What to do with on a Thursday off with a 70% chance of rain? Easy answer: Hike!
I had the day off so Jared, Jonathan, and I took the the new trail up to Mailbox Peak. Jared and I have been talking about hiking Mailbox for about 6 months and we finally made it! This new trail has been open for only a month or two. The old trail is reportedly an unforgiving thigh burner – straight up. New trail: moderate and forgiving. Stats: New Trail – 9.4 miles, 4000 feet elevation gain. Old trail – (half as long) 5.2 miles, 4000 feet elevation gain. We had a solid hike under gray skies. I admit, gray skies are mediocre. Not my favorite hiking conditions, but it was well worth it. It was great to get out and moving in the mountains. Of course, I do have to come back and climb the steep, old trail on a warm and sunny day…
Thursday, December 4, 2014. Hike: Mailbox Peak, 9.4 miles. Elevation gain: 4000 feet. High point: 4822 feet.
We wake early-ish and, after borrowing Eve’s Discovery Pass and picking up Jonathan, we roll into the parking lot around 10 am. Only one other car is there. Each of us affix microspikes to our feet in the icy parking lot and forge ahead on ice into the gray morning. The air is heavy, but it’s not actively raining. Temps in the 40’s mean we’re warm enough. We are slightly confused by the trail sign pointing us into the new parking lot. After wandering toward the bathrooms, we turn around and easily find our way to the left and the actual trail. The trail is snowy and icy and the three of us are glad for our traction. The new trail is really well made – wide, smooth, well graded, and easy to follow switchbacks.
As we wind our way up the trail the snow begins to clear and the ice gives way to dirt. We all take off our microspikes. We cross a few streams and a small bridge. We admire the greenery and moss. Washington is always green! This state will never cease to amaze me with it’s persistent greenness.
The trail is steady. I’m slightly ahead of the guys when I hear the sound of someone running behind me. At first I think it must be Jonathan? But I turn around to find a trail runner with his two dogs gaining on me. I say hi and they sail past quickly. Running up this trail is pretty badass and makes me wish that I liked running in any way…
About 3 or 4 miles in, the snow gets a bit thicker and we put our spikes back on. The snow is packed and gets heavier as we climb higher, most notably when we pass through clearings. There are a few clearings – the first gives way to views of trees, but the second and third open up to views of the entire valley. We can even see Seattle in the far off distance. The skies are gray but the clouds are high enough that there are great views to be had. The trail runner and his dogs pass us on their way down.
Toward the top, we hit the junction with the old trail. The two trails merge for the final push to the summit. Immediately the trail is steep. I can see how hiking the entire old trail would be brutal…especially going down. We climb through the woods and then there’s an opening to the right complete with a scree filled slope. The mountain and sky blend together. A group of 4 or 5 hikers pass us on their way down. They tell us that the top is a little windy. One guy is wearing jeans and is disgruntled.
Up, up, up. The trail just keeps going. We’re climbing the ridge and the sky has completely opened up – amazing views in every direction! Then we see the mailbox! Woooooo! We arrive at the top. 360 degree views of snow dusted mountains all around. I pile on all of my layers. I know I’m going to get cold immediately. Jared, Jonathan, and I eat snacks, snap photos, and admire the scenery. Jared and I begin our descent and Jonathan sticks around for a few minutes taking pictures.
Down, down, down. Trekking poles are super helpful for the descent. Jonathan catches up to us after a few minutes, having run down from the summit. Then we lose him again. Back in tree cover, Jared and I stop for snacks and hot tea. Jonathan catches up. I take off 4 of the 5 layers I’m wearing. We all snack.
I wander off to pee in the woods while Jonathan poses for a photo shoot on the edge of the snow covered scree slope. The snow is so sticky off trail. With each step all of the snow under my feet immediately sticks to my shoes. Every 3 or 4 steps the massive pile of snow attached to each foot comes loose and tumbles downhill.
We pack up and hike down. The hike down seems longer than the way up. I suppose it is almost 5 miles… The weather is deteriorating. Clouds are lower. Rain begins to fall on us. I bust out my umbrella – my favorite piece of gooby gear. Down, down, down. Across switchbacks, over snow, out of snow, traction off, pictures snapped, less rain, hurrying down to get Jonathan to work by 5. Back across small streams, over the bridge. There’s less snow here than when we were going up. So much has already melted.
At 4 we finally reach the bottom! Success. A 6 hour hike. Well done. A really fair hike that got serious near the top. Can’t wait to come back and hike the old trail…
Also: we got Jonathan to work in time. We didn’t have time to bring him home. And he ran the last 500 feet because we were stuck in traffic. But he made it with minutes to spare.