Magazine article Geographical

Olympic National Park: Temperate Rainforest in Washington State

Magazine article Geographical

Olympic National Park: Temperate Rainforest in Washington State

Article excerpt

I'm in the middle of a rainforest and am soaking wet. Not from rain--I haven't seen a drop all week--but from jumping into the babbling Hoh river in Washington state during a rafting trip with Rainforest Paddlers. Bobbing in a life-jacket past stands of moss-shrouded evergreens is an easy way to cool down after paddling furiously through rapids and baking in blazing sunshine.

Like the spreading big-" leaf maples and majestic Sitka spruces lining the river banks, the Hoh's deliciously cool waters owe their existence to the Olympic mountains behind me. Rising to 8,000ft, the peaks at the heart of the Olympic National Park trap moisture rolling in from the Pacific Ocean, making the lush foothills the wettest place in mainland North America.

Hardly the most attractive place for a week's outdoor holiday, you might think. But the Olympic peninsula receives most of its rainfall from September to May, leaving the summer largely hot and sunny.

To maximise the chance of dry weather, I started my Olympic odyssey on the east side of the park, in the rain shadow of Mount Olympus. At 5,400ft, Deer Park is the highest and driest campground in the Olympics: it gets only 10 per cent of the rainfall of the forest 30 miles away. Trails wind out from here through deep valleys and along dramatic ridges, criss-crossing 1,500 sq miles of virtually pristine wilderness--the same size as Essex, but more invigorating.

My first long hike, a 15-mile walk traversing Green Mountain, Malden Peak and Elk Mountain, was a roller-coaster ride through silvery lodgepole pine forests, steep shale slopes and sub-Alpine meadows carpeted with wildflowers. In the distance, jagged snow-capped peaks sparkle, while the only sounds are the rush of mountain streams and the whistle of the shy Olympic marmot. Apart from a party of bumble bee scientists and a volunteer tracking those elusive marmots, I passed just one other pair of hikers.


Back at sea level the next day, I explored the peninsula's northern coast. Dungeness Spit, named after the beach in Kent, is America's longest spit, a five and a half-mile finger of sand pointing at the neighbouring Canadian island of Vancouver. I aim for the lighthouse at the tip, then walk for hours through giant driftwood trunks with water on either side. …

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