Sliding Down Mt Ellinor

I spent much of the weekend with David, a close friend since college days. Aside from going to see a guy movie we hiked to the summit of Mt. Ellinor, a 6000-foot mountain in Washington’s Olympic range.

Here we are, about 2/3 of the way up the winter trail to the top:

David (red shirt) and yours truly

I got a few curious stares and remarks about my clothing (running shoes, jeans, short-sleeve running shirt) as I followed footsteps in the thigh-high snow. But hey, I was quite warm, and it was working for me. I’ve learned over the years that I can dress a lot more lightly than I used to, having grown up in the era of heavy cotton sweats and having my this-is-how-one-dresses-to-stay-alive-in-this-kind-of-weather mentality hardwired by my years of sledding, skating, snow shoveling, skiing, and running in Minnesota winters. Sometimes things take awhile to penetrate my brain. Like figuring out that a sweat-soaked run means that my body was quite warm throughout the ordeal and perhaps it can take care of itself, heatwise, as long as one doesn’t slip, fall, and break an ankle or have a calf cramp up, both of which would necessitate a hobble back to home base, a treacherous undertaking even in the Pacific Northwest’s mild but rainy winters, in less-than-warm wet clothing, surely inviting hypothermia and its perils.

After hiking for an hour and a half or so, we were in a snow-covered avalanche chute, and the grade was getting quite steep. Not vertical, by any stretch, but enough such that David would kick steps into the snow and I’d follow, glad that I at least had a pair of gloves to keep my hands dry and warmish. It took an hour or so of steady climbing, hard breathing, and thigh/butt burning to get up the chute and cross a short way to the summit itself, which gave us some nice views of the Olympics, clear cut forest parcels, the Hood Canal, and Lake Cushman:

From the summit

Hood Canal

And here’s David’s back, against the backdrop of the forest and Lake Cushman; this photo was taken partway down the chute (more on that in a minute):

David and Lake Cushman

As we approached the chute on our ascent, we saw some youngsters sliding down the mountain. Little did I know at the time that was the most expedient way back down. Unless you wanted to spend hours picking your way down an impossibly steep path in the snow. (Real mountaineers can guffaw at any time.) My first thought, though, was one of bemusement that they would go to the trouble of dragging sleds all the way to the top. Sleds, no. In one case, a young man had used a rain poncho, and in another, slick nylon pants were up to the task.

After summiting, quickly putting on warmer clothes, peeing in the snow to mark our turf, and admiring the views (unfortunately, cloud cover kept us from seeing Seattle and the Pacific) it was time to descend.

Sliding down Mt Ellinor was quite the experience as this short movie clip shows–the term, I guess, is “glissade” but seems too elegant a word for what felt like a more brute force, and bruising, trip down the mountain. What a hoot, though. It wasn’t long before my butt and legs were soaking wet (memories of reading as a teenager all the advice about why jeans are not good hiking attire came back to me) and getting a little chilly. But once you get a taste of the glissade, there’s no way you’re going to return to mere walking. When we ran out of mountain to sled, we hiked the trail back to where we’d parked.

The timing was perfect since I was thinking about maybe getting a little chilled. A quick change into a dry shirt and sweater was in order, but there was no dry pair of pants waiting for me. Oh well, we’d have to hope that Mr State Trooper would see no reason to pull us over since I was not driving back to Olympia in soggy jeans, but was willing to sit in damp underwear. No Mr State Trooper and the rest of the trip was uneventful…

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