Sunday, May 05, 2013

Trail Report: Mailbox Peak 2013

For my birthday, I decided I wanted to hike Mailbox Peak. I'd done it once before two summers ago and I wanted to do it again since it's a great accomplishment as well as a great workout.

Mailbox Peak is one of the toughest day hikes in Washington. It is 2.5 miles to the top with a 4000 foot elevation change. Some people use it to train for Mt. Rainier (you have to be able to do Mailbox Peak in a certain amount of time with a weighted pack in order to go to Camp Muir on Rainier).

When I was originally looking for hikes to do, I came across a photo of this sign. As soon as I saw this, I knew this was the hike I had to do. Some of the reviews for Mailbox Peak on Yelp are also pretty entertaining.

You start the hike by walking through a pretty forest. After that, things get rough. Mailbox Peak has several very steep, short switchbacks. If you're not walking up a steep incline, you're having to bend down and grab trees or rocks to pull yourself up. Hiking Mailbox Peak is like going up an extremely steep set of stairs, and 30% of the stairs are two feet high. The trail doesn't let up at all. On top of that, the trail is muddy and there are tree roots everywhere. It looks like something out of Lord of the Rings.


I started out with the backpack, which weighed about 20 lbs. Since I'm not in the best shape right now and since I had a lot of respiratory problems as a kid, we were going pretty slowly and my breathing made me sound like I was dying. My boyfriend wore the backpack the remaining 2/3 of the way up, which helped our speed. I'll have to work my way up to carrying the backpack the whole way.

When we broke out of the tree line, we were soon confronted with snow. Before we got here I wasn't sure how much snow would still be on the mountain, but it was more than I had anticipated, especially on the rock field. When I first hiked Mailbox Peak in the late summer, this is what the rock field looked like.

It looked a little different this time....

Half of the rock field was covered in snow. We weren't quite equipped for this, but we didn't want to climb up the rocks. Going up the snow hill was a bit frightening. It was slippery and since we were walking over a rock field, there were a few deeper holes in the snow where the spaces between the rocks were. It was pretty steep (the photo doesn't do it justice) and we didn't have a lot of traction - we had to dig our boots into the snow and step carefully. Sometimes we had to dig our hands into the snow to keep from sliding backwards. When I got to the top, I was not looking forward to going back down.

After the snow hill, the ground was dry in most places. The final stretch is also very steep and there are a lot of loose rocks. I spent over half of my time keeping low to the ground and bending down to grab onto rocks for support. Heights don't really bother me, but when I'm climbing/crawling up a steep, loose path that's out in the open, it can be slightly unnerving. If you fall, there's a good chance you'll plummet off the side and die.

It took us 3 hours to get to the top, but it was all worth it. It was a perfectly clear day and I could see the surrounding Cascades and Mt. Rainier. I could even see the Olympic Mountains and Seattle in the distance. And there was the mailbox - the reason it's called Mailbox Peak.

Gorgeous view of the Cascades.

Mt. Rainier

Seattle to the west; Olympic Mountains in the background

The mailbox at the top

After enjoying the view at the top and having a snack, we started our descent. When we got back to the snow hill, it didn't seem as scary as the first time. We slowly made our way down, and then about halfway we decided to slide down the rest of the hill, even though we were wearing shorts. It saved time and it was pretty fun. I would have loved to do it with long pants or a sled.

Going back down the mountain was hard in a different way. It was like going down a steep hill where you're taking baby steps and going slowly so you don't fall forward. Only it was like that for 2.5 miles, and there were plenty of tree roots to trip over and mud to slip on. My legs were pretty tired, weak and shaky going down. It felt kinda like someone had shredded my lower body. But we made it down and we were happy to be done!

I'm looking forward to doing more hikes this summer and seeing how they compare to Mailbox Peak. :)