Mailbox Peak

on February 4, 2017
Cascade Mountains

Megan and I have talked about hiking together for over a year, and this weekend we finally made it happen. We looked at snowshoeing, but avalanche danger was pretty high on the west side of the Cascades, so we chose to do Mailbox Peak. It snowed for the first time in a few weeks in the mountains the night before we went.

We hiked the new trail, which was 9.4 miles roundtrip. Apparently the old one is a bit dangerous and you pretty much have to scramble straight up the hill to get there.

The trail was a bunch of switchbacks through the trees. At the trailhead, rain/snow mix came down steadily, and slowly turned to just snow as we got higher up. The trail was slush the whole way up, getting thicker as we went higher.

When we emerged out of the tree line the trail continued pretty much straight to the peak. The wind was harsher and snow whipped around us. We consulted a small group of hikers coming down in crampons and carrying ice axes. They said the peak was about 700 feet away, but the fresh snow over thick ice made it pretty sketchy even with their gear. Megan and I continued up a ways. I struggled up on of the smaller hills leading to the summit as I realized my microspikes weren’t made for hiking, but rather for walking on flat, icy streets. Megan slipped on a rock and hit her knee, and admitted she her gear wasn’t keeping her very dry anymore. So, we turned around 700 feet away (up or across, we will never know) from the mailbox at the peak.

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Megan hiking up thick ice covered in fresh snow
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Taken just before heading back towards the trailhead

No one wants to get within reach of summit and turn around, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do, usually for safety reasons. It just didn’t seem safe to continue up a mountain ridge without everyone in the party having the right waterproof or traction gear.

Farther down the trail I realized this is the third hike in the last 6 months that I haven’t finished. The first was the hike to Scatter Lake on September 4, Peter’s Birthday. As we were were on the trail, dark clouds gathered and loud thunder cracked over the mountain we were going up. It just didn’t seem like a good idea head to the top of a ridge with lightening right overhead.

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Near where Peter and I turned around on the way to Scatter Lake

Then, two weeks later on September 17 when Peter and I were hiking to Hidden Lake Lookout, we also turned around near the top because the relentless rain under no tree cover started to become a little unbearable as the elevation increased.  Alas, even if the journey isn’t completed, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it.

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The turn around point on the Hidden Lake Lookout trail
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Peter and I soaked after deciding not to go all the way to Hidden Lake Lookout

Despite our decision to turn around due to lack of certain technical gear, I do finally feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I have the right clothes to wear to be warm and dry. Below is my list.

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Wore:

  • Salomon Gore-Tex hiking boots
  • SmartWool socks
  • Swix xc ski tights (with thighs padded extra to combat windchill)
  • tight fitting base layer (tight fitting is warmer)
  • Patagonia R1 hoodie
  • Arc’teryx Gore-Tex LT rain shell
  • SmartWool neck gaiter
  • SmartWool headband
  • Patagonia fanny pack (with wallet, cell phone, keys)

Gear:

  • Hiking poles
  • Microspikes (not the right ones, as mentioned above)

Carried:

  • Arc’teryx Index 15 backpack (clothes in a garbage bag inside)
  • Ibex waterproof wool gloves
  • Hydroflask 32 oz. water bottle
  • binoculars (forgot I to use these, as always)
  • Opinel knife
  • sandwich
  • snack

Après Ski bag in the car:

  • REI fleece pants
  • extra pair of SmartWool socks
  • cozy t-shirt
  • beer
  • more snacks

The après ski is important and comforting. No one wants to sit in the car for the hour drive home with wet socks and cold feet.

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