I hiked up Mt. Pilchuck with Adam on Saturday (October 16, 2010). This weekend was possibly the last hiking-friendly weekend of the year up here in the Pacific Northwest. Anyway, conquering a mountain totally counts as a project for the purposes of this blog. Especially when the hike is tracked by GPS and the hikers encounter treacherous ice!
There is no map at the trailhead, but the 3 mile trail (which ascends over 2,200 feet) looks like this from above:
I had hiked up to Lake Serene a few weeks ago, which is also some 2000+ feet in under 3 miles, and involves a lot of switchbacks and wooden staircases built into the trail. I expected the same of this Pilchuck mountain, but it's not really like that at all. The first mile of the trail is kind of similar: tame, upward-sloping trail, the occasional man-made steps, a little creek to hop over about 5 minutes in. At about one mile, the trail has a switchback through a bunch of boulders. The second mile is a little rockier. After about two miles, there is a lovely panoramic vista to the north, and then the trail really starts scrambling up the mountain.
At this point, maybe 2 miles in, I had to put my camera away so it wouldn't get crushed between myself and a rock if I slipped and fell. The trail was basically all rock at this point, which would have been okay, except that it was icy rock. Many places you'd normally want to plant your feet on the granite were too slippery. Mud from other people's boots froze on the popular stepping locations so you had think hard about where to step and aim for gravely crevasses. The iciness was probably a consequence of doing this hike mid-October.
This photo may give you a good idea of all the rocks, if not the ice. The trail manages to transport hikers from this vantage point all the way to the top of that there mountain.
Towards the top of the mountain, the trail came around to the sunnier South side and stopped being icy. At the top of the mountain is a nifty lookout hut with history information inside and a sweet wraparound balcony. It's not just on top of the mountain, it's on top of a crazy pile of boulders on top of the mountain. The most scrambling of the whole trip happens here to get up the boulders and then up a ladder to the lookout. It's very cool.
This hike is accessible from the Mountain Loop Highway, near Granite Falls, WA. It is a little bit past the entrance to Mt. Baker National Forest. I read on the internet (and can now confirm) that the Mt. Pilchuck access road is the right turn directly after the silver+blue truss bridge. The access road is about 7 miles long and kind of gravely. There's a parking lot at the end that requires a Northwest Forest Parking Permit.
Some handy GPS coordinates of the turnoff so you can get driving directions:
48.085808,-121.760623 (turnoff from mountain loop highway)
48.071677,-121.812766 (approximate location of parking lot trailhead)
Somewhere the internet said the hike took 3.5 hours round trip. It took me 5 hours. While I consider myself a fit 20-something, I do hike kind of slowly, especially on rocky, icy terrain. I also stop frequently to take pictures.
Do this hike! I recommend waiting for a dry, warmish day... and maybe bringing your hiking poles. It's fun and challenging, the summit lookout shack is neat, and the view is amazing. A whole slew of photos from my trip can be found here on Flickr.