First Visit to the Olympic Peninsula

 Blue Mountain - Olympic National Park, Washington Blue Mountain – Olympic National Park, Washington

It seems this is the year I’m crossing a bunch of things off my list. Or more accurately, starting new photographic relationships. And the Olympic National Park could be a very long and intimate fling. Such a stunning location. And I fully realize that more than a few folks will be saying “Duh”, but I thought we already established that I’m a slow learner. But once I learn, I dive in like nobody’s business.

This was another trip with my crazy friend Beth. Crazy to the tune of 32 miles of hiking in about 4 days. And I was the slacker of the group choosing not to follow her on the more “challenging” sections of a couple hikes. I could tell from the itinerary that this was going to be a hiking / scouting trip first and a photography trip second. But always an optimist, I took my, now standard, backpacking landscape kit:

  • Hasselblad X1D-50C
  • Xpan 30mm, 45mm & 90mm Lenses
  • Lee Seven5 Filter Kit (2, 4, 6, 10 & 15 Stop ND plus 3 Stop Grad & Rev Grad ND plus Polarizer Fiter)
  • Benro C-068 Travel Angel Tripod with a small Ballhead
  • Spare Batteries, SD Cards, Tools and Cleaning Supplies
  • Fuji X70 & iPhone SE for scouting and snapshots.

Dear Park Campground

We caught a pretty sweet break on this trip. Prior to leaving, the weather had been unseasonable warm and we were prepping for a hot, likely buggy, trip. But just as we left the San Juan Islands the weather turned and a cooling marine layer rolled in. Our first home away from home on this 4 day car camping trip was Dear Park Campground. With an elevation of 5400 ft, this sweet spot quickly displayed what would be the theme of the week: clouds.

 Deer Park Campground - Olympic National Park, Washington Deer Park Campground – Olympic National Park, Washington

We arrived and set up camp around midday and had a bit of lunch. Then hiked up to Blue Mountain to scout and hiked a bit more until dinner. With a big day ahead I succumbed to the food, wine and fire and turned in early.

Grand Ridge (Deer Park to Obstruction Ridge)

This trip was “sold” as a bunch of hiking with a bit of photography thrown in and that was no lie. The first real hike of the trip, not counting 5 miles of scouting / hiking the previous day, was the Grand Ridge Trail (Deer Park to Obstruction Ridge). Here’s the beginning of the Washington Trails Associations description:

Grand Ridge is the highest continuous trail in the Olympic Mountains. On a clear day it is among the most beautiful places in Washington; the 360 degree view includes the interior of the Olympics, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Canada, and the Cascades.

However, on a cloudy day the ridge can be moody and mysterious or downright treacherous, depending on the weather. Storms develop quickly, with winds racing over the ridge top. Fog and precipitation may obscure visibility. Prepare for varying conditions no matter when you hike Grand Ridge. And always bring plenty of water; none exists along the way.

The trail is advertised as a 15 mile round trip trek. But I only logged a little over 9 miles. Some combination of my inexperience, one eyed blindness and general wussiness caused me to pull up short and so I let my, now impressively crazy, friend Beth go on alone. This was my first real hike along a ridge trail and am not afraid to say it got the better of me.

Traveling alone I headed back to camp at a slow pace stopping often to snap pics with my point and shoot Fuji X70. Once back at camp I ate and drank for what seemed like hours until Beth returned.

I sort of figured that after the Grand Ridge hike I’d be pretty much done for the day. But the marine layer pushing in from the coast was providing some very sweet light and cloud action creating some beautiful midday photo opportunities.

 Deer Park Campground - Olympic National Park, Washington Deer Park Campground – Olympic National Park, Washington

It’s amazing how clouds and mist alter the landscape. This location was just minutes from our campsite and we photographed it often.

 Deer Park Campground - Olympic National Park, Washington Deer Park Campground – Olympic National Park, Washington

We hung out in the mist until we could justify that it was “wine-thirty” then began the ritual of wine-appetizers-dinner-fire. But somewhere along the way we got energetic enough to head back up to Blue Mountaiun for sunset.

 Blue Mountain - Olympic National Park, Washington Blue Mountain – Olympic National Park, Washington

The plan for the next day was an early rise and head to the Heart O’ the Hills Campground so we could hike Klahhane Ridge. But somehow we mustered up the craziness to throw in one more trek, we drove this time, to Blue Mountain for sunrise.

 Blue Mountain - Olympic National Park, Washington Blue Mountain – Olympic National Park, Washington  Blue Mountain - Olympic National Park, Washington Blue Mountain – Olympic National Park, Washington

For me this was the case of getting great light, but failing to wrangle a stunning composition. But this is another spot I reckon I’ll get another chance to visit.

Klahhane Ridge

We quickly set up camp at Heart O’ the Hills Campground and headed out for the Klahhane Ridge hike. For this trip I packed supper light and only took the Fuji X70. A stunning hike and I shot lots of pics but the light was the usual midday harsh so I was mostly taking snapshots that didn’t make the cut. Although I will say that just hanging out in all that Olympic Peninsula beauty is worth way more than coming home with a portfolio image.

One of the great things about hiking with my friend Beth is that we’ve found a great way to combine her love of hiking with my love of painfully time consuming photography. So after dinner we headed back up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center to see what sunset had to offer.

And once again it was all about the clouds. Well more low lying clouds or fog.

My landscape photography kit consists of a moderately wide, a normal, and a slightly telephoto lens so I “get” to be selective of the subjects I shoot on our mountain trips. But I’m also carrying an extensive set of filters. So for these conditions, the Hasselblad X1D, a polarizing filter, a 3 stop graduated neutral density filter and my widest lens was the perfect combination. I was able to capture the subtle colors of the sky while still maintaining the detail in the hills during this twilight shot.

 Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center - Olympic National Park, Washington Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center – Olympic National Park, Washington

And one final shot from Hurricane Ridge. This was one of those “stop the car” shots. It was all I could do not to do this on every bend of the road.

 Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center - Olympic National Park, Washington Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center – Olympic National Park, Washington

Marmot Pass

We broke camp early again to make tracks for the Marmot Pass hike. Here’s the beginning of the description from wta.org:

Don’t leave Marmot Pass – Upper Big Quilcene off your list of must do hikes on the Olympic Peninsula, and don’t be scared off by the nearly 3500 feet of elevation gain in a little over 6.25 miles. The trail is in great condition and the longest section of steeper trail is only three-quarters of a mile…

So yeah, this was tending more towards Beth’s hike your arse off than my lazy photog style. But I ended up loving this hike. And with more time I could have spent a bunch of time here. And I’m talking days. An often side effect of steep elevation changes is a river or stream to keep you company. And this one was just stunning. Within the first mile or so I had a bunch of compositions added to my list of future visits.

Knowing we had a pair of ferries to catch we “mostly” stayed focused on hiking. But, as has become a bit of a trend, I split off on my own while Beth went looking for more of that elevation gain. Nothing special, but some nice snapshots from the digital Hassy.

All told it was about 32 miles of hiking over the 4 days and I was really ready to put my feet up and have a shower. It was a fabulous trip and although I felt pretty happy with some of my images, I feel like I left a bit of “meat on the bone”. Which of course means I’ll need a do over. Like I really need an excuse.

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