Helfa Reigns

Posted by Mike
Helfa, a Rhode Island Red hen

Helfa, a Rhode Island Red hen

She’s brown, round and plump, but clearly the “alpha” party in the group.  She had flown the coop one time too many that day. If some chickens insist on being free range, Helfa was one of them. I wasn’t aware that free range chickens actually stick around the home turf, but learned that from Helfa. Generally she would range the yard up to the street or even crop a few bites from the neighbor’s grass, but she never went far.

In exasperation David tried several techniques using additional chicken wire in likely escape  hatches and he clipped her wings so close that she now had little penguin wings. Before that, when we shooed her in from atop the stone wall behind the pen, she was able to slow her landings a little, but now coming down she looked like a 747 with twenty foot wings.  It was always a hard landing.

Along toward evening David reminded me that this was the day, after dinner, that he and I were to drive up toward Hurricane Ridge. He wanted us to be successful in climbing the “Switchback” to the ridge beneath Mt. Angeles. Two years ago I had given up on this hike – apparently with only a couple of turns to go. I think he believed that if I made it to the top this time, it might have some kind of salubrious effect on the aging process – in me. At his suggestion I was immediately guarded. “You know, I’ve been thinking that it’s just too much for me. Let’s just stay down here tonight.” Down here was Port Angeles, Washington, at around 500 feet in elevation. Up there was near the top of Hurricane Ridge, at about 5,000 feet.

David doesn’t take “No” for an answer. “Dad, if that’s too much for you, we can climb to the top of Hurricane Hill. It’s not nearly as steep. It’ll be wonderful.” Sometimes it’s difficult if not impossible to disappoint such enthusiasm. Besides, he needed to get away for a few hours, from both a crying baby and from Helfa.

By the time supper ended Helfa, the other hens, and the maybe rooster were safely ensconced in their coop, secure from the claws of local raccoons and other predators, and David and I were ascending the road to Hurricane Ridge. The ridge tops out at about 5,200 feet, not far from the tree line in the Olympics. It actually is a ridge. The road rides along the very top for a mile, then dips down and rises again ending at a parking lot where the trail to Hurricane Hill begins. I had hiked the first quarter mile several years ago. It’s flat with little rise. The only problem is that there are places not more than five or six feet from the path where the drop-off is — shall we say — only a few thousand feet or so.

When we arrived at the trail it was already dusk. It was a relatively clear evening and the sunset to the west over the northern edge of the Olympic range was spectacular.238 - Copy It was the autumnal equinox and fortunately at that time of the year (actually probably most of the year) at that latitude twilights and sunsets last a long time. I had hoped that we would turn around at the end of the flat trail – about a quarter of a mile – but no, we were going “to the top” of Hurricane Hill. “It’s not very far, just a few switchbacks. Nothing like the steepness or distance on the ‘Switchback’,” said David, providing the reassurance that would prevent me from refusing to budge at the end of the first quarter mile.

We trudged onward – and by now steeply upward. At six-two David was ambling. Being shorter and a  flatlander I was taking what seemed comparative baby steps, grinding away at the gravel, pacing my breathing and steps so I didn’t start puffing – and beginning to think that I’d show this whippersnapper Western guy, my son,  that despite all I had what it takes.  I want to say here and now for posterity that I only asked, very calmly, “How much further is the top?” twice. If you hear anything else regarding that issue you can disregard it immediately as disinformation. We continued to trudge onward and upward. The light and sunset were really fading now. The valley to our west was pitch-black. Fortunately there was slightly more than a quarter moon in the western sky that would be good for another four or five hours and it provided just enough light to see the path. The trail switched back and forth. It steepened. I asked if that clump of trees above us was the top – where we were headed. “No, we’re not going  there.” No! We were going further up!

Finally, the path narrowed, became indistinct and strewn with much larger boulders and we arrived at the top of Hurricane Hill. By now it was almost completely dark. But we were indeed on the top of a peak, with a commanding view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. From our perch at 5,757 feet, we could see beneath us to the right all of the lights of the city of Port Angeles.121 Across the Strait were the lights of Victoria, B.C., and it seemed like we could see beyond the western edge of Vancouver Island to Barkley Sound and the islands beyond as well as half of Vancouver Island, though I know that couldn’t be possible (it’s 300 miles long!). It was striking that to the north of us there was visible the lights of at least several hundred thousand people. To the west and south of us there were no lights. The vast wilderness of the Olympic Mountains was essentially uninhabited for 30 miles to the west and at least 50 miles to the south.

The time exposures David took really don’t do the scene justice. The ghost in one of the pictures is me! 123The trail up had been 1.8 miles and I had stuck with it.  The result was rewarding. The next best thing would be to do it again, next time during daylight, when you really would feel like you are on the top of the world.

I’d like to say coming down was easy. And I guess it was. I had prepared for emergencies by secreting a very small flashlight – like someone might carry on a key chain. David was ambling back down the path seemingly with the night vision of a cat. I never let on, but I was unable to see anything but his vague shadow ahead of me, at times fading out completely in the shadows only to reappear later in a minimal shaft of moonlight. Later I said that I only used the flashlight briefly three times coming down and intend to stick to that story regardless of any other opinion. We arrived back at the car after hiking about three and a half miles in two hours, with the flatlander none the worse for wear. Driving back down to Port Angeles I heard tales of mountain lions and other animals bounding across the road on previous late night forays, but alas the only thing that crossed the path of the rented Ford Focus was shadows.

The next day Helfa was at it again. David was constructing yet another Maginot Line. That one too was not effective. This all occurred only a week ago, so I don’t have current information regarding Helfa, but it might not be a pretty picture!

[see map at http://www.nps.gov/PWR/customcf/apps/maps/showmap.cfm?alphacode=olym&parkname=Olympic%20National%20Park Enlarge the section of map south of Port Angeles. You will see the road to Hurricane Ridge and the trail to Hurricane Hill to the northwest of the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.]

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2 Comments

Filed under Olympic Mountains, wilderness

2 responses to “Helfa Reigns

  1. You did only use the light a few times. I was glad, because the moon really does beat out a LED any night of the week.

  2. Jenny

    Fantastic. 😀

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