That *smile* above? My face had frozen like that. There was no happiness flowing through my veins at any point through this hellish nightmare of a trek. In fact, between the temperature and the soul that had long since given up on life, I don’t think much of anything stirred within.
Mailbox has more than earned it’s reputation as one of the most brutal summer hikes in the state. I should know. After months of constant hiking—testing myself on progressively harder journeys—one trip up Mailbox peak was enough to make me swear I’d never do it again.
Rainier? Any day of the week.
Glaciated peaks along Baker? Sure thing!
100 miles along the PCT? I’m in.
But you keep that cursed 6 mile Mailbox Loop away from me.
And yet, here I found myself.
After multiple snow-induced spinouts completely closed off a stretch of highway that lay ahead of our prior destination, we needed a backup. I vetoed Mt. Si, saying it was too boring. She (rightfully) denied my Pilchuck request, as it was quite a ways away. I wanted to wait out the delay in hopes of still making it to Snow Lake, but it wasn’t to be. While we didn’t stay around, turns out that the stretch of I90 between us and Snow Lake was closed off for almost two hours. Yikes.
Still unsure of our destination, we had at least determined that our hike should be special. And by special... I mean miserable.
It’s tradition, after all.
Pretty self-explanatory, but basically we try to find the most brutal, soul-crushing, hope-defiling, agony-inducing mountain trail imaginable.... And climb it. Bonus points if the weather is adhering to the theme.
Well it just so happens that there is one such trail that fits the bill like a hand in a pocket. Mailbox Peak. With continuous heavy precipitation throughout the entire day, there is quite literally no other outdoor adventure I could imagine that could even come close to the level of sheer “nope”.
So we fuckin’ sent it.
The first half up I wanted to go back down. This gives you an idea of steepness. The girl ahead of me is maybe 10 feet in front of The second half up I prayed—PRAYED—to be eaten by a bear. The first half down... I just wanted warmth. Anything to help with the bone-chilling wetness that had permeated my being. The last half down I was hoping to trip badly enough to be put out of my misery.
Waterproof gear wetted out completely within twenty minutes, unable to withstand a downpour that was present for the entirety of the hike.
At the halfway point water changed phases and a new enemy reared it’s angry head. Snow—blown sideways—pelted us as we ascended the thigh burning trail that refused to level off for even a second.
The footing was abysmal even with microspikes, and my 6'1" long-limbed frame could barely step high enough to match the grade of this *trail*. Mailbox laughs at puny switchbacks. Mailbox doesn’t waver. Mailbox doesn’t hesitate. Mailbox goes up.
We kept going
My water hose froze solid, so I ate snow.
My shoe came untied, and my numb hands couldn’t handle the rigid laces.
Glasses were constantly covered in a thick film of caked on snow, so my vision was reduced to what I could feel with my feet.
Falls? How many? It would be quicker to tell you how many times I didn’t fall.
We didn’t stop for food at any point either. Stopping meant a reduction in activity, which was the sole thing keeping our miserable carcasses from succumbing to the incessant rain. Snow. Sleet. Wind.
After hours, days, weeks.... We reached the summit. That final slog had drained us, though. Above the treeline you come upon a rock field. This field marks the final stretch, where tired muscles must band together to carry broken frames a paltry quarter-mile further. The catch—of course there’s a catch—is that this final quarter-mile is home to not only a coverless wasteland at the mercy of the wind. The issue isn’t the unsure footing where each step is a gamble. The suddenly foot deep snow isn’t the real problem.
No... The catch is that this final quarter-mile section is 750ft of elavation gain.
There are no words worthy enough to recount the struggles endured to overcome the rock field.
Endured we did. Mailbox, in sight.
The peak was ours. We had conquered it.
The peak didn’t mind though, as it knew our frail bodies could handle it’s abode but briefly. It had seem many come and go. Fleeting moments to a 5000ft giant that since the advent of hiking had towered over the taller mountains calling Washington their home. Joined by many other peaks in it’s range, Mailbox still stands alone.
Within minutes we headed back down. There was no room for the joyous sense of accomplishment that accompanies most summits.
Just suffering. Because all of the obstacles we’d struggled to overcome throughout the day... They had another chance to take us down.