28 February 2016
Mount Washington, North Bend, Central Cascades – Snoqualmie
10 miles, 3250 ft. climb to 4450 ft. maximum elevation
My alarm went off at 5:45 am this morning, then again at 5:54 am, and once more at 6:03 am. After two snoozes, I finally reset it for 6:30 am. The 30-minute catnap did nothing to motivate me out of my warm bed on this stormy Sunday. Instead, I lounged about for another half-hour contemplating whether I should head to a kickboxing class or hit the climbing gym instead of trek up the mountainside in this wretched weather. Guess what I decided?
Three hours after my original alarm attempted to get me moving, I found myself turning off exit 38 on I90 and driving into Olallie State Park. I finally decided to summit Mount Washington this morning. There were already two cars at the trailhead – a comforting sign I wasn’t the only crazy person out hiking in the woods on this miserably wet day. Then again, would they too be heading up to Mount Washington? Afterall, Olallie State Park is home to several popular outdoor sites, including the John Wayne Pioneer Trail (where I biked all the way through to Easton), Twin Falls Trail (which my family and I hiked last Father’s Day), and Deception Crags (where I experienced my first outdoor sport climb).
With my pack firmly buckled around my waist, I headed up the spur trail towards the JWPT. From there, I hiked uphill along the wide road, heading south, for another quarter-mile until I found the nondescript trail for Mount Washington. Marked by temporary cairns and pink ribbons, this hidden trail immediately led me up a narrow, rocky path into the forest. I was quickly treated to early spring delights of salmonberry blossoms and waterfalls from snowmelt, contrasted by the brilliant green hues of moss and ferns in this rainforest setting.
I continued up the rocky trail, followed by the roaring sounds of I90 below me. As I looked past the trees, I could see Snoqualmie Valley in the distance. While this may seem counterintuitive to my Sunday solitude, it was truly reassuring to know I wasn’t too far from civilization today. The dreariness of the day on this lesser-known trail was wreaking havoc with my mind. I wanted to make sure I could make a quick escape – or rather that someone could find me straightaway – should something unforeseeable occur.
The beauty of the trail revealed itself as I looked up towards the mountainside. I was in Seattle’s outdoor bouldering capitol, clearly identified by the many rocky faces distinctly carved into the walls of my route. I even saw bolts dangling from a cave, from which I would later see a couple attempting to climb via top rope. I wish I had my rock shoes!!! It wasn’t long before the uphill trek through rocky terrain briefly leveled out, allowing me to quickly forget the inescapable incline I just left behind. Here, I forded a number of overflowing runoffs and climbed over many downed trees before exiting the meadow.
From there, I encountered first signs of snow on the trail. Just as I passed the wooden sign indicating I was on the right path up to Mount Washington, the rocky terrain quickly disappeared under packed layers of icy winter white. Now that spring is right around the corner, it is easy to forget the upper reaches of the Cascadian peaks still carry the full weight of winter. While many a hiker have been lulled into shedding extra pack weight, I’m so glad I came prepared with all my winter gear. This was the perfect place for me to strap on my mini-crampons for added security, as the remainder of the trek to the summit was sure to be just as frosty throughout. Along the way, I came across a very wet and cold gentleman who decided to turn around after not being too sure of his way up. I did not blame him. I also crisscrossed paths with a pair of young women, who even without any extra traction and with minimal elemental protection managed to continue their way to the near summit. These three hikers were the only other folks on this trail during my ascent to Mount Washington.
As I reached the last set of signs along the border of Seattle’s Cedar River Watershed and public forest land, the incoming storm began to make its presence known. In fact, it furiously arrived as I began my traverse across the exposed boulder fields on the final ascent to the summit. I could briefly see Chester Morse Lake and Masonry Pool before the view below disappeared behind the thick shroud of winter fog. I wished I had stopped to take a photo of the water-filled landscape on my way up, but I was on a mission to reach the end of the trail before conditions became unmanageable. Sadly, I lost my chance at that splendid opportunity in exchange for an anti-climactic view of a tiny radio tower at the true peak.
It’s still February. Though we’ve been kissed by the sun this week with early spring weather in the Pacific Northwest, it is technically still winter for another three weeks. Mother Nature can be tempestuous with her many moods. Lucky me, I got to experience it all this today, particularly her fury. Yesterday’s bluebird day was quickly erased by today’s winter onslaught of rain, sleet and snow. At the top, the rain turned to icy pellets of snow that bombarded me like mini cannonballs hurled by the gale force winds across the summit. While waiting for the wind to pass, I scarfed down my sandwich under the cover of trees. I viewed the pair of hikers just below me, who were also waiting out the blustery weather under one of the large boulders. They, wisely, forewent the summit and turned around from there. I quickly made my descent past the scree slopes and back into the forest once the gusts calmed down.
The snow came down with greater speed the further down the trail I went, but thankfully changed to flakes that lightly dusted my belongings and rapidly changed to snowmelt upon touching ground. As I continued my descent, the steep rocky terrain I climbed up was now a slick slope filled with muddy puddles and loose stones for me to tentatively step over as I made my way down. The pelting snow and rain from the skies immediately above left as quickly as they came. Even though I wasn’t able to see anything while atop Mount Washington today, at least I was granted an expansive view of Snoqualmie Valley, Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, as well as Mt. Si, Mt. Teneriffe and Mailbox Peak, before they were cloaked in plain sight. Once I made it to my car, blue skies appeared overhead; a rainbow even unveiled itself in my rearview mirror as I headed home. Oh well, at least I got outside today.