Mt. Ellinor

     I am a huge fan of glissading and I have know for many years that Mt. Ellinor offered one of the best glissade slopes around. Somehow I never found the time for a trip over to the Olympics to give it a try. Last year I helped a friend build a cabin at Lake Cushman and I could look up with binoculars and see people going up and down "the chute". I knew this year I needed to fit in a trip to Ellinor. Bill suggested taking a day off work and I took only a few seconds to agree. I needed a day to recover from Goat Lake and Iron Peak on the weekend so we decided on Tuesday. The weather forecast on Monday was for a mostly sunny day with temperatures in the mid 60s. Tuesday morning the forecast changed drastically and Doppler Radar showed rain at Olympia and moving north by 5:45 am. What the heck, we took time off so we went ahead as planned. We met in Seattle at 6:20 and by 9:10 we were nearly at the upper trailhead. Nearly because there is still a stubborn patch of snow just below the parking lot. It may still be there for another week or two or three. We were up to the trailhead in just a few minutes. There were no other cars so we had the mountain to ourselves. It had rained in Olympia and north nearly to Shelton. The sky was overcast but dry when we started.

     The first 1/2 mile is snow free. After that is a short section of thin ice that was the most difficult part of the day. It was very slick but not too long. When the trail was completely covered in snow the going became easier. Shortly we reached the sign pointing to the summer trail and the winter chute. footprints went both ways and we turned right on the winter route. The trail leveled out and soon came out of the forest at the base of the chute. I could see the glissade track nearly to the top of the ridge. My legs were tired from the weekend so Bill took the lead with no complaints from me. The chute started out gently then began to steepen. We were sinking in a fair amount but not all the way to our crotches. We made slow but steady progress. The chute narrows and jogs around a rock near the middle. This part was a bit steeper. It then eases a little before steepening again towards the top. As we rose we could look back at Lake Cushman and Hood Canal. The conditions were really pretty good. The snow was not so hard and icy as to be scary. It may have been a little softer than I would have preferred but soft is better than ice. The chute was well packed down and looked good for a fast but controlled descent.

     As we neared the top of the chute clouds began to blow in. The wind began to blow a bit and I was getting a bit cold. On the steepest section my hands were touching the snow ahead and my first pair of gloves got soaked. My hands remained cold until the top when I changed into a dry pair. At the top of the chute the ridge was fairly flat. We took a short break and headed towards the next slope. Foot prints in the snow made it easy to see the way. The summit went from clear to completely lost in the clouds and back several times. We just continued mild post holing on up the mountain. At the top on the next slope the prints turned right and up another slope. Finally at the top of that one we ran out of mountain. With numerous stops to take photos and slow progress due to post holing we reached the top in 2:10. It was still only about 11:35 and time for an early lunch. We put on most of our clothes due to conditons on top. My thermometer read 35 degrees and a steady wind was blowing. So much for the sunny and mid 60's forcast. The morning forecast had a 6000' freezing level in the Olympics and Ellinor is 5944'. With the wind chill it was well below freezing. As a few clouds blew by visibility went from 20 feet to the Cascade Mountains. One minute I could see 50 miles and the next minute I couldn't see 50 feet. For a few minutes Mt. Washington come out of the clouds and I was able to get a photo. I was dissapointed to not see much of the Olympic peaks. Oh well, I'll just have to come back on a clearer day. We managed to spend about 40 minutes on top before the cold chased us down. The first couple of slopes were easy glissades. In a few moments we were down to the ridge top and heading for the chute. Now came the really fun part.

     From the top of the chute it is too steep to see over the lip. I wanted to go first and told Bill to wait about 20 seconds before starting. If I wiped out I wanted to get out of the way before he reached me. He could not see me once I started. I started out with my ice axe brake on and then let off the brake and sped up. Where the grade eased I was able to come to a complete stop. Bill caught up with me in no time. I stopped to get some photos of his descent. From here the chute enters the narrow middle and jogs to the left before heading straight down to the bottom. I went ahead again and had a great ride. Just after the jog there was a drop of several feet in the track. I hit this at fairly high speed and left the ground for a second. I landed back in the track and kept on going. The snow was soft but the track was well enough packed to keep me moving all the way back to the start. It took about an hour to slog up the chute and about 4 minutes to come down. In just a few minutes we reached the trail split sign and it was an easy hike on down. Easy except for that icy area again. Just as we reached the parking lot two other hikers arrived. They were the only people we saw all day. This was one of the best glissades I have every had. I can't wait to get back next year and do it again. 

Summit View
Hood Canal
The Chute
Moving higher
Lake Cushman
Lake Cushman
Near The Middle
View Down
Bob's Cabin
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

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