, and Sequim from Maiden Peak
Port Angeles, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Vancouver Island from Maiden Peak
Closer by, Elk Mountain filled the western horizon, blocking out Mount Olympus. Mount Deception and the Needles towered over the Gray Wolf watershed. Mount Townsend peeked out from the side of Baldy and either Mount Constance or Warrior Peak was visible behind the Needles.

Mount Constance, the Needles, and Mount Deception from Maiden Peak
Despite the awesome, easily-accessible alpine scenery on this trail, I saw just a fraction of the hikers here that I had seen earlier in the summer on the similarly scenic Hurricane Hill Trail. This was a relatively easy hike with plenty of beauty and a good way to spend all day in the alpine without having too much company.

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