Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hiking -- Mt. Pilchuck -- Snoqualmie National Forest

    Back in third grade, a friend told me that she had climbed to the top of Mount Pilchuck. At first I thought she was joking because I hadn't grown up going on any hikes that were longer than a really good walk--I didn't even realize that you could hike to the top of a mountain. While driving north one day with my parents, I remember asking them which mountain was Mount Pilchuck. They pointed out a mountain in the Cascade chain--that's when I really didn't believe my friend.
    My husband and I have continued to eye Mount Pilchuck over the years. Finally we made the decision to hike it after some coaxing from one of our good friends.
    The mountain itself is beautiful: tall, with a prominent peak, and rounded slopes--it looks a young child's  drawing of a mountain. There's typically some amount of snow on top. According to the ranger we chatted with before our hike, there's snow on the mountain almost every month of the year except late July, August, and the early part of September (if you're lucky). The bottom line is, if you're planning to hike the mountain, be prepared. You'll be going to the mountain's top, which is 5324 feet above sea level with snow, so good waterproof hiking boots are a must.
The forest on Mount Pilchuck covered in snow with views of the Cascade Mountain Range in the background

    You'll find the hike off of the Mountain Loop Highway just past the little town of Robe, WA. The road up to the trail is twisty, mostly gravel and climbs quite a bit in elevation as you go. You'll get a few pocket views through the trees on your way up, but the awesome panoramas won't start until you're on the trail.
    We hiked in early November and the trailhead was already a bit icy and snowy. On the trail, you'll start off by walking through the forest, jumping over streams, and climbing up hills and dirt stairs. It doesn't take long before the views begin. When you're able to look out and see Everett in the distance, you'll realize just how high up you've already come.
    Then, you'll step into Winter Wonderland--truly. The snow will probably be completely covering the trail, the trees, and the rocks. It's like walking into Christmas. We kept climbing and found a good portion of the hike where you follow the trail over boulders. If you have a dog with you like we did, make sure their paws don't slip down between the cracks, one of our biggest concerns. Turned out our chocolate lab did just great navigating his own way.
It was a sunny day when we hiked--here you can see one of the steepest parts of the trail

    Next, you'll round the side of the mountain and be greeted with views of the Cascade Mountains to the north. Peaks and valleys, snow and trees, we hadn't ever seen vistas like these. As you go higher, the snow will keep getting deeper. Watch your step because there are portions of the trail that are right next to the cliff and many spots that are quite slippery. A little past the halfway point we could hardly keep up a good pace because the scenery was so amazing. We wanted to stop awhile and take it all in, but it was pretty chilly, so we kept going.
Views looking toward Puget Sound, the islands, and Everett

    (For easier hiking bring a dog with you: we found that our lab literally pulled us up the mountain. It's nice to have a built-in escalator system for inclines like this.)
Yup, that's the trail--make sure you are well prepared for the steep inclines before hiking Mount Pilchuck

    When you reach the top, the panorama is jaw dropping. You'll feel like you must be in an airplane because you'll have a view of Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, Seattle, and the top of Mount Baker. But, oddly enough, you'll realize, you're still on the ground. It's an unearthly sensation.
    If it isn't too slippery, scramble up the boulders and ladder to the lookout tower. You can actually climb down into the building. We were hoping there might be a restaurant or Starbucks in there, but there wasn't.
 The white look-out tower beyond the trees at the top of Mount Pilchuck--it's cold up there, but the views are worth it

    There are two trails at the top, that goes one to the lookout tower and one to the top of another rock. We took them both to see as much as possible. We felt as though we were at the top of Dr. Suess' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" mountain with sheer cliffs on all sides of us and giant jaggedy rocks on all sides of the Mount Pilchuck's peak.
The Dr. Seuss mountain peak in the background, lichen growing on the rock on the left, and Cascade views in the background

    We had imagined there being a good place at the top to eat our lunch. The look-out tower is probably your best bet because frankly, with all the snow, there aren't many places to sit down. 
    One of our favorite parts of reaching the top of the mountain, looking out and seeing seven eagles flying at the same elevation as we were standing. It's the closest we've ever come to getting a bird's-eye view. Probably one of the best moments of our lives.
    We had a lot of fun--carefully--sliding back down the steep mountain in the snow. We all fell several times but mostly on the snow powder. Do be careful, watch your footing, and stop to enjoy the views on the way back down.
This artful slice of the cliff landed here, who knows when

Things To Know:
  • The round-trip hike to the peak of Mount Pilchuck and back is 5.4 miles
  • The elevation gain is 2200 feet
  • Make sure you are prepared for this hike before you attempt it: waterproof hiking boots, enough layers, food, water and plenty of daylight
  • It's a good idea to chat with the ranger at the Ranger Station that's on the way to the turn-off to the hike
  • You'll need a Northwest Forest Pass to park at the trailhead (this is different than the Discover Pass) you can buy it at the Ranger Station
  • Dogs are allowed on leash
  • This is not a hike to go on if it's snowing, raining, or if the conditions are at all chancy
  • For current conditions on the trail visit: http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/mount-pilchuck
Our chocolate lab enjoying the hike--as soon as we reached the bottom it was as if he was saying "Are you ready to do it again?!"

This is a phenomenal trail to enjoy the beauty of the Pacific Northwest!
Head on out Around Puget Sound...and Beyond

No comments:

Post a Comment