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John Guilford's Hikes

Mt. Pilchuck on 1992-04-18

Date: 1992-04-18

Location: Mt. Pilchuck

People: (including myself): Pam Becker

			My Alt.	Real Alt.
Start:		12:50		3100
Summit:		3:45		5324 (3 miles)
Leave:		4:35
Out:		6:35
This is the first time that I've gone hiking with Pam (who hasn't hiked much recently) so I wanted to go somewhere non-trivial but not too difficult.  I screwed up (but things went well anyway :-). 

The weather was pretty good, but not great.  A series of weather systems had been moving through the area so that there was rain/snow the day and night before the hike.  It was supposed to clear up the day of the hike and it did so down in Everett.  As we drove up into the mountains, however, the clouds accumulated.  It was a light sprinkle when we started which ended up mostly being drips from trees later on.  I had expected nicer weather and neglected to bring my New Jersey Bob hat, so I opted to just get a damp head unless it got worse.  I expected to find a muddy trail (which I wasn't disappointed in) and a somewhat packed snow trail higher up (similar to what I found at Lake 22 on 92-01-18).  Just in case, and since I didn't want to get my pants all muddy I put on gaiters at the trail head, though Pam decided that she'd wait and put them on later if needed.  The trail head (if you want to call it that) is a very eroded gully.  There was an improved trail leading off on the right side near the beginning - this turned out to merely lead to some picnic areas.  Back on the main trail/gully we continued up.  The tree dripping wasn't bad and I didn't regret not having my hat.  The mud was thick in some spots (definitely not sneaker conditions).  Being a slob (and knowing that the boots would get muddy anyway) I tended to just slog though the mud, whereas Pam, who had nice clean, new boots tended to try and avoid the deeper mud, if possible. 

Earlier Pam had lamented that she had missed out on any snow this winter.  Well, that problem sure got solved! About a mile in we started hitting patchy snow.  Soon we were in the real stuff.  I'd guesstimate that the temperature was 30's-40's and the sun was playing hide and seek in the clouds (more hiding than showing).  When the sun came out it was nice and warm, but that didn't happen a good portion of the time.  Occasionally we'd get sleet sprinkles, but that wasn't as wet as the trees dripping.  We soon worked our way out of the trees into more open country.  It was real pretty (especially when the sun poked out) as everything was snow covered and the trees had a 'dusting' (a pretty wet dusting, I might add) from the recent snow.  I was keeping pretty warm moving up and was down to a t-shirt and Gore-Tex shell.  There had been a number of people ahead of us on the trail, but the trail was by no means packed down.  The footsteps were easy to follow, but we were definitely hiking in snow and kicking steps not infrequently.  Around this time, Pam decided that the gaiters sounded like a good idea and put them on.  The footsteps did a big switchback below some cliffy rocky areas after which we came to a place where the footsteps continued straight, but another set (coming down) crossed at a right angle.  I figured that the steps coming down were taking a short cut and being bold, daring, and foolish I decided to go up the slope instead of continuing on.  It was relatively steep (maybe 60 deg) but only about 25 feet high and definitely required kicking steps in to get up.  It turns out it didn't save any time as another hiker who passed us about the time we started up the slope passed us again just as we got to the top.  Oh, well.  I thought the steeper slope was more fun anyway.  The 'trail' went around a small hill and then continued up a rock scramble to the summit.  This was the nastiest part.  In the summer the rock scramble is rather fun (and it was in some ways now, too) but it was more difficult and treacherous with the rocks having an inch of snow over the tops.  We just took our time and ground our way up.  Occasionally the footsteps led near to the drop off on the north side.  I found that to be really neat.  I didn't want to get too close to the edge (for fear of cornices or the snow breaking away), but there were some really nice views.  I got a bit concerned since the going ended up being much rougher than I had intended and I was hoping that Pam would still be speaking to me at the end of the trip.  I've hiked in this kind of stuff before and it doesn't bother me (in fact, I think its fun).  However, I didn't know about Pam.  It turns out that it was just fine. 

We finally got the to summit lookout.  It was closed up, but the door wasn't locked, so I went in and signed the register.  The boardwalk around the lookout was pretty wet from meltwater from the roof, so we went down the south side a bit and found a vaguely flat rock to eat lunch on (I brought my sit pad which worked real good for keeping our sitter-downers dry and warm.  It was nice in that I had just gotten the sit pad for the climbing class and after getting it wondered why I never got one earlier).  Our hands were cold, however.  I didn't expect the conditions to be what they were, so I only brought my light polypropylene glove liners.  They did a pretty good job keeping my hands warm while climbing, but they quickly got soaked.  At lunch I took them off since it was warmer than the wet gloves would be.  I finally got a chance to pull out one of my disposable hand warmer packets that I've carried around for years.  We found that they work well if you stick them into a pocket with your hand.  The clouds were sweeping around us so there wasn't much of any view, though a bit later the sun poked through more and more and the warmth was much appreciated.  The sun also made the scenery much nicer.  We had some apples, cheese, and bread (thanks to Pam) and felt refreshed.  Since we weren't moving, we had to put on more clothes to keep warm. 

We finally decided that it was time to head back down.  Neither one of us wanted to try going back down the rock scramble (which would have been even uglier going down), so we went down the back way (which seems like the normal route this day - most people seemed to come up the scramble and go down the back).  We made some good time plunge stepping our way down the slope.  We then traversed around and after a short climb rejoined our earlier route just below where the scramble started.  The next part down was a real kick.  We got to the top of the steep slope where we had to kick step our way going up.  This was an excellent slope for a sitting glissade! A quick "Yee-haw" later, I was at the bottom.  Pam seemed a bit concerned about the prospect (she doesn't like roller coasters either) but came blasting down anyway.  Instead of taking the long switchback traverse we did coming up, we just continued straight down doing a couple more neat glissades.  The only drawback was that my gluteus maximus got a bit cold and wet, but it was fun!

Another problem that I had was that for some reason the strap on my gaiters that runs under the boot kept sliding off the back and gaiter would ride up and I'd get snow in my boot.  I'll have to adjust it better the next time. 

For some reason (probably that I'm not in that good of shape yet) I was a bit hard on various pieces of my body.  At least one place on the rock scramble up my feet slipped and I put an sudden unexpected strain on my arms and tweaked my right shoulder a bit.  On the way down, once, my left leg had a little cramp/spasm and later my right foot did, too. 

Coming down I also had a little entertaining tumble.  It was just coming down the trail (off snow now) and it wasn't even particularly muddy.  I didn't really notice what caused it, but one of my feet slipped out from under me and down I went.  Instead of just landing in a heap, though, I bounced/rolled a little bit down hill and popped back up to me feet (when you do something like this, I at least try to salvage as much grace and style as I can) with a look on my face like, "Thank you, thank you.  I meant to do that, and now on to my encore . . .". 

The trip down through the trees was drier than the trip up, as the weather had improved and there was less dripping. 

As a further interesting story (which doesn't involve the hike, really), after changing our boots (I really have to remember to bring clean socks when I go hiking and bring a change of shoes) we were getting ready to head out when we noticed a note stuck under the windshield wiper.  It started off 'Help . . .' and wasn't real clear but indicated there was a family (with a 3 yr old kid) stuck in the mud above us (we had seen some people 4 wheeling it when we were up on the mountain, and I'm guessing one of them got stuck).  The note asked us to stop at one of the taverns in Granite Falls to help them out.  It didn't make too much sense in that if they were down in Granite Falls (obviously getting a ride down with someone), why did they want us to stop there? And if they were still up here, why should we look for them in Granite Falls? Anyway, we drove to Granite Falls and went in the the bar and didn't see anyone.  Pam went up to the bartender and asked if she knew the people in the note.  The bartender read the note, and called out to one of the guys in the bar, "Hey <name>, c'mere.  This is for you." From what I can gather, the people were still up on the mountain with their truck, but had friends in Granite Falls that were likely to hang out in the bar, and wanted us to pass the message along so that the friend could come up and rescue them. 

On the whole, even though the weather was sub-optimal, it was quite a fun and enjoyable trip.  I'm deciding that I really like spring hikes in the snow. 

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Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015