Saturday, August 18, 2012

Olympic National Forest - Mt. Zion

After my first hike in Olympic National Park (ONP) at Hurricane Ridge, I picked up a book in the visitor center gift shop, Best Easy Day Hikes - Olympic National Park.  It's a handy little Falcon Guide.  Both this guide and the Best Hikes with Kids - Western Washington & the Cascades list Mt. Zion as a challenging but rewarding day hike.  So it's been on my Washington Bucket List ever since.

I wasn't sure if my boys would be able to tackle this one.  The Best Hikes with Kids books has a 3-point difficulty rating scale and gave this one the most difficult of their three ratings.  Thanks to a friend's birthday party invitation, the opportunity arose for me to go tackle Mt. Zion on my own without the boys.

My hiking partner and I left Silverdale a little after 7 a.m. and arrived at the Quilcene Ranger Station just before they opened at 8 a.m. to get our annual pass (free to military).  On our way driving over, I was alarmed at how the Hood Canal Bridge was socked-in really dense fog.  I mean, we couldn't see a hundred yards in front of us as we drove across the bridge.  The forecast called for a sunny day, so I was hopeful it would burn off by the time we got up to the summit of Mt. Zion.  As we climbed into the mountains from the Quilcene Ranger Station, we drove out of the fog and into the bright sunlight at around 1,300 feet of elevation.

The roads aren't very well marked, and we encountered one family that was lost and asked us for directions.  If you don't have a GPS to show you where you are on the map, I recommend studying the map before you go so you can anticipate the turns.  The driving directions in both guide books and the WTA website were fair enough.

When you get to the trailhead, you'll know.  It's fairly obvious with a small parking lot, a picnic table, and a "privy" / men's and women's dual outhouse.  We departed the parking lot at 9:09 a.m.

The trail is fairly steep and does a lot of switchbacks up the hill, but at no point do you need any ropes or anything to get up the trail.  I was breathing hard all the way up.  For comparison, I logged almost exactly the same number of miles on this hike as the Hurricane Hill hike up at Hurricane Ridge (3.84 vs 3.86 miles), but this one came with an extra 555 feet of elevation gain (900 feet vs 1455 feet).

View northeast from the summit - solid fog.

The summit was a little anticlimactic.  As described in guide books, the view to the southwest toward the Olympics is obscured by trees.  Sadly, the fog didn't burn off, so our view to the northeast toward Port Townshend was a sea of white.

Trip Stats at the Summit

Both guide books I mentioned above only describe hiking to the summit.  I am thankful for the Washington Trails Association web page that described hiking an additional half mile southeast from the summit to a ledge with better views.

View from the rock ledge 0.5 miles SE of the summit.

Note there are three different trails heading off in different directions from the summit, so I broke out the compass and chose the trail that headed southeast.  Even then, that wasn't sufficient to get us to the ledge.  There was a fork in the trail where we had to make a decision.  We went LEFT and we got lucky.  That was the right path to get to the rocky ledge.  The view from the ledge was spectacular and worth the extra half mile hike.

Don't look down...

All the guides and reviews I've read about this hike say it is spectacular in July with all the rhododendrons in bloom.  I believe them.  There were rhodies everywhere.  Although the rhodies weren't in bloom, there were many other flowers along the trail, and I continue to be amazed with the new flowers I see every time I go hiking in Washington.  Here are some of the new flowers I saw on this hike:

Bunchberry - this was my favorite from this hike.  Very pretty.

Pearly Everlasting


These look sort of like foxglove, but they were laying flat on the ground instead of in tall stalks.  I can't find anything like it in my book of Pacific Northwest flowers.  Any help?

These purple stalks were EVERYWHERE.
I think it's Broadleaf Lupine.

 Twin Flower

There was a lot of this near the overlook.  I think it's Oceanspray.

Is this Scotchbroom?  There were small spots of it around the parking lot.  I've seen the walls of yellow on either side of the highways around Silverdale and heard that it is Scotchbroom, but I guess I've never gotten out of the car to go look at it close up.  Scotchbroom is the only thing I can match it to in my flower book.

Speaking of which, I really like this book a lot.  It's well organized and has decent pictures.

Overall, in spite of the disappointing view at the summit and logging a DNF on the geocache there, the view from the rocky ledge and the flowers along the way made it an excellent hike.  I'm very glad to have had this glorious Saturday to spend getting some exercise and enjoying the beauty of Olympic National Forest. 

Hike Stats:  When I'm searching for places to hike with my kids, I appreciate having some basic facts and figures about the hike for me to judge if it's doable with my kids.  With that in mind, I hope other parents considering this hike find the following information useful. Note:  This is hike #161 on page 402 of Best Hikes with Kids - Western Washington & The Cascades, and the book gives this hike the most strenuous rating on their 3-point scale.  I had seen pictures online of other families doing this hike with middle-school aged children, but I thought it best to leave my boys at home for this one.
  • Date: 18 August 2012
  • Time of Departure: Left house in Silverdale at 7 a.m. and arrived at the Quilcene Ranger Station to get my park pass right when they opened at 8 a.m.  Departed the trailhead at 9:09 a.m. 
  • Time of Return: 12:31 p.m. back in car at trailhead.  Drove directly home with no stops, arrived home at 2 p.m. on the nose.
  • Elapsed:  3 hours 22 minutes
  • Moving Time (GPS):  1 hour 56 minutes 
  • Stopped Time (GPS):  1 hour 26 minutes 
  • Mileage (GPS): 3.86 miles
  • Avg Speed (GPS):  2.0 mph
  • Elevation Gain:  1455 feet
  • Max Elevation:  4273 feet
  • Weather:   Hood Canal was fogged in.  As we ascended into the mountains, we broke out into the sunlight around 1,300 feet or so.
  • Winds:  < 5 mph W, but I didn't really notice even the slightest breeze while we were hiking.
  • Air Temp: In Quilcene it was 57F climbing to 64F.  I was very comfortable in a t-shirt and shorts and was pretty sweaty when we got back to the car.
  • Trail:  Well-defined hard-pack dirt trail.  No trail markers, and there were a few spots where there were forks in the trail and we guessed which way to keep going.  
  • Crowds?  Not crowded, but not alone.  We encountered one family of 4 at the summit and a boyfriend/girlfriend couple who came RUNNING up the trail to the summit while we were there and RAN past us on our way back down.  Did I mention I was almost out of breath just WALKING up the trail???  Also on our way back down, we passed three other small groups on their way up the trail.  We were the first car in the parking lot that morning, but when we got back there were about 6 cars there.
  • Hazards?  Some steep dropoffs.  I've heard to beware the mountain goats that can be aggressive in ONP, but we didn't see or hear of any on Mt. Zion.
  • Geocaches?   Searched for the one geocache at the summit, but logged a DNF.
  • Kit: T-shirt, shorts, hiking boots, flop hat, walking stick.  We were under the shade of trees most of the time and didn't need sun screen much.  There were a fair amount of flying bugs, but I didn't see any mosquitoes.
  • Route:  There is a picnic table and a privy at the trailhead parking lot, but I did not see any sources of water.  Note!  You need a U.S. Forest Service Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency annual pass (i.e. a National Park Annual Pass) to display on your windshield in this parking lot.  None of our guide books told us that.  You can pick one up at the Quilcene Ranger Station.  Our guide books only mentioned hiking to the summit of Mt. Zion.  Thanks to the Washington Trails Association website, we read about hiking southeast a half mile past the summit to an area with a better view.  At the summit, there were three trails going off in different directions, so we used our compass to tell which one was headed southeast per the WTA description and took that trail.  Then, a little ways along, there was a pretty substantial fork in the trail, and both the left and right sides appeared well-traveled.  We chose the LEFT fork and got lucky.  We found the rocky shelf with the spectacular view.  
  • Facilities:  There is a privy and picnic table at the trailhead, but no source of water that I saw.

1 comment:

Don the Baptist said...

Man that looks great. All I see on my hikes here is scrub, dead grass ans low chaparral.