Mt. Washington

After a week in sunny Mexico I came home just in time for the Martin Luther King Day holiday. I wanted to get in some elevation gain. Anywhere but Tiger Mountain again. A recent report mentioned no snowshoes needed for Mt. Washington. I was surprised to see it had been well over a year since my last visit. I expected ice and made sure to add microspikes to my pack. Not everyone has MLK off as a holiday but traffic was light. Half way there I recalled not transferring my Discover Pass. No parking in the lot this day. I left I-90 at Exit 38 to find ice along the side of the road. It was windy and 23 degrees when I started out. I needed the microspikes at once to hike up the hard icy road to the parking lot. I was surprised to see only one car in the lot. Another was just arriving. I was aware of the long temperature inversion over Washington state. I hoped it would be much warmer up high. The low clouds/fog of the inversion was thick over Seattle. As I headed east it broke. Bright blue sky around Mt. Washington.

I crunched up the service road and onto the Iron Horse Trail/railroad grade. I managed to walk right by the start of the trail. Soon it was obvious I had gone too far. Heading back I was soon on the right track. The ice was much thinner in the forest. I soon had to take off my microspikes as the bare spots became longer. The bits of ice were especially slick. The icicles on the rock walls were rapidly melting. I could see that 23 degrees did not last long. After a little less than a mile the microspikes went back on. There were still some bare spots but it was just too slick for me without them. I soon passed the only people I saw on the hike up. By the time I reached the Owl Hike spot the snow covered the trail completely.

Traction was much better with solid snow/ice and the spikes than the bare/icy spots lower down. Near Washington Creek it was deep enough to have a small trench in place. The creek crossing was easy enough. There was ice covering rocks and branches that were in the creek. The going was better as the old road climbed higher. As the route came out of the forest I was bathed in sunshine. Just like a few days earlier in Mexico... except about 40 degrees cooler. Where the trail turns to the left there is a spot where the tread is a creek in the spring and fall. It was bare this day and allowed me to see that the snow was now about one to one and a half feet deep. Nicely packed down and little sinking in.

Where the new trail goes through a wooden gate it was clear the snow was now much deeper. Only the top third was above the snow. I stopped for a minute at the pond. Some tracks continued on the winter route but more turned left on the newer trail. I went left. At the open slope there was a little more soft snow. It was warmer up high with the inversion and the slope had been in the sun for several hours. Not any signs of sloughing snow. I switchbacked up and headed for the ridge. Some nice views over to Mailbox Peak and up to the Great Wall. At the ridge top the winter trail tracks merged with my route. With microspikes I had no problem on the narrower tread in the forest.

Soon I popped out on the old road and continued up the last section to the top. My speed slowed quite a bit. It now felt like 70 degrees and I was over dressed. Sweat pouring off me. This is a snow hike in January? When I hit the final ridge I could see Chester Morse Lake below. Mt. Rainier was lined up with the ridge. Across a sea of cotton I could see the Olympic Mountains appearing to float like an island in a white sea. A few minutes later I was on top. No rocks showing at all. Must have been 4 feet of snow or more. The wind that blew through in the morning was completely gone. It felt like spring. My thermometer read 55 degrees. Quite a difference from the morning. I left at 9:40 am and reached the top at 12:40 pm. Not one of my faster times. Who cares? It was a fun and lonesome hike up.

I really did not want to leave. It was about 32 degrees under the thick white ceiling of fog/clouds in Seattle some 4400' below my warm and sunny perch. After nearly an hour I started down. I shortly came upon two groups enjoying the sunshine. Another reason to stick around. I got to talking with two of the guys. Everyone was happy to be above the gloom. It was nearly 2:00 pm when I finally left the summit ridge. Only a little over three hours of sunlight left. I expected my trip down to be faster and it was. I took only 1:55 minutes to descend, chopping an hour off my ascent time. The snow was softer and I did post hole a few times. All in all, it was not bad. As usually happens the microspikes stayed on longer on the descent than the ascent. When I took them off I immediately slipped on several icy spots. At the Iron Horse Trail they went back on to navigate the packed grade and service road.

After two weekends off hiking it was nice to get back in the swing. 3300' of gain, much of it on ice and snow was a very good workout. Considering it was a holiday for many people there were not many folks on the trail this day. I was home before darkness set in. As expected it was still glooming and cold back under the inversion. Most folks in Seattle endured a dark cold winter day. Just 30 miles to the east I was basking in spring time.

Icy Spur Road
First Mailbox View
Start Of Trail
Icy Wall
Rattlesnake Mt.
Owl Hike Spot
Hard Packed Snow
Icy Branch In Creek
Nearing Meadow
Distant Peaks
Softer Snow In Sunshine
Snow Covered Pond
Partly Buried Gate
Open But Shady
Softest Snow
Mailbox Peak
Ridge Nearing Summit
Low Clouds
The Great Wall
Camp Robber Jay
Olympic Mountains
Rainier From Summit Ridge
Weather Station
Summit View
Mt. Si Haystack
Mt. Teneriffe
Mt. Baker
Mailbox Close Up
Washington Summit
Chester Morse Lake
Other Groups
McClellan Butte
The Moon
Snowy Globs
Cloud Layer
Last Mt. View
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2013