Originally, I'd planned to hike this with some new friends, but after a challenging snowshoe one day, we weren't up for the challenge of Mailbox Peak the next. So it stayed on my bucket list.
Mailbox Peak - Photo by Pig Monkey (Flickr Creative Commons)
This week, I decided to tackle it on my own. The forecast was for sun and clouds, and the avalanche danger was lowered to moderate, so it seemed like a good time to go.
Frequently, I do things that sound good in my mind but, in hindsight, maybe aren't the best of choices.
Mailbox Peak is infamous in this area as being really, really hard. The trail description on the Washington Trails Association website says "Wimpy hikers, turn the page. This trail offers nothing for you but pain and heartbreak." I thought, "Really though, how bad could it be?" Did I mention that this would only be my fourth real hike of the season?
I arrived at the parking lot at 9:30 am. At the trailhead, there were a bunch of walking sticks leaned up against the kiosk as if to say "No really, you'll need one of these because your knees will be screaming!" The trail map showed a red line heading straight up the hill, perpendicular to all of the contour lines. Still, I thought, "It can't be that bad."
I've been on steep trails before. I hiked five days in the Alps carrying a 40-pound pack without any physical preparation. I've hiked to Mount Si, which climbs around 800 feet per mile, with no issues.
What's another 475 feet of elevation per mile on Mailbox Peak?
I am not going to lie. It was terrible. The trail wasn't just really steep, it was covered in roots which made for many additional steps and a need for extra caution.
There were places that were so steep I slipped backwards a little with every step. At one point (as in the point when I was hiking uphill) I thought I was going to, umm, lose my lunch. There was snow near the top that was packed and slick from people sliding on it so I lost my footing in some places.
I had generously allowed three hours for me and the dogs to get to the top and at three-and-a-half hours we were still about a half-mile from the summit. The sun the forecast has promised was obscured by thick, dark fog at the top. I was exhausted and needed to get back for class so I took some photos from our lunch spot and headed back down. That also was terrible.
Those slick snow spots made me fall and slide 10 or 20 feet several times. Since one of the dogs was in front of me, it meant I went careening down the slope toward him. I didn't want to run him over so I kept shouting "Go, go, go!" so he would stay just in front of me.
The hundreds of steps on the way up were even harder on my creaky knees on the way down. I fell once and rolled about five feet on the trail because my foot got caught on a tree root at the same time one of my knees gave out. Normally when I hike downhill my time is at least an hour faster than going uphill. This was so slow going that it took about the same time to hike down as it did up.
I ended up being late for my 6 pm class. You wouldn't know we even hiked by looking at the dogs but I could hardly walk the next day.
No harrowing adventure is ever as bad when you look back on it as it seemed at the time, of course, but in this case, I didn't reach the top and I have that challenge mocking me.
Now that I know what to expect, I will be more mentally prepared next time. I know not to bring both dogs because they move at different speeds. One was constantly pulling me downhill and one was constantly tripping me up.
As horrible as it was, I may go back Mailbox Peak — at least once to take a picture of the iconic mailbox.
What about you? Have you been challenged by a hike recently? What's your strategy for getting back out there?