If you visit the Olympic National Park from the northeast entrance out of Port Angeles, the road can quickly take you up to 5200 feet. The ability to travel on wheels to subalpine meadows is a gift to those who prefer day hiking over the rigors of overnight packing in.
Going in the late spring and summer offers the chance to glimpse the alpine tundra, sans snow. Several short hikes from the visitor’s center allow you to roam what feels like the top of the world, with sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains around you. At the top of the mountain, near the tree line, you can see what flora survives in such extreme conditions.
Bright colored wildflowers, like the delicate glacier lily, trillium and Indian paintbrush dot the hillside. And every once in a while, near and above the tree line, you’ll find scrubby misshapen little trees that manage to hold on. With the cold climate, short growing season, and rocky soil – it’s a wonder the little guys ever grew into trees at all.
These dwarfed conifers grow in the direction of the prevailing winds, never more than a few feet tall, ending up morphed into odd shapes. You get the feeling that they’re hanging on with everything they’ve got; surviving against the odds.
When you see their giant cousins across the park in the rain forest, getting drunk on rain, nutrients and warmer weather, you appreciate all the more how these little scrubs have managed to adapt to the hand they’re dealt. They’re not nearly as tall or big, but they are sturdy as all get out.