Today I went to check the mail.
In the local hiking circles, Mailbox Peak is somewhat of a legend. Over two miles you gain 4,000 feet of elevation through some pretty rough terrain (There are two trails: The new one and the old one. I took the old one today as the new one had serious blowdowns). Person after person tries to take it on, some fail and some succeed. Those who fail are haunted by it and take it on in multiple attempts. Those who succeed get to open the fabled box and revel in its glorious loot.
So here I am, a guy who’s only hiked in the snow all of two times in his life (one of which was me being lost in the backcountry at a ski resort), I was still hurting from Mount Si, I didn’t sleep, and I felt sick. But it called to me, and I answered.
I have to admit, I was absolutely terrified as I drove up. I drove by mountain after mountain along Snoqualmie Pass thinking “Oh god is this it? Please don’t let this one be it”. I’d drive past and sigh with relief. But my exit was coming up, and soon I was going to get a glimpse at the behemoth before me.
When I was finally under its shadow, it legitimately crossed my mind to turn around and go back home. Along with the glamour of the legends with Mailbox, people are adamant about being cautious. I didn’t know what waited for me, and I just wasn’t feeling good about it. Nonetheless, I pulled my car into the lower parking lot, threw my pack on, and made my way up.
There’s a small road walk from the parking lot to the old trailhead. The new one sits nice and neat by the upper parking lot, but you have to work a tad more to get to the old one. I was paranoid that I’d miss it, but the trailhead doesn’t hide its presence. I stopped to read the billboard about the trail, and was overwhelmed with warning signs. It was very reassuring.
Not five minutes into my hike I really got a feel for why they call this the old trail. The initial hike is an obstacle course of blowdowns for you to navigate through. Luckily this doesn’t last long, because the trail mercilessly throws you onto a hill and demands you to start climbing. And the climbing just does not stop. 4,000 feet in 2.5 miles guys, don’t underestimate the power of these numbers.
Aw god dammit..
After I made it through the first wave of switchbacks, the trail became icy, so I threw my crampons on prematurely to avoid sliding my way to a broken arm. As I ascended, I stopped to chat with a guy coming down about the mountain, which lead into a conversation about more mountains, etc. He told me about a challenge to hike all the peaks in the area, which I thought would be awesome, but for the life of me I can’t find it on Google… ah well. I can just do it regardless, right?
There’s not much to say. I climbed. I climbed. I climbed. I climbed climbed climbed. There is no mercy on this trail, you don’t get occasional flat areas, you just get steeper angles. But here’s the weird thing.. I wasn’t that exhausted. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the first 3/4ths of this trail are hard and unforgiving, but as long as you pace yourself and take a breather every so often, it was totally doable (for me). I learned this lesson very quickly as a person who is terrible at pacing himself.
As I made my way up, people glissaded down to the bottom, and I sneered at them in envy. And then I heard noise. Distant, but approaching. I stopped, pulled out my headphone, and listened: voices.
Now, I’m not a jerk (I think). But the two people approaching me would not. Stop. Talking. I don’t think they even stopped to breathe between sentences. Not to mention they were so loud. I picked up the pace to put some distance between us, but they voices were always buzzing in the back of my mind. Yes dude, I’m sorry about your problems, but please stop talking. They were pretty much matched with my pace, so I couldn’t escape it. I opted to stand on the side of the trail and let them pass, which gave me a good excuse to wolf down a granola bar. I’m usually not too bad about this kind of thing, but these people were seriously nonstop loud noise the whole time.
Anyways, I broke through the treeline and came up to the exposed route to the summit. The initial view wasn’t too daunting really, just a bit of an uphill. I got this, no problem. My only concern was the talus hiding under the snow. I was paranoid of postholing and twisting an ankle, but as long as you check your footing, it’s not an issue.
In the distance I could see the summit. I only had a little ways to go.
After I made it over the first hill, I saw what awaited me. This was about the time I felt a little uneasy. Pictures will never do this justice: This is a steep climb. It may not be so bad in the summer, but given the snow on the ground, I was slightly apprehensive about pushing on. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a go and see how I felt about it. And really, it wasn’t so bad. There were times where one of my feet slipped out from under me, but since I was careful about where I placed my other foot and my trekking poles, it wasn’t a huge issue. It was slightly unnerving, but manageable.
After carefully shuffling myself up and over the hill, I made it to the summit in no time, and was greeted by the exalted mailbox.
When I opened it, I saw a bunch of little odds and ends. But what stuck out to me the most was a bottle of whiskey. I pulled it out, slightly hoping there would be some in there. Of course there wasn’t, but it was still an awesome find. Everything else was pretty much frozen to the mailbox sans a couple Christmas presents addressed to people who were not me. I decided to leave that alone.
I sat down, dug through my pack, and pulled out my wonderful package of poptarts. As I ate them, a gust of wind flew by and threw an unbelievable amount of powder at me. I have never been more cold in my life than I was in that very moment. The few seconds of contact left me with an aching head/face. I laughed it off with the other folks at the top, and huddled into my poptart to finish eating. I sat up there until I couldn’t take the cold any longer, and made my way down.
Oh hey, Mount S-Holy shit what the fuck?!
Now the fun begins. When I got to the first hill, I took my pack off and put my trekking poles away. Then I pulled out my ice axe. This was the first opportunity I’ve had to actually use it, and dammit I was going to learn how. I started a slow glissade down the hill and practiced self arresting a few times. You get the hang of it pretty quickly, I think the hard part is avoiding the instinct to brace yourself with your feet.
I slid down pretty much the entire mountain. It’s a hard hike up, but you’re rewarded with smooth sailing back down. And holy shit is glissading fun (I know sliding on your ass isn’t ‘technically’ glissading, but you know… whatever). There were a couple moments where it became unpleasant, like running over roots on the way down, but largely I had a lot of fun with it. The only mistake I made was leaving my crampons on when I did it.. that was dumb. I wouldn’t recommend it, it’s a good way to hurt yourself or other people. Fortunately I wasn’t gaining a whole lot of speed with the resistance my pack gave off, and I was the last one off the mountain for the day so I didn’t impale anyone with my spikey feet.
When I got down near the base of the mountain, the sun was setting. Oddly enough, being alone in the woods in the dark was very nice.
This hike was revolutionary for me. I have a healthy respect for snow, but there isn’t some huge spooky mystery behind it anymore. It’s an incredible experience, once I got back to my car I wanted to turn around and go right back up the mountain. This was incomprehensibly better than my climb up Mount Si.
I took a lot of footage on this hike. Like, 35 videos. I compressed it down to 7 minutes, and as usual, threw in swanky music. I managed to film my glissade adventures, albeit awkwardly. And I’m working on not having earthquake-tier shaking in my videos. I’ve always been better at taking pictures than I have been at filming, but I’m working in it.
Happy New Year everyone, enjoy it!