I decided to get my annual hike up Mailbox out of the way early this year instead of putting it off until summer. I’ve done Mailbox in winter and summer conditions and while they both have their own special brands of misery, I still prefer doing Mailbox in winter. The snow does a better job of breaking your falls and even gives you a built in excuse for falling so much, which I’ve always appreciated.
I don’t have much interest in hiking Mailbox in large crowds, so it was nice to see Mailbox open again on weekdays, even if it’s just until spring when they start paving Middle Fork road again. I’ve heard people had trouble finishing the new trail because of snow and downed trees, but I’ve yet to attempt the new trail and probably never will. I still stubbornly think the old trail is the way mailbox should be hiked and regard (quite unfairly I might add) the new trail as a bit of a chairlift equivalent of reaching the top. So, as always, it was back to the unforgiving old trail for the day.
You will encounter patches of snow and ice right as you leave the parking lot. At this point you can slap on your traction devices, but most of the slush will disappear before you reach the trailhead and really won’t make an appearance again until almost a mile into the hike. After that, traction devices (I know yaktracks are popular on the trails, but I feel like Mailbox really calls for microspikes, ice trekkers or crampons) and hiking poles become necessary as the snow and steep elevation gain makes for a difficult climb. The trail also has a few downed trees, especially in the first mile, but the path is generally well tread and easy to follow (if you do lose your bearings, as always try to follow the white diamonds on the trees as beacons for staying on the trail).
The weather was great, but by the time I hit the boulder field, the temperatures took a nosedive and the wind started to howl. The scree was littered with ankle breaking posthole opportunities, so please be cautious when navigating this section. When I finally reached the top, the conditions were pretty brutal, but I did get a chance to sit down and check the mail. I was pleased to find no bills or jury summons, just booze and hand warmers. I didn’t linger too long at the top because of the conditions and headed back down soon after. Even with crampons and poles, the descent was a bit of a slip slide adventure.
All in all, Mailbox is not without its hardships and special brand of despair inducing grade, but I always find myself returning to its slopes. Great views, solid workout, no bills. Can’t ask for much more.
12:45pm – Left the car
3:25 – Reached the summit
3:45pm – Started back down
6:00pm – Made it back to the car with minimal bruising
Soundtrack for the trail: The Revenant
Original post on WTA