Mt. Townsend Summit Attempt

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

June 21st, 2011.

Distance: 4.1 miles to Summit

Hiking Time One-Way: 3 hours

Elevation gain: 3,000 ft. to summit

Rating: Class 3 (because of snow)

Time to turn around

It was the first day of summer and I wanted to go on a hike. I was inspired by Gary Huff's description of his hike along the Mt. Townsend trail. Gary wrote, "The views are wide and dramatic, including the Puget Sound, downtown Seattle, Hood Canal and the Olympic mountains of the Buckhorn Wilderness. On a clear day you can see Baker, Rainer, Adams and Mt St Helens. There are lots of wildflowers and alpine meadows."

It was a bit early in the hiking season but Gary wrote, "Mt. Townsend is usually the first high mountain in the Olympics to lose its snow, so it's the first one I hike every season." That’s all well and good for a year of normal snowfall, but the Olympics were blanketed by powerful snowstorms this spring. I didn’t realize how much snow was waiting for me.

I left the Quality Inn and Suites in Sequim at 6:30am and drove 90 minutes to the trailhead high above Quilcene along the Hood Canal. The trail began wet and steep. Tall firs blocked out the sun. Within a few minutes of hiking there were already patches of snow all about. "This doesn’t bode well," I thought as I walked slowly upward. The summit was at 6,280 feet.

By 9:15am I had lost the trail under five feet of snow. The gaps between the stunted trees all looked alike. Was the scar on that tree a trail blaze or a scrape from a snowslide? It was disconcerting. There were multiple trails on Mt. Townsend; I didn't want to end up down at the wrong trailhead with no car or worse, lose the trail completely.

I stumbled back down the snowy slopes until I found a dry ledge. I pulled out snacks and a book. Always bring a book hiking - if you are ever lost, reading can prevent panic. But I wasn't worried now. Far below Puget Sound and Hood Canal played peak-a-boo with me through the clouds. I could hear robins chirping and the drumming of what must have been a ptarmigan mating call. The light breeze hinted of clean-scented firs boughs. I snoozed in the sun.

Sliding down the chute

Various hikers passed me and at noon, the Bakers, a couple from Bremerton, and their three dogs stopped and said hello. The smallest, a lap dog named Miles, had legs the size of French fries. "Darn," I thought, "if Miles is making a go of it, it’s worth another try."

The Bakers and their dogs picked their way slowly through the dense evergreens while I hiked straight up a snowy chute looking for the trail's intersection. I couldn't find anything that even remotely looked man-made. To make matters worse, low clouds drifted in, blotting out the sun. I couldn't see the valley below or the mountain above. It would be so easy to get lost in the snow. I gave up a second time. I slid down the chute and met the Bakers back at the ledge. They were heading down the trail too. Even spunky little Miles had called it a day.

I walked back down the trail and was back in my car at the trailhead by 2pm. I didn't make it to the summit of Mt. Townsend, but I breathed a lot of clean air and got plenty of exercise. It was a wonderful way to kick off the first day of summer. I'll give the snow a chance to melt and then I'll be back on the Mt. Townsend trail. Maybe I'll bring my dog next time.

To get to the trailhead from the Quality Inn and Suites in Sequim

  • Take 101 East to Quilcene.
  • One mile south of Quilcene turn right on Penny Creek Road
  • Drive for 1.4 miles
  • Stay left at the "Y" onto FS road #27
  • Drive 11.6 miles to FS Road #2760
  • Turn left onto FS Road 190
  • Drive 1 mile to trailhead.

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