Jun 26, 2009

Mailbox Peak

Just east of Mount Teneriffe and across the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River lies a mountain range that takes you near Snoqualmie Pass. The westernmost peak of this range is Mailbox Peak. It's easy to spot from I-90 as you head east.

Mailbox Peak is known for its steepness. As Harvey Manning quotes Ira Spring in 55 Hikes Around Snoqualmie Pass, "it varies from steep to very steep to awful step." She ain't kidding.

I've been told Mailbox Peak separates real hikers from the wannabees, and I believe it. To get there, take I-90 to exit 34 and go north about a quarter mile to Middle Fork Road. About three miles down the road you will see a gate off to the right with parking to your left. This is the trailhead for Mailbox Peak.

The first stretch is a simple half mile hike up an old road to the actual trail. Signs at the trailhead warn that this is a steep trail, gaining 4000 feet in 2.5 miles. Yep, that's 25% higher than Mount Si, and twice as steep. Ouch.

The first 1000 feet of elevation gain is really not that bad. And you're lulled into a sense of "this is not a problem." And then it gets steeper, and steeper, and steeper. It's a killer.

After 2000 feet of elevation gain (halfway there) is a stretch of about 1000 feet that just isn't forgiving. Awfully steep is an understatement, and I found myself resting every 100 feet or so. From there you will get small increments of leveling off, never more than 50 feet or so. At 3600 feet up you open up to some nice views of Mount Washington and McClellan Butte. At 4200 feet I felt some relief knowing I was nearing the top. The trail emerges from the forest at this point and reveals something of a rock scramble up another 600 feet. And the peak looks farther than that at this point. This last stretch is a killer and took me a half hour to navigate it. I need to get in better shape.

300 feet from the top you can see a mailbox protruding upward from the peak with an American flag sticking up. A pretty cool site. I hit the top at 11am, exactly three hours from my start 4000 feet below. I was the first one up on this day, and I soundly beat the group of six that started out at the same time as me.

The trail is marked by white diamond reflectors the entire way up. I presume that's to help hikers trying this when there is snow, but I found them valuable. I few times I lost the trail. Or more accurately, I found multiple trails. Apparently if its going to be steep, there's no downside to carving your own path.

A lot of people must not finish this hike, as most of the people I passed on the way down asked me if I made it to the top. Speaking of people, I was very surprised the parking lot was full on a Friday (and not the best weather Friday to boot). In the past when I've driven past the trailhead there have been few cars there. Apparently people are moving on from Mount Si and tackling other mountains in the area.

I think I found my training ground for Mount Rainier. Screw Mount Si. :)