Saturday, June 12, 2010

Storm King Mountain

If you want a quick and dirty, thigh burning workout, Storm King Mountain is your ideal destination. It's 2.5 miles. Straight up.

It's my favorite morning workout. Only about 2 hours total, round trip, so it's a great one to do before I go to work. The trail head is on Lake Crescent at the Storm King Ranger Station. Head west on 101 from Port Angeles about 20 miles, it's well marked on the lake side of the highway. Marymere Falls can be reached from here as well. It's a perfect little outing to do with the kids, but thats another post.

This morning I set off at 8:30. Working down the well worn path, through the old growth fir and cedar, there was still a bit of morning fog in the air. A quarter mile from the car is the junction, marked by a small sign simply stating "Storm King Trail" with an arrow pointing left. You can tell immediately that it's not going to be very friendly to your heart, lungs or legs. The first step off of the main, flat, smooth path is pretty much a step straight up; and it doesn't level out any the further you go.

For about a half mile, your legs protest at every step. There are several spots where you have to scramble up over root wads in the trail just to be able to go forward again. You can hear the stream below, just babbling away, and it sounds so refreshing.

After the first push up the hill, you come over a rise, into a more open forest. There's a spot to the side of the trail where you can take a breather and stretch your legs a bit in preparation for the rest of the climb.

The next mile or so is unremarkable, but still straight up the hill. The best part about this stretch, however, is that it's a lot smoother and forgiving path. You may wonder why on Earth would a person put themselves through this masochistic ordeal; well, at the top of the mountain is the answer.

Several times throughout the climb, you can catch a glimpse of Lake Crescent below, but once you hit the end of one particular switchback and peer over the edge at the lake, highway and you car in the parking lot hundreds of feet below, you forget all about how you can't feel your legs anymore. Looking to the north you can see Pyramid Peak across the lake, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Canada beyond. Turning around, to the south, you will see the foothills of the Olympics. Not overly spectacular themselves, but the entire experience is quite nice.

Take some comfort in knowing you are almost to the top of the "regular" trail. A couple hundred more meters, up a few more switchbacks, you come to a rocky outcropping with an old sign on a tree. It basically tells you "Proceed at your own risk". You may continue on, up the mountain, scrambling over rocky ledges and ridges that drop off into oblivion on either side of you. It's truly rewarding to see it all from the very top.

Just past the sign is a nice little spot to gather yourself up, have a drink, eat a snack and prepare for the descent back down that hill you just mastered. In many ways, the descent is worse than the ascent. It's so steep that it is quite difficult to not break out in a run. If you do end up trotting down the hill, it's really tough to stop, and I hope you clipped your toe-nails before this, because if you have ill-fitting shoes, you may be apt to quite an uncomfortable experience.

In my experience, it takes approximately an hour twenty, to an hour and a half to get up the hill, and less than 45 minutes to get back down. A trekking pole really helps take some of the impact off of your body, but by the time you reach the bottom, your legs will probably be screaming at you, what did they ever do to deserve this, etc. etc.

This climb is not for the faint of heart. It's only about 2 miles up, and for those of you in great shape, it will probably not be the same experience as us big guys that could lose a few pounds. It is primarily for this reason that I love this trail so much. It's quick. It's intense. It's a great alternative for spending 2 hours in a smelly old gym. I can run out and get it done in the morning before work, and I'm outside where I love to be.

Back at the parking lot, you can take a dip in the lake or stop in and say hi to the Park Ranger and get to know the area a little. They have brochures detailing the entire park. Trails, flora, fauna, where to stay, where to eat, what to see. It's truly an amazing area. I love to call it home.

Sorry for the low quality pictures. In my rush to get out the door, I forgot my camera on the table. I had to use my cell phone.


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