Alpine Conditioner: A Tale Of Two Boxes

Alpine Conditioner: A Tale Of Two Boxes

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 47.45803°N / 121.63321°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 2, 2009
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Spring

PART I: The Plan

Although I have visited Mailbox Peak several times during the past two years, including twice during the past month, the peak has continually felt like "unfinished business" to me each time I have hiked it. First, whenever I summited Mailbox Peak, the infamous mailbox had not been at the summit, causing some disappointment. Second, I had been wanting to visit neighboring Dirtybox Peak for more than a year but had repeatedly encountered conflicting hiking plans, bad weather conditions, and/or dangerous avalanche conditions when considering making such attempts.

However, everything looked good for Saturday, May 2. I had heard from some hiking friends that a mailbox was once again at the summit of Mailbox Peak, the weather was supposed to be decent, and the avalanche dangers were supposed to be minimal. The opportunity looked perfect for a hike of two mountains: Mailbox Peak and Dirtybox Peak.

PART II: Delivering To The Mailbox

Pre-Dawn Forest HikingPre-Dawn Forest Hike...

I woke up at 3:30 AM, packed my gear, and drove to the Mailbox Peak parking area. I knew the SE Middle Fork Road was under construction and the road was closed to vehicular traffic, adding approximately 0.25 miles each way to the journey. Knowing Mailbox Peak, by itself, is a great conditioning hike, I wanted to add to my training by carrying a 40-lb. hiking backpack. After putting on my backpack, I turned on my headlamp and began my journey at 5:00 AM in pre-dawn darkness.
Me, On Mailbox SummitPosing At Mailbox Peak Summit

I had to walk 0.25 miles from the car to the trailhead turnoff (i.e. "normal" parking area), and then another 0.25 miles from the turnoff/normal parking area to the Mailbox Peak Trailhead. Once on the official trail, I took multiple stops for photo opportunities, although most of the photos did not turn out due to the darkness of the thick alpine forest. The summit route became completely snow-covered at 3700' elevation. When I finally reached the lower talus slope above the mountain's treeline, the route appeared to lead up a steep snowy incline to the left of the talus boulder field. Not wanting to unnecessarily climb up the soft snow, I opted to climb directly up the boulder field... which I did so with relative ease. Then I followed the distinct trail up the second slope to the summit (4841' elevation), arriving at 8:35 AM. Much to my delight, the mailbox was there. The first summiter of the day, I opened the mailbox and put a special "Everett Silvertips" momento inside. Despite the steepness of the official trail (4000' elevation gain in 2.5 miles), the 0.5 miles leading to the trailhead from the car, wearing a 40-lb. backpack, and making stops only to take photos and create GPS waypoints, I was very satisfied with my ascent time being 2h35m. I know if I did not stop to take photos or create GPS waypoints of the route, I could have easily shave 10-15 minutes from my time. After about 15 minutes at the Mailbox Peak summit, I set my sights on my next goal: Dirtybox Peak.

PART III: A Conditioning Cleanup On A Dirtybox

Me, In Front Of DirtyboxMe, With Dirtybox Peak In Background

The summit route to Mailbox Peak is considered one of the best non-technical conditioning hikes west of Snoqualmie Pass. However, adding an ascent of Dirtybox Peak, which has no official trail, to the route greatly increases the conditioning of the journey. I knew of one hiking group that summited Dirtybox Peak the week before my attempt, and that group reached the peak by bypassing the talus slopes of Mailbox Peak and climbing southeast along the middle of the ridgeline connecting the two mountains. Then that group, having grown weary of traveling on the western side of the ridgeline to reach the Dirtybox summit, returned to Mailbox Peak by traveling along the northeast side of the ridgeline. I chose to follow neither route, initially, opting rather to directly traverse along the top of the ridgeline between the two mountains as long as I could.
Mailbox-Dirtybox TraverseA Scrambling Area...

The traverse was difficult, at times. In some places along the ridgetop, the snow had melted and some YDS Class III scrambling was necessary. In other places along the ridgetop, the snow was soft and postholing became commonplace. I was especially cautious by staying away from the northeastern tip of the ridgetop, which had a large cornice overhanging it. I did not want to make any ill-fated steps and fall through by getting to close to the cornice. Eventually, with some of the ridgeline snow conditions appearing to become increasingly unstable, after about 2/3 of the way between the two peaks I climbed downhill to some non-snowy sections before making a steep final ascent to the summit on its western side. My goals for the trip were now complete. It took 1h00m to travel to the Dirtybox Peak summit (4926' elevation) from the Mailbox Peak summit via the ridgeline connecting the two mountains. However, because I was hiking solo and already knew my ascent route, I traced my route back to Mailbox Peak rather than trying other options. I arrived back at the Mailbox Peak summit within 0h30m, shortly after the second Mailbox Peak summiter had arrived. Taking my heavy backpack on the steep ridgeline, off-trail trek added a little extra difficulty, considering the current conditions of the slopes while I was there, but I knew that would only add to my overall experience and training.
Following Snowy TracksFollowing My Snowy Tracks Back...

After taking a break at the summit, and greeting other arriving summiters, I began my return-trip to my car. During my descent of the summit slopes, unlike my boulder-filled ascent I opted to instead follow the "standard" route down the steep snowy slope on the side of the talus field. This proved to be quite dangerous, actually, as the snow was softening; I, along with ascending climbers I passed, were starting to fall through some spots between boulders underneath the snowpack. I made it down the slope without injury, but then proceeded to recommend following the exposed talus slope (as I had done earlier that morning) to ascending hikers I passed. I didn't want any hikers breaking their ankles from suddenly sinking through snow and slamming into unseen rocks below the snowpack. Some said they would take the advice to heart, while others were determined to follow the "standard" route no matter the difficulty or dangers. Despite making multiple stops along my descent to talk with most passing-by ascending hikers, I still made it back to my car just slightly sooner than the second Mailbox Peak summiter of that day. To be the first person up and down Mailbox Peak, while including a successful summit of Dirtybox Peak, was quite an achievement I never would have guessed I would have done. My conditioning had been steadily improving; I might have struggled to have such an accomplishment only two months prior. My Mailbox-Dirtybox Traverse was a complete success; I could now check these "boxes" off my "to do" list.


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Dirtybox PeakTrip Reports
Mailbox PeakTrip Reports