Mount Ellinor was my second scramble ever and the first one that I needed my ice axe to travel on steep hard snow. On that trip I was super nervous, I didn’t really have the right traction and the conditions meant we couldn’t glissade which is what this route is popular for. Now finding myself with a bit of time off I jumped at the chance to do this mid-week on a scramble led by one of my Mountaineers friends Jordan.
Olympic National Forest
drive time from Seattle
crampons, ice axe
NW forest pass for upper trailhead
We left Seattle early to avoid some of the weekday traffic of Tacoma and Olympia. We stopped for coffee in Hoodsport before grouping with the other scramblers in our group. We drove the forest roads (which a completely pot-holed) and decided to park at the lower trailhead. I’d heard the way to the upper trailhead was mostly snow-free but we decided we’d like to do the extra mileage of the lower trail. It was at this point that one of the guys who got a ride with Jordan accidentally locked Jordan’s keys in his truck! We were so shocked we didn’t really know what to do. We decided to worry about it after we finished the scramble.
We started out just after 9 am and headed up the lower trail. It slowly works it’s way up along a ridge for about 2 miles through the forest before meeting the upper trail junction. After the junction with the upper trail, it gets pretty steep switchbacking until you reach a junction of the winter and summer trail. Just before this junction, we met the snowpack which was pretty hard and consolidated on the trail.
We took the winter route and the trail opens up to reveal a snow-covered couloir that looks long and steep from the bottom. The glissade tracks were well defined snaking down the mountain like a toboggan track. Here we put on helmets and crampons and got out our ice axes. The snow conditions were pretty great, hard enough to make walking up in crampons easy but soft enough you didn’t have to drive your feet in too hard. Some sections of the climb up are narrow in the couloir so the steps are right next to the glissade chutes, and no room to make switchbacks just keep climbing straight up.
Once you reach the top of the couloir the route heads to the left for two more (much shorter) slopes uphill to reach the summit. We had amazing weather on the summit and you get 360 views into the Olympics, out to Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and the Puget Sound. We could see all the way to Seattle! We hung around on the summit grabbing a bite to eat and taking lots of photos before taking off our crampons and putting on our rain pants to prepare for the glissade down.
Some of the group were new a glissading so before we started we had a recap on technique. Steve went first and I followed. There were about 5 chutes that we connected on the way down. Some were very steep and cut into which made controlling speed pretty tricky. One of them near the top of the couloir had a tree poking out of it which all of us tried to go left or right of but ended up just going over the top of it. We all had a great time with the glissade and I was glad I got to experience it this time around.
When the trail was snow free we stashed our ice axes and removed our waterproof layers used for the glissade. The hike back to the parking lot went fine and we all went at our own pace. When we got back it was time to worry about the key locked in the car issue. Thankfully on the way up to the summit, Jordan got cell service who was able to contact his girlfriend. She met us at the trailhead at 3 pm and brought some tools to get into the car. The wire coathanger worked a treat and we weren’t delayed too much by the whole thing. We stopped in Hoodsport on the way back to Seattle for some burgers before making it back to Seattle