Home Trip ReportsDayhike Mt. Ellinor

Mt. Ellinor

by Amanda Phillips
Mt. Ellinor

It can be hard to convince someone to wake up at 3:00 in the morning to drive for more hours than you will hike, walk in the cold, dark woods, simply to see the moment the sun pushes over the horizon. I have woken for many a sunrise while backpacking, in fact, it is one of the reasons I am compelled to shoulder the heavy weight again and again. I love seeing a place at the end of the day when the shadows are long, under a starry night sky and again at dawn. But spending the entire weekend in the woods is not always realistic, so, in the late-fall and winter I try for a sunrise.


I was pretty excited to be invited on this birthday trip to Mt. Ellinor over the weekend. Finding a group totally willing to forgo physical comfort to see the sky turn magnificent colors felt pretty lucky. And when the sky lit up with the best sunrise I have seen this year, the disrupted sleep cycle felt totally worth it.


There is a practice I used to do a few years ago, where I would make a list of the type of person I wanted to be and the type of things I wanted to do. Then I would systematically look at that list and compare it to what I was actually doing, and make changes when I could. Consistent on that list was to use my time wisely. Push my limits beyond convenience and comfort to experience something that felt pivotal–spending time outside. I was warned by people when I started grad school that my time would disappear, but a few people said the opposite. When time becomes precious, you work that much harder to ensure you have it. There is no time to waste.

Looking out over Hood Canal, Lake Cushman and to the various Washington volcanoes in the sunshine I felt like I was using my time very wisely, indeed. 


Mt Ellinor

Mt. Ellinor Trail

I set my alarm for 3:00, lay down and willed myself to be tired. It was no use. I was wide awake and excited. In four short hours, I would be pulling on some bright orange yoga pants and shuffling down to the car for the long drive to the Olympic Peninsula. After a fitful night of sleep, I picked up Sarina and Kaelee and we began the slow journey westward. We climbed up a dark, spooky forest road and arrived at the trailhead. We met up with Katherine and Andrew a few moments later. Turning on headlamps and rotating through the trailhead potty, we prepped for the route and started up the trail in the dark.


A row of headlamps made their way up the semi-steep path. The few feet directly in front of us was lit, but the rest of the trail remained dark. Slowly, a light began to grow over Hood Canal as the sun began to rise. The low clouds glowed golden against a blue backdrop and we hurried on, hoping to get above the trees for the moment the sun crested the peaks.

After nearly a mile, we reached a little viewpoint and stopped for a breather. The sunrise was beginning in earnest and lit up the three visible volcanoes: Tahoma, Pahto, and Loowit (Rainier, Mt. Adams and Mt. St Helens–see this post for more!). It was too chilly to sit for long and we continued rushing up the trail. 

The wooded trail gave way to a rocky climb as the golden light bathed the hill. Rocks shaped like staircases continued for what felt like an eternity until we reached an open, climbing traverse to the saddle. Thrilled to see something that looked like the top, we hurried upwards, only to find the summit was still a bit more of a climb.

Mt. Ellinor Summit

After putting one foot in front of the other for what felt like a long time, we made it to the top. Kaelee was waiting for us and as soon as we stopped moving we realized how cold it was at the summit. We roamed around the little batch of rocks taking in the views. The three volcanoes we saw on the way up were visible, then we spied Komo Kulshan and Suhn-na-do (Mt. Baker and Mt. Olympus). Below the peaks we could see Hood Canal and Lake Cushman.

I put on every layer that I brought and we all pulled the goodies we had packed out of our bags. A garnet tablecloth, orange juice, champagne, waffles, muffins, and breakfast sandwiches warmed by a stove. We felt infinitely silly and got a serious case of the giggles looking at the spread before us. Sarina, the birthday girl, busted open the first container of champagne and we gathered for a toast. The mimosas sloshed as we shivered but spirits were high. Before long, a dance party erupted. Was it delirium from lack of sleep? A desperate attempt to stay warm? The joy that can only come from being somewhere so beautiful with lovely friends? Not sure which, but it was great!

We eventually decided to descend. The ice-covered rocks were fairly easy to avoid on the way up but became more perilous on the way down. I took my time but still took a nasty fall, landing on my butt. It has since grown into an impressive bruise, swollen enough to make it look like I have three butt cheeks. A few bumps and bruises have shown up on my shin as well, but luckily nothing permanent. It was a great reminder that things can change in an instant, be careful out there: winter is coming.