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Mailbox Redux

Remember Mailbox Peak? The mountain that was supposed to provide one of the most difficult, thigh-burning day hikes in the region? When I climbed it last October my reaction was a cocky “Psch. That ain’t no challenge! Maybe will a full pack it’d cause some pain.” Yesterday, I climbed it again. This time with a 60lb rucksack on my back.

Reaching the summit took three exhausting, slow hours. I allowed myself only one 10 minute break each hour. For the last quarter of the hike I was just stumbling along, slowly plodding my way up higher and higher (thinking “Whose bright idea was this?”). The trail near the top was too covered with snow and ice to make it smart to attempt without some sort of traction device, so I opted for the neighboring boulder field. Scrambling up that required more leg power, balance, and mental facilities than I had left at the time, but I managed to make it.

Upon reaching the summit, I immediately dropped my pack and sat down. I could only relax for a minute before realizing that I was freezing. And so I had to exert myself further by grabbing more layers from my pack and tossing them on.

View from Mailbox

I realized that I was dizzy, shaking, and – despite having been constantly sucking on my hydration hose on the way up – not sweating as much as I felt that I should have been, so I took a packet of Emergen-C from my first aid kit, dumped it into one of the 1 liter water bottles I had been using for weights, and forced myself to drink it all down before starting my descent.

View from Mailbox

I felt better after that and, munching on some granola, wandered around the summit, enjoying the view. It had been a spring-like day, with only a few clouds and temperatures around 50F at the bottom. Gazing at the other peaks with their light dustings of snow, I decided that the hike had been worth it.

Mailbox Peak

There was only one mailbox up there this time. The black one must have blown away.

I decided to head down. The boulder field was tricky going, but, afterward, it was just a slow and steady plodding down the mountain. Near the bottom I had to poo, but, upon assuming the position, discovered that I didn’t have the length strength left to squat.

Finally, I made it back to the trail head, around two and a half hours after leaving the top. That night I had energy only to shower and eat a double serving of oatmeal before crashing. Today, I am stiff, but not as sore as I thought I would be.

Goat Lake

I wandered into the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness this morning, taking a 10 mile walk with full pack to Goat Lake. The lake is a popular destination for day trippers in the summer, which has always caused me to avoid the place. I figured the warm winter might give me a chance to enjoy the area with a few less bipeds around.

The trail was deserted, making it an enjoyable jaunt. As per usual for this unusual year, no snow nor ice was encountered. There was quite a bit of blow-down and a few land slides, most likely from this year’s storms, which caused me to misplace the trail now and again, but it was otherwise uneventful.

Hank's Country

I’ll say one thing about old Hank: he’s got some big cedars in his country. I mean, big. Some looked like they may almost match a sequoia. The going was slow, as every 10 feet or so I encountered another that required a pause, a bend of the neck, and a moment’s consideration. There was also evidence of past logging, such as Tree On a Stump. A nice little “fuck you” to humans from the forest, I thought.

From one particularly aged and gnarly specimen, I cut a branch of needles. I planned to make tea later and perhaps infuse some of that 1,000 vitality into myself.

Goat Lake and Cadet Peak

The lake itself had no ice, but Cadet Peak above was topped with snow. It was difficult to tell where mountain ended and sky began, for all the white clouds in the afternoon sky.

Lunch at Goat Lake

Lunch was intended to be couscous with a bit of curry, but ended up being curry with a bit of couscous. Afterward, I washed it down with warm cedar tea and a few chunks of dark chocolate – a combination most pleasing to my tongue.

Then: a walk back home as the sun set.


I don't know what the answer is. In time man gets used to almost anything, but the problem seems to be that technology is advancing faster than he can adjust to it. I think it's time we started applying the brakes, slowing down our greed and slowing down the world. I have found that some of the simplest things have given me the most pleasure. They didn't cost me a lot of money either. They just worked on my senses. Did you ever pick very large blueberries after a summer rain? Walk through a grove of cottonwoods, open like a park, and see the blue sky beyond the shimmering gold of the leaves? Pull on dry woolen socks after you've peeled off the wet ones? Come in out of the subzero and shiver yourself warm in front of a wood fire? The world is full of such things. - Richard Proenneke, One Man's Wilderness

Lake Twenty Two

I tossed another 10lb weight in my pack and headed out to the Mount Pilchuck area. I ended up walking out to (the creatively named) Lake Twenty Two at the base of Pilchuck and bushwhacked around the research natural area a bit.

Lake Twenty Two

There was very little snow. It’s going to be a dry summer.

Lake Serene

I’ve been doing a few training hikes lately: loading the old rucksack up with 55-60lb, walking through forests and scrambling up peaks. The winter has been unusually warm, which has allowed me to access places that are usually off-limits this time of year without technical equipment. Yesterday I ventured out to Lake Serene, at the base of Mt. Index (just the other side of the Skykomish valley from Baring Mountain).

Mt. Index

At a little over 7 miles (round trip) and only 2,000 feet elevation gain, this was a relaxing walk; a bit of an award to myself for completing the other, more difficult climbs.

Lake Serene

The trail was snow free till about a mile or so before the lake. After that, there was a dusting of crusty snow – no more than an inch – and quite a bit of ice.

I ate lunch at the frozen lake, watched an avalanche on Index’s north peak, and raced the sun back home.

Lake Serene and Mt. Index

Mailbox Peak

I hiked to the top of Mailbox Peak today, near Snoqualmie Pass. The trail has a reputation of being one of the toughest short day hikes in the Cascades: it’s only about 3 miles one way, but you gain 4,100 feet. That makes it a bit steep. The Mountaineers and the Washington Trail Association has this to say:

Wimpy hikers, turn the page. This trail offers nothing for you but pain and heartbreak. If you think you've got the goods to scramble up more than 1000 feet per mile, read on. Mailbox Peak brings a serious burn to the thighs of even the best-conditioned athletes, but the rewards make it all worthwhile.

The sign at the trail head warns:

Mailbox Peak Trail is a very steep, wet, unmaintained, difficult, challenging trail. It is 2.5 miles one way to the top and gains 4,00 feet in elevation. Search and rescue teams are frequently called to this trail to assist distressed hikers. Please respect your own ability.

I figured it was all just a bunch of hype. It didn’t look that bad, standing at the bottom.

The trail starts out on an agreeably shallow grade for the first 100 meters or so. Then it gets steep. Then steeper. Then a bit steeper yet. Still, it’s not the challenge it’s made out to be. It may separate the obese, McDonald’s eating, TV watching, weekend warrior (1 in 4 people in the state, last I heard) from anyone who’s ever climbed a mountain before, but it certainly isn’t going to “bring a serious burn to the thighs of even the best-conditioned athletes”.

Mailbox Peak

The view from the top, in contrast to the hike up, was not over-hyped. Today was a crisp, clear Autumn day and one could see for miles in all directions. Mount Si, Glacier Peak, and Mt. Rainier were all visible. And at the top, there is not one but two mailboxes. (I vote we change the name to Mailboxes Peak.) One contained something called a TerraCache, which is some sort of alternative to geocaching. The other held the log book and a number of odds-and-ends that people had left behind. At the base of one of the mailboxes was a firefighting helmet. The state’s Fire Training Academy sits just at the base of the peak and they often use the trail as part of their physical training. (I’m told that they once hauled a fire hydrant up the peak. That is quite a feat.)

Mailbox Peak

I’d like to return to the trail with a fully loaded rucksack on my back. That would be some thigh burning!

Spring Training

Last February I began a training ritual in preparation for my anticipated journey to Spain. Every weekend that I could, up to the very time of my departure, I would load up my Kifaru ZXR with the heaviest books I owned till it reached something in the range of 70-80 lbs, then head out the door and hike 15-20 miles. In reality, this is far more weight than I usually carry while traveling and I tend not to walk much more than 15 miles a day. But by pushing my body and mind further than where I actually require it to go, the pleasure, serenity, and ease of travel is heightened.

I find that no amount of running, biking, or light-weight day hiking adequately prepares the body for the weight of the ruck and life on The Road. So, this year, I’m continuing the training. Yesterday was day one. I hadn’t walked under my heavy rucksack for a couple of months, so I started out with something probably closer to 50 lbs and did a 15 mile trip that lacked much elevation change.

It felt good to dust off the rucksack and move around some. At the end of the day, I could feel the strain in my gluteal muscles. Today I’m only a little bit sore. The exercise works and I’m glad of my starting weight and mileage.

In the coming weeks, I’ll increase the weight and mileage until I reach stability. At that point, I’ll keep things interesting by using my GPS to clock my speed and see what I can do about cutting down on time.

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least -- and it is commonly more than that -- sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say, A penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them -- as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon -- I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago. Henry David Thoreau

My Morning Triathlon

I always run on Saturday morning. When my schedule allows it, I try to get in at least one additional run at some point during the week. The past few months, this didn’t happen very often. Since the new year, my schedule now allows me to run on both Tuesday and Thursday mornings, in addition to the usual Saturdays.

This morning was the first run I had taken in close to a month where it wasn’t raining (or snowing). It was so enjoyable that I decided to add something extra: at the park that marks my half-way point, I stopped and did 45 elevated push-ups off one of the benches before continuing on home. When I first started running again, it actually felt a little easier, since my legs and lungs had gotten about a minute break from the running, but soon after I discovered that my abdominal muscles weren’t too happy with me.

After running on weekdays, I only have about a 20 minute break to take a shower and break-fast before jumping on my bike and pedaling off to work. My morning commute is all up a hill that gets progressively steeper as one gets higher. Over the winter holidays, my office was moved about another half mile up the hill. Rather than riding my bike all the way up, I’ve taken to going up only about halfway, then walking up 55 stairs with the bike on my shoulder.

I find running more satisfying in the winter

There’s still 6” of snow on the ground (more predicted for tonight) and temperatures are hovering around 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit. The only runners on the trail this morning were myself, two women, and a fellow who looked to be in his 70s.

Two days ago (when the powder was fresh and the snow still falling), it was only me and a couple folks on skis.

What’s with that? Why retreat to central heating when you can generate your own warmth, achieve the satisfying feeling of beating up your body, and be harder, better, faster, stronger the next day?

(Rinse, repeat.)