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|Elevation||7,962 ft (2,427 m)|
|Parent range||Pacific Coast Ranges|
|Elevation||7,962 ft (2,427 m)|
|Parent range||Pacific Coast Ranges|
The Olympic Mountains are a mountain range on the Olympic Peninsula of western Washington in the United States. The mountains, part of the Pacific Coast Ranges, are not especially high - Mount Olympus is the highest at 7,962 ft (2,427 m); however, the eastern slopes rise out of Puget Sound and the western slopes are separated from the Pacific Ocean by the 20 to 35 km (12 to 22 mi) wide Pacific Ocean coastal plain. The western slopes are the wettest place in the 48 contiguous states. Most of the mountains are protected within the bounds of the Olympic National Park.
The Olympics have the form of a cluster of steep-sided peaks surrounded by heavily forested foothills and incised by deep valleys. They are surrounded by water on three sides, separated from the Pacific by the 20 to 35 km (12 to 22 mi) wide coastal plain.
Precipitation varies greatly throughout the range, from the wet western slopes to the arid eastern ridges. 140 and 170 inches (3,600 and 4,300 mm) of rain falls on the Hoh Rainforest annually, receiving the most precipitation of anywhere in the continental United States. Areas to the northeast of the mountains are located in a rain shadow and receive as little as 16 in (410 mm) of precipitation. Annual precipitation increases to about 30 in (760 mm) on the edges of the rain shadow around Port Townsend, the San Juans, and Everett. 80% of precipitation falls during the winter. On the coastal plain, the winter temperature stays between −2 to 7 °C (28 to 45 °F). During the summer it warms up to stay between 10 and 24 °C (50 and 75 °F).
As a consequence of the high precipitation is the large number of snowfields and glaciers, reaching down to 1,500 m (5,000 ft) above sea level. There are about 266 glaciers crowning the Olympics peaks. The most prominent glaciers are those on Mount Olympus covering approximately 10 square miles (26 km2). Beyond the Olympic complex are the glaciers of Mount Carrie, the Bailey Range, Mount Christie, and Mount Anderson.
The Olympics are made up of an obducted clastic wedge material and oceanic crust. They are primarily Eocene sandstones, turbidites, and basaltic oceanic crust. Unlike the Cascades, the Olympic Mountains are not volcanic.
Millions of years ago, vents and fissures opened under the Pacific ocean and lava flowed forth, creating huge underwater mountains and ranges called seamounts. The plates that formed the ocean floor inched toward North America about 35 million years ago and most of the sea floor subducted beneath the continental land mass. Some of the sea floor, however, was scraped off and jammed against the mainland, creating the dome that was the forerunner of today's Olympics. Powerful forces fractured, folded, and over-turned rock formations, which helps explain the jumbled appearance of the Olympics.
In the Pleistocene era, a vast continental ice sheet descended from Alaska south through British Columbia to the Olympics. The ice split into the Juan de Fuca and Puget ice lobes, as they encountered the resistant Olympic Mountains. A glacial outwash stream surged around the southern end of the peninsula to the Pacific Ocean. This isolated the Olympic Peninsula from the nearby Cascade Mountains and limited species from entering and exiting the peninsula. When the ice sheet reached the Peninsula, large areas of the continental shelf were also exposed by the lower sea levels since so much water was trapped as ice. This created a coastal refuge. The distance from Mount Olympus to the Pacific Ocean may have been double that of today.
The mountains support a variety of different ecosystems, varying by elevation and relative east-west location, which influences the local climate, primarily precipitation.
Along the western flanks of the mountains the increased orographic precipitation supports temperate rain forests in the Quinault, Queets, Hoh, and Bogachiel river valleys. Protection by Olympic National Park, has allowed these rain forests to retain old growth trees, which supports a varied ecosystem. These lowlands are primarily covered by Western Hemlock and Sitka Spruce, and mature stands of these trees forms the climax state of many forests in these regions. Epiphytes grow on trees throughout the rain forests. This zone divides out into two, as spruce tends to dominate in the west, whereas hemlock tends to be more common in the drier eastern conditions. Also present are western redcedar, especially in the West, and Douglas fir, which is particularly present in the east.
Montane ecosystems occur around 500 to 1,100 metres (1,600 to 3,600 ft). In these conditions silver fir and western hemlock occur throughout the range; however, silver fir may be absent in the drier eastern slopes. In the west, where silver fir is present, Oxalis may also be present. Douglas fir occurs alongside western hemlock on south facing slopes.
In the Olympics, the treeline is between 5,000 feet (1,500 m) and 6,000 feet (1,800 m).
In the West, the subalpine zone is dominated by mountain hemlock. It occurs along with subalpine fir from 1,100 to 1,650 metres (3,600 to 5,410 ft) in the Bailey Range; however, the range of this forest type is not extensive and does not extend much west of Mount Olympus, nor is it common in the East. Yellow Cedar is sometimes found in relation to these plants.
In the East and other drier areas, the subalpine zone is dominated by subalpine fir. It can occur with other trees, including mountain hemlock, silver fir, and Yellow Cedar, but what characterizes these zones is the dominance of subalpine fir. These forests occur on the eastern ridges from 1,300 to 1,800 metres (4,300 to 5,900 ft).
The mountains were originally called "Sun-a-do" by the Duwamish Indians, while the first European to see them, the Spanish navigator Juan Perez, named Mount Olympus "Santa Rosalia", in 1774. But the English captain John Meares, seeing them in 1788, thought them beautiful enough for the gods to dwell there, and named the highest point "Mount Olympus" after the mountain in Greece. Various names for the mountains were used based on the name Mount Olympus, including the Olympic Range, the Olympian Mountains, and the Olympus Range. Alternate proposals never caught on, and in 1864 the Seattle Weekly Gazette persuaded the government to make the present-day name official, although other names continued to be used.
Though readily visible from most parts of western Washington, the interior was almost entirely unexplored until 1885, when 2nd Lt. Joseph P. O'Neil of the 14th Infantry, stationed at Fort Vancouver, led a small expedition from Port Angeles, repeating the venture in 1890. O'Neil's reports on his explorations resulted in his recommendation that the region be declared a national park. Mount Olympus itself was not ascended until 1907, one of the first successes of The Mountaineers, which had been organized in Seattle just a few years earlier. A number of the more obscure and least-accessible peaks in the range were not ascended until the 1970s.
President Grover Cleveland protected the forests of the Olympic Peninsula with the Olympic Forest Reserve in 1897. The Olympic National Forest was established in 1907. The Mount Olympus National Monument was proclaimed by Theodore Roosevelt in 1909, and made into a park in 1938. In 1953, the park was enlarged, and the wilderness was established in 1988.
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