General Stats about the climbMt. Pilchuck
6 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain 2500 ft
Difficulty: One 70 ft Class 2 scramble on an otherwise walk up
September 29th, 2007
UP: 1 hour 12 minutes
DOWN: 50 minutes
TIME ON TOP: 15 minutes
There are often times when you do strange things that defies logic just to say you did them. This trip is one such trip. The weathermen were calling for an unusually powerful storm for this time of year that was supposed to drop snow levels down to 4000 feet in Washington state. To head off to the hike we were going to have to being late because of prior obligations. Look like a no go right! No way!
All week I had been hounding my friend Curt on doing this hike. One of the biggest quotes I told him was “You can’t make it up Rainier if your not willing to hike in bad weather“. He laughed at that first because he has been to the summit of Rainier and Pico Orizaba, but apparently my words stuck, because even when I was thinking about changing my tune he quickly reminded me about that quote. Also our previous experience with the sky island situation at Granite Mountain was a strong reminder that the summit weather might be better than below. Plus Mount Pilchuck clearly was not as long or as difficult a hike up as Granite Mountain.
Adding to the factors here against us was sundown which was at 7:00 pm. We thought clearly that there was going to be some night hiking and on some of parts of the trail. One wrong move on parts of this trail could make you end up with a long drop. Curt and I knew we were going to have to hurry up the mountain if we going to beat nightfall on the ledges.
We got to the trailhead around 4:30 pm. and were shocked to see as many hikers as there were for a crummy day. It was raining and as people were coming down they were warning us that it was snowing on the summit. One hiker made a remark about us getting a late starting time. I told him that we were quick (if you know me, you know this is not true) and we needed the practice for Rainier. Curt and I though were both stocked with food and a headlamp in case of nightfall or bad weather. We quickly walked passed the stream and the waterfall and headed up the easy walkup trail. We were rapidly moving, racing time on this mountain. Within 30 minute we had broke into some openings where normally views would break out but today there was only fog. At about 4500 feet we broke past snowline but lucky the snow had not penetrated the trail. At one point we went off trail on but was looked be the trail but quickly we discovered that this was another route and we quickly got ourselves back on the trail. The trail up was rather easy but was not very run able due to the fact that it was a little rocky.
About a hundred feet higher we hit a section where the snow had finally started to stick to the trees. Still we pressed on knowing that the summit was close at hand. The snow was starting to accumulate on the trail and trees were easily covered with an inch of the white stuff. Just when we were about to scratch our head we saw faintly through the fog and snow the lookout tower. It was so close but that 70 foot Class 2 boulder scramble and an icy ladder to the tower stood in our way. Well we didn’t get up here for nothing. We proceeded with Curt taking the lead. Though the scramble was and ladder was icy we negotiated the scramble perfectly and made it up the slippery ladder and into the lookout tower. My hands were in terrible pain due to the fact that I did not have gloves but I happy to make it!!!
The lookout was very modern and had a diagram of all of the mountains we would see on a clear day. But this was not a clear day and we could see but 30 feet in front of us due to the fog and the falling snow. Luckily for us the lookout had some sort of greenhouse effect because it was comparatively very warm inside. We stayed in long enough to take some picture and head on off the mountain.
Going down we took our time on the scramble but once passed the scramble it was time to fly. We both rushed down the mountain. Still it was beginning to get dark and safety was a major concern to both of us. So whenever the trail got less rocky we would run a section of it. Yet if with the quick hiking we got more and more concerned especially with the rain becoming more of a downpour. Both of us now past the ledges kept on cruising down this mountain. Then we notice we were close and quickly started running past the stream. All of the sudden there it was the end of the trail and just before dark. I gave a huge scream of relief from making down the mountain. Then I asked the only guy left in the parking lot about the time. When he said 6:50 pm I was in shock because it meant that we made it down in only 50 minutes. For most experienced hiker this is average but for my slow body I was very happy with the resulting time.
This hike produced very little in terms of picture or views but it did provide memories and confidence to me about my hiking skills. I needed that boost after being beat by a five year old the time on Granite Mountain. Now with the snow I wonder how October is going to be.
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