Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Road to Higley Peak

I've long been wondering where you can get a good view of the Olympic mountain range from the west or south side - as good as you get from Seattle or Puget Sound from the east that are just as distant from the mountains. I've found the spot, but it can only be reached in July through September, when the snow melts.

Sunday, June 22, 2008, we drove up the road towards Higley Peak, a small mountain on the west side of Lake Quinault. Just past the North Shore Road, where highway 101 bends and turns west, and then another mile further you turn right on Prairie Creek Road. This is a dirt/gravel road, which you will follow for 10 miles to the trailhead. The trail is just another half mile to the peak. Three to four miles in you come across two crossroads. Bear right at both of them. The first one is unmarked. The second has a sign pointing to Higley Peak Trail. There is a sort of third crossroads, where you need to turn left up the hill, but the alternative path straight ahead of you is fairly overgrown, so you are unlikely to choose that way. All the rest of the way the road is wide and clear to follow.

We attempted this trip too early in the year. At about 7-8 miles up and two short of the trailhead, we were stopped by snow. We also had to navigate several obstacles caused by small, fallen trees. Some we drove over, some under, and sometimes I had our teenage boys jump out and bend a big branch out of the way.

Despite the obstacles, we had a marvellous time. The road rises very quickly - quicker than you would guess, since you are mostly enclosed by the forest - and here and there you come out to a clearing with a marvellous view of the valleys below, the neighboring mountains, and the high, distant, snow-capped peaks of the Olympics. Even the teenagers with me were impressed by the beauty. Our five-year-old, James, saw each cliffside as a good opportunity to throw rocks. The older boys then started throwing rocks too.

Once we reached the snow, we trudged on another two miles, hoping to reach the trailhead. The snow was patchy - 2 to 4 feet deep for a few hundred feet or up to a quarter mile - wherever there was shade, and then long stretches of bare road where the sun could reach the road. We had a fine, sunny day - one of our few so far this year. Eventually, we found a sunny spot, ate our lunch, and scouted ahead a little further. At a wide open area with a great view on both sides of the ridge, we stopped - ahead of us was another long, dark stretch of snow. In fact, looking at the map later, I think we might have passed the peak and its trail.

I was worried about the five-year-old going back, but the road sloped downward gently, which encouraged him to keep moving. He played happily with fallen fir branches the whole way down.

We will try this trip again in late August, and hopefully we will spot the trail.

Check out the pictures of this trip at my website:

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