Sweat, Mud and Fear: When the Weather Turns in the Mountains

The warning sign!

The warning sign!

Even experienced hikers make stupid decisions sometimes. Recently, my husband and I ignored the weather forecast that called for thunder and rain later in the day and instead headed out on that dry morning to the trailhead of Mailbox Peak, located just outside of North Bend.  We just figured we would beat any looming weather and get our hike out of the way early in the day.

At the trailhead there is a clear-as-day warning stating the trail “is very steep, wet, unmaintained, difficult and challenging.”  The hike is 2.5 miles to the top and gains 4,000 feet in elevation.  This, we were not worried about.  We were in good shape and were even carrying 35 pound packs on our backs because we were training to climb Mt. Rainier.

The hike started off well enough and, as expected, was a major challenge.  There are many times when we used the roots from the trees above to pull ourselves up the next step.  As we got higher on the mountain the mud appeared and continuously got sloppier and harder to avoid.

Mailbox Peak

Our view from Mailbox Peak

Eventually we climbed out of the trees and mud and onto a rock face that led to the top.  Once out in the open we were not surprised to be in thick clouds; after all, we were not hiking that day for the view so we kept on going right to the top. Within moments of reaching the summit the rain began and it was pouring from the very clouds we were standing in.

We pulled out our rain jackets and started immediately back down the rock face.  Before we had a chance to make any headway the wind picked up and was blasting the rain directly into our faces with brutal force.  Then the lighting and thunder started.  It was so close I think my heart stopped with the first clash.

We quickened our pace.  Thunder vibrated around us as we clamored down the slick rocks.  Both of us fell at least once over this section and we had a close call when my husband fell and set loose heavy rocks that crashed into my exposed ankle.

Unharmed, we made it back into the trees and breathed a momentary sigh of relief.   That relief quickly vaporized as we realized the mountainside had become more than muddy – it was now impossible to climb down without leaving our feet every fourth step.   I was convinced that if we didn’t get struck by lightning that we’d break a leg or two. Yet somehow, we managed to get down the mountain without serious physical injury -just seriously battered egos.

A month or so later, with a clear forecast, I attempted the mountain again and enjoyed an extremely hard but otherwise eventless hike and even got to enjoy the absolutely spectacular views from the top.

A special note – when hiking in the Northwest be sure to mind the weather and know your abilities.  A couple of my favorite resources for hiking in the Cascades:

NOAA

Washington Trails Association

Hiking with My Brother

 

 

Danielle Decker

Danielle Decker is Tourism Manager, Special Projects at Visit Seattle. She loves spending time outdoors, whether that’s hiking in the mountains, snowboarding or grilling on the deck with friends and family.
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