Hurricane Hill

Posted by Ken Campbell July 12, 2009 1 Comment 706 views

Above 5000 feet, it is still spring. At Hurricane Ridge, the wildflowers are blooming in little explosions of color all over the meadows and along the sides of the trail, where just a few weeks ago the ground was covered in the last of the winter’s snow. Penstemon, lupine and paintbrush abound, along with lanky cow parsnip and the occasional shy orchid. The grass is green and growing, and the entire ridge looks like a well-tended garden.
A garden that is thick with deer and marmots, anyway. The deer hang around the parking lot, jockeying for parking spaces and posing for tourists. Overweight women in sensible shoes circle their subjects, shooting frame after frame of the grazing animals. Some of these pictures will undoubtedly be featured on those rotating digital picture frames, summer vacation shots, proof of a wilderness adventure.

I am always struck by how few people actually get out of sight of their cars in places like this. To drive this far from Cleveland, or Modesto, or whatever blighted burg they hail from, to come all this way just to snap some shots of the mountains, to buy a softee cone in the snack bar and sit on the john for fifteen minutes hardly seems worth it. But that’s what they do, over 90 percent of all visitors to our National Parks.

Which, of course, leaves more room for those of us in the other 10 percent. Backcountry trails are often lightly traveled and real wilderness comes a little closer the further out you get, the further away from the pavement. Hurricane Hill is not wilderness, but you can certainly see wild country from the top. The path is thick with hikers (the fact that the entire 1.5 mile route is paved may have something to do with it), but even with the others on the trail, it didn’t feel overly crowded. You expect it here… it’s part of the deal. We set out from the parking lot at 10 o’clock on a sunny Friday morning.

My hiking companions are the rest of the family, Mary and Micah. The boy has new hiking poles to try out today, old ski poles that I cut down to fit him. “Hiking dicks,” he calls them, in that charming idiom of the two year-old.

Most of the hike is open country. There are a few spots where the trail dips under cover, but most of the route traverses mountain meadows and the views are a scene from a fantasy. Under the clear blue dome of the sky, everything is right there, so near. Marmots perch atop their middens, each standing sentinel duty in his own little kingdom. We climb to the top, where we settle in for lunch. The chipmunks quickly find us and scamper about the rocks and gravel as we eat. Micah tries to catch one, holding out his hand and then making an awkward lunge at the rodent, not even getting close. They want food, but we don’t give them any.

I can see the deep scar of the Elwah valley, running from the northwest to the south in front of me, easily the deepest and most pronounced of the river valleys within view. Mount Carrie and the Bailey Range are closest and most detailed, but beyond them, the tops of the other peaks are visible. Mount Tom, Mount Barnes and Mount Olympus, these and others rising up, still streaked with snow and cloaked in glaciers. It is a panorama that whets the trekking appetite, and as we start down I am thinking of the hike I have coming up that afternoon, Klahane Ridge and Lake Angeles. There will be less people there, I tell myself. Less people, more of everything else.

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