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John Guilford's Hikes

Mt. Pilchuck on 2000-05-22

Date: 2000-05-22

Location: Mt. Pilchuck

People: (including myself): Pam

			My Alt.	Real Alt.	Miles
Start:		12:00	3080	3140
Clearing:	12:40	3440
Below sub-peak:	1:25	4340
Ridge:		1:45	4700
Lookout:	2:25	5320	5324		3
Leave:		3:00	5280
Top of Ridge:	3:20	4720
Clearing:	3:40	3580
Out:		4:00	3100
The bottom part of the Mt. Pilchuck access road was in pretty good shape, at least up to a pair of gates (leading to private property?).  Then some pretty good sized potholes appeared.  The middle part of the road (which is seven miles long) had relatively clear stretches and stretches where you could not avoid going through the potholes.  The top third of the road is again in good shape, paved and smooth.  We had to stop just before the parking lot proper due to snow on the road.  There were about a dozen vehicles parked along the side of the road.  The weather wasn't the best.  About half way up the road we entered fog/cloud.  At the end of the road there was no sign of a let up.  By the time that the fog cleared out later in the day, high clouds had come in.  That didn't prevent my face from getting some color from the sun. 

This was a try-out hike for my new mountaineering boots (Montrail Verglas).  I'd worn them around work for a couple weeks, but hadn't taken them into the back country yet.  To help get in shape for summer climbs, I brought my frame pack as well as two extra gallons of water for extra weight.  The pack wasn't that heavy, but it was more than a day pack. 

The trail started just a short distance up the road.  There was enough traffic that it wasn't hard to find.  I brought along ski poles.  I had thought about bringing my ice axe but decided against it.  It turns out that I missed it later on and wished I had brought it. 

About ten or fifteen minutes up the trail we met a couple of snow boarders who were using a shovel to build some snow ramps for doing some jumps.  There the trail of foot steps split.  One set of tracks went off to the right and one set continued straight.  We took the right side track thinking that it might be the normal hiking path.  We followed it about five minutes till it petered out to nothing.  We retraced our steps back to the snow boards and continued up the other path.  This was the main track.  A half hour up the trail opened into a board flat clearing.  There the main track of prints turned right straight up a relatively steep hill.  This was the base of the old ski slopes.  The normal hiking trail veered off to the right some place earlier, but it can be pretty hard to find a trail under the snow. 

[ PIX2 ] We turned and started up the hillside.  This turned out to be the first of several hills will more level patches between them.  You'd go up a ways, find a flatter spot, and then go up some more.  One of the hills was particularly steep (maybe 60 degrees?).  Here was one place the ice axe would have worked better than the ski poles.  The snow was really in nice shape.  It was soft enough that it was relatively easy to kick steps, but consolidated enough to support your weight w/out giving way.  I varied from using existing steps to kicking my own with Pam following.  When the fog cleared a bit we could see above us a rocky point.  It was too close to be the summit, and it didn't have a lookout on top.  It was the sub-peak named Little Pilchuck.  We ascended the hillside until just below the cliffs leading up to Little Pilchuck and turned left to a rising traverse to the ridge line (back on the normal summer trail route).  We were getting hungry by then and had half a bagel on the way to the ridge. 

After climbing the last hillside to the ridge saddle, we turned left to follow the ridge for a short distance before turning right around the back of the summit cone.  We ran into a party of a half dozen coming down along with their puppies (we had seen puppy prints on the way up).  The "trail" narrowed in places and some of the snow was chewed up, particularly around trees (which hid tree holes) which made the travel a little tricky in places.  I gave Pam one of my poles along here.  The wind had come up and it turned cool.  I had started off hiking in a poly-pro t-shirt, flannel shirt, and Gore-Tex shell but soon had to take off the flannel shirt.  During the climb up to the summit I was getting cold but decided to wait to the lookout before changing into something warmer. 

The trail curves around to the south side of Pilchuck and ascends to the lookout.  In places the snow was getting a bit crusty.  On the way to the lookout we climbed up some rocks leading to the south side of the lookout.  This was a little tricky with the snow.  We then discovered that the easier was is to traverse around to the right of the lookout to a ladder leading up to the northeast corner. 

The lookout only had one of its shutters open, the shutter over the door.  Inside the lookout, the wind outside sounded worse than it was.  I wouldn't like to be there in a real wind storm. 

By the time we were ready to leave, we were the only ones left at the lookout.  We couldn't see anyone coming up and even though we were confident that we wouldn't be the last ones up today, we weren't comfortable leaving the lookout with the shutter up, so we closed it up.  Of course a few minutes down from the lookout we passed some other people coming up.  Too bad they weren't a few minutes earlier.

Coming down went relatively fast.  Pam had one of the ski poles and I had the other.  Plunge stepping worked well.  Once we got down from the immediate vicinity of the lookout, the wind died down and it warmed up. 

As we descended the hillside (the old ski area) there were some snow boarders playing one the slopes as well as one party that had left the lookout before us.  Due to my pack and not wanting to get wet, I elected not to glissade down though it would have been a perfect slope for it.  Plunge stepping worked well and was almost as fast.  I again missed not having my ice axe when I got to the steepest section of the hillside. 

All in all, the snow helped our travel time leading the fastest trip Pam and I have done.  The trip down was half the time it usual has been.  I was pleased with how my new boots worked.  They were reasonably comfortable and were easy to kick steps with.  I didn't need to put on any moleskin.  I used my medium gaiters and think that perhaps the large would have fit better.  When I got down, there was some snow inside the gaiter.  I don't know whether it came in from the top or from the bottom, but suspect the latter.  While plunge stepping down the slopes, it wasn't unusual to bury my leg to above the gaiter in the snow, so it could have come from the top, but I didn't end up with much or any snow inside the boot.  Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to see how I liked the boot on non-snow terrain.  That will have to wait for a later hike.  Pam went with two socks this time and that worked well for her.  Her feet got wet but she didn't get any blisters nor had sore feet. 

On the drive home, it started raining when we were passing Verlot. 


[ PIX2 ] John, ascending hillside below Little Pilchuck

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