By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer
Distance: one mile – Time out: 90 minutes
Degree of Difficulty: 2 – Pet Friendly: No
January 8th 2012.
“It’s not called Hurricane Ridge for nothing,” Olympic National Park Ranger and Naturalist Janis Burger said. So I dressed appropriately and checked the road conditions, but there were no worries; the road was bare, the sun shining and the air brisk – perfect for the guided snowshoe walk that Ranger Janis was leading that afternoon.
Video of Snowshoeing on Hurricane Ridge
Ranger Janis helped us strap on our snowshoes at the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center. The snowshoes were lightweight pads of aluminum tubing, leather lacing and flexible harnesses that strapped around my hiking boots. In no time our group of twenty-five was headed across the snow. Even the family from Texas, experiencing snow for the very first time, was walking along the snowy trail with the ease of mountain-men of old.
The kids loved Janis. She put on a Raven puppet and talked about wildlife in the park during the winter.
She said how, once when leaving the ridge because of 75 mile an hour winds, she looked up to see a Raven above her, wings outstretched, perfectly suspended in the storm.
I tend to think of the winter woods as sleeping, but Janis stopped frequently to point out all the activity. She showed us Snowshoe Hare tracks and talked about their predators such as bobcats and weasels (and rarely up this high in the winter – cougars)
We walked quietly along the narrow path through the snowy forest until we reached a small clearing. There Janis passed around the pelt of a fisher, so silky and richly-brown. Mostly because of their valuable fur, the fishers of Washington State vanished almost a hundred years ago. So it was with obvious pride that Janis told us about her experiences reintroducing fishers at Olympic National Park. The project funded in part by the Washington’s National Park Fund has been a success, and currently the fishers are reproducing in the park.
We walked to the edge of a steep cliff. In the distance icy peaks were lit by the pale winter sun. The clumps of green fir trees and the snow-choked avalanche chutes were already in shadows. The sun would be setting soon.
Janis told us how fat Olympic Marmots, like the ones I watched waddling about last summer on my hike to Grand Pass, hibernated by consuming their body’s stored fat and lowering their body’s temperature from over 100 degree Fahrenheit to the mid-forties.
We walked up a steep ridge. One of the children tripped on their plastic kiddie snowshoes, but the entire group made it to the top without a problem. At the top Janis continued her talk. But she didn’t just talk about the big denizens of the Ridge; she had us look for tiny fleas that live on the surface of the snow (They jump if you put your finger under them). Snow fleas eat pollen, dust and bacteria that settle on the snow’s surface. She talked about how important the snow itself was to plants and animals during the winter as the air trapped within the snowflakes helped insulate and keep them warm.
The sun was dipping below the Olympic Mountains as we walked back to the lodge and retuned our snowshoes. The temperature was dropping rapidly and it was now well below freezing. I walked into the visitor’s center for a cup of hot coffee. It had been a delightful afternoon on Hurricane Ridge, plenty of fresh air, wonderful winter scenery, a bit of exercise and I learned a lot about Hurricane Ridge in the winter.
Check the schedule, but currently the Ranger-led snowshoe walks are offered at 2:00 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Monday holidays through April 1st. There is a suggested $5 donation toward snowshoe repair. Space is limited, so sign up at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center information desk 30 minutes before the scheduled walk. Dive slowly especially down the hill as freezing temperatures make the Hurricane Ridge Road treacherous! The Park requires each car to carry a set of tire chains. You can also check the weather by looking at the Hurricane Ridge webcams.
To get to the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center from the Quality Inn and Suites, Sequim:
- Head west on Highway 101 toward Port Angeles
- Turn left at North Race Street
- Continue up the hill for 18 miles on Hurricane Ridge Road to the Visitors Center
- The entrance Fee to the Olympic National Park is $15.00 but a year-long pass is only $30.00
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