June 18, 2006

Mt. Townsend

Saturday, I took a small group of Mountaineers up the trail to the top of  Mt. Townsend, west of Quilcene. My streak of view-seeking peak-hikes arriving to clouds and no-views remains unbroken. On the drive up Hood Canal, we were treated to one of the great views in this part of the country: morning sun along a placid Hood Canal. As we continued north, to just short of Quilcene, and left the highway for the forest road that leads to the trailhead, the clouds built over the mountains.

We parked at the lower trailhead and started up a narrow, but well-built trail. While it wasn’t raining, the brush was wet enough to make us consider more raingear. The upper parking lot had a few cars and starts a wider trail, which enters the Buckhorn Wilderness and starts a nice stretch of classic, Western hemlock-Red cedar-Douglas fir forest. Then, the climb begins. From bottom to top, it’s 5 miles and 3400 vertical feet to the top. The trail is excellent, climbing through woods and then breaking out onto a broad, open mixed meadow, which suggests good views. There were a number of flowers blooming: rhododendrons, strawberries, glacier lily, and lots of others that we couldn’t identify (having left the book in the car, where it was safe, but less useful). We had no views, as by that time it was raining lightly. By the time we reached the ridge top, the wind was up and the rain was steady. We only stayed warm, in spite of being well-equipped, because we were walking up hill.

The summit was kind of spooky in the fog, with chunks of volcanic rock sticking up out of mossy heath. I understand it supports spectacular views of the Straits of Juan De Fuca, Puget Sound, the Cascades, and an array of Olympic peaks. We were unable to appreciate them, however, as our short time on the top was filled with adding layers and quickly eating something. By this time, it was sleeting. It would have been lonely, but a couple of chipmunks worked us for a snack.

The trip down was much quicker than that up and we gradually warmed up. Along the way, we saw about twenty other people on the trail, in spite of what was a far from perfect weather day. As we dropped back down to Quilcene, the clouds parted and the sun came out. That’s what happens in the mountains.

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