desolation in the olympics | mt angeles ridge ski tour
March 20, 2023
5 mi . 3100 ft gain . 6400 ft high
Olympic National Park
Believe it or not, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been to the Olympic Peninsula (OP) as an adult (seems like only once every 2 years for a big adventure oops). We’ve been throwing around the idea of skiing in the OP for quite some time this season but I’d always make an excuse, not wanting to drive that far out. But this weekend, we went for it! After all, half the time of travel is spent on the ferry crossing, which is relaxing and well worth your dollars instead of driving around the Puget Sound. We aimed for an easier, straight-forward tour from one of the ski tour books right off Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park. Like Rainier National Park, the road is gated for the night and opens when they think that plowing is sufficient.
We took the 7am ferry from Edmonds to Kingston and enjoyed a surprisingly decent sunrise before carpooling the rest of the way. The ranger informed us that the uphill gate would close at 4pm and the downhill would close by 5pm, meaning we really should be at the car well before 4pm so we have sufficient time to get down instead of stuck in the park. In the summer, there’s a trail that goes up most of the way toward Hurricane Ridge and Mount Angeles. We found a nice pullout to park instead of going all the way to the closed Visitor Center (which, by the way, has a tow line for “inbounds” skiing).
After seeing all the slab activity in the Cascades, we wanted to play it safe and stay on roughly gentler terrain. Our ideal route was to ski the NW slope of Mount Angeles, cross over and ski the north bowlof Klahane. From the car, we could skin alongside the road on the little snow wall. At the milepost, we found an old skin track that we followed all the way up to Hurricane Ridge. Not all skin tracks should be followed but this one was decently good! I won’t complain about the lack of breaking trail. The higher up we got to the wind exposed slopes, the icier and firmer the snow. At least it was not so steep!
We cruised on up to the base of Mount Angeles before transitioning to ski mode and marveling at the views of the Olympics and the Sound. I loved how we didn’t need to much look at a map other than to check out the cliffs and we simply went fall line through the trees, finding the softest snow of the day! It proved to be a bit tricky for me with the tight turns and still not fully trusting both myself and my skis. I was thankful for friends who were patient and allowed me to take the time I needed to get down and enjoy the snow at my own pace. 1000 ft of descent later, we called it quits as the forest got denser and mildly steeper. We felt like we could have kept going to the end of the snow, but decided it was time to head up if we were going to try to ski Klahane.
I lead most of the way up, setting a nice mellow skin track. If you were to zoom in on the tracks, you could see where that happens – from going straight up the mountain to the mellow back and forth. Great kick turn practice for everyone! We continued up past our old skin tracks and up towards the summit of Mount Angeles. I was doubtful that we could easily cross the ridge. I’ve been burned one too many times with winter ridges and ridges in the Olympics. To me, this combination of both meant pokey rocks that create impasse. We started booting up the last pitch of steep 40 degree snow. But when we peered over the ridge, we realized that it required very good technical skiing skills (i.e. jump turns) or down climbing steep snow, which was no bueno for me without an ice axe. The other methods we considered were equally unappetizing. So after a restful ridge top break and scouting, we called it a day for heading straight back to the car so we had enough time to get out before the national park gates closed on us.
Interestingly, I was able to make a turn on the steepest part of the chute (maybe 45 degrees?) and then chickened out as I found the firm bits of snow. The next 700 feet back down to the Hurricane Ridge intersection was so smooth. I’m not sure that I’ve skied faster backcountry than here! The slopes were open and gentle, the trees were generally well spaced, except for the one spot where I scared a poor bunny! Reveling at the ridge views once again, we continued down next to our skin tracks, maximizing the open slopes as much as we could. We had so much fun that when we popped onto the road, it was such a surprise it came so early!
This was the perfect introduction to skiing in the Olympics. I know I’ll be back for more! With better planning and timing and longer days, big ski tours could link up a bunch of fun lines. Hurricane Ridge is mostly a rolling hill with bits of cliffs here and there from the rocky peaks, providing the right amount of alpine fun if you’re looking for it. It was a fairly warm day and we were craving ice cream, so we stopped by Welly’s Real Fruit Ice Cream in Port Angeles. Their hokey pokey ice cream hit the spot!
Park anywhere with a pullout, not just a shoulder.
National Park pass required. Check the gate opening/closure before heading up.
Ferry seems to be less crowded in the winter time, but still check ferry times as you’re driving.
I think with the right alpine gear, you could traverse the Mount Angeles peaks. You could also traverse the north side and ski a couloir to get to the Klahane side, but that would’ve pushed our time and probably also our abilities.