Cliff Mass was wrong, thank goodness

Shifty weather doesn't need to be a barrier to seeking beauty in the mountains.
Crosscut archive image.

(Chuck Taylor)

Shifty weather doesn't need to be a barrier to seeking beauty in the mountains.

Making plans for the Labor Day weekend, I was dismayed at the weather predication for Saturday on Cliff Mass' excellent blog on Thursday. "Cancel your hike on Saturday," he declared as if reading my mind.

My partner and I had planned to go up to Deer Park or Hurricane Ridge in the Olympics that day, but Mass warned of weekend wetness. A weather front was moving in. "Not a good day for a hike in the Olympics." But in the Northwest, you can't let rain dampen your outdoor plans, so we went anyway.

When we arrived at the Olympic National Park ranger station at mid-day, it was partly sunny. The Peninsula roads had been dry, we'd encountered only a few sprinkles. Lots of cloud action and sunbreaks. The weather was beautiful to watch. On the way there, approaching Discovery Bay, the cloud shadows scudding across the highway were moving as fast as I've ever seen them. The rangers were advising people to skip the mountains because of the clouds. On a rainy day why not see the rain forest, how about the Hoh? A Hurricane Ridge weather cam showed that it was cloudy and wet up top, but a few minutes later it cleared off some and the beautiful valleys were visible. We decided to give it a try.

We've had good luck with day hikes on iffy days. Last fall, we went up to Artist Point near Mt. Baker and it was socked in by fog, the surrounding mountains invisible. But we had a wonderful, eerie hike in the fog. There were few people and a great quiet. It was like wandering in a dream. We saw marmots and ravens and beautiful meadows covered with dew. And a couple of times, the clouds parted to give us spectacular peekaboo views of Mt. Shuksan. It was like hiking in a Japanese landscape painting.

So, we figured we had little to lose. We decided to go up Hurricane Ridge because the road is would be reliable no matter what the weather. It turned out, the wettest part of the front had already moved through, and when we got up there, clouds shrouded the surrounding peaks, but the valleys and meadows were visible, and sometimes longer views opened up. We could see light rains trailing veils over the flanks of the meadows, acting like beautiful moving screens filtering sunlight. We could see the Strait of Juan de Fuca, blue as the sky overhead. Passing ships were illuminated by the early fall sun breaking through. The tableaux would then disappear in mist for awhile, then reappear.

The weather was shifty. The ridge is rain shadowed, but we were pelted with one particularly frigid downpour but it didn't last. Instead of being a day to hide from the weather, it turned out to be the perfect day to watch the weather. It provided drama all around us. Not to mention all that glorious fresh air. Both of us are recovering from a flu bug, and it might seem odd to go out in the cold and damp, but all that oxygen was, to mix metaphors, like chicken soup.

Mass says the forecast for Saturday got the timing of the front wrong. I'm glad we ignored his advice about staying away from the Olympics. Mass says "you can enhance your ability to do things outside by watching the weather carefully." Our eyes told us that the changeable weather and a hike accessed by a safe road would yield rewards if we adjusted our expectations to enjoy it, no matter what. We were amply rewarded.


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Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.