Mailbox Peak

Return to Mailbox Part 4 - The Revenant

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).

Seattle from afar.

Seattle from afar.

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.

Hike log:
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


Recommended reading for the trail: To Build a Fire

Soundtrack for the trail: The Revenant

Original post on WTA

Mailbox Peak Part 3 - Snow Free Edition

As much as we were curious to try out the recently unveiled low grade 9.4 mile new Mailbox trail, we felt strangely compelled to hike the old trail, because we apparently don’t like being able to physically do things the following morning. Although we didn’t take the new trail, everyone we saw coming off it at the trail split seemed to be in unusually high spirits for a Mailbox hike, leading us to believe that the new trail may be filled with all sorts of wonderful amenities like hot chocolate stations, massage chairs and inclines that don’t cause your calves to groan constantly. I’m sure it’s a lovely experience that we will some day get around to trying out, but today it was the ruthless old trail that was calling to us, a trail that feels like it was made in a long gone era of stubbornness, where trail builders refused to make switchbacks or things that made sense.

Questionable trail choices aside, the weather was great and we couldn’t have asked for a better day on the mountain. No snow or ice to report on the trail, so traction devices were not needed. Snow can arrive quickly this time of year though, so keep an eye on the weather reports if you’re heading up soon. Wind was minimal and even with the old trail not being the main focus of recent Mailbox trail maintenance, it’s still in pretty good shape. There were a few downed trees along the path, but no other hazards outside of that (other than the trail’s generally hazardous nature). Regardless of hiking the new or old trail, I would still recommend trekking poles for the last stretch where the two trails merge, as it still has that steep Mailbox pitch that everyone has come to know and not love.

Questioning our decisions. All of them. 

Questioning our decisions. All of them. 

Even with the recent grumblings about Mailbox becoming the new Mt. Si with the opening of a more user friendly trail, the summit was empty when we reached it, proving that a moment of solitude on the mountain is still possible if you travel in non-peak hours (although I saw a weekend trail report that cited around thirty people on the summit at one point, which admittedly sounds a little cramped). After a good sit down, some food, a quick signing of the registry and some pictures, we headed back down. Overall, it was the standard physically punishing experience that we’ve come to expect from the old trail, but it was a great time nonetheless. Mailbox is always one of my favorite summit views in the area, which probably explains my odd love/hate relationship with it.

Charlie checking the mail. 

Charlie checking the mail. 

I am not sure what will become of the old trail now that the new trail is open. It’d be nice if it remains accessible, but if this is to be goodbye and it is destined to fade into some piece of trail lore that is only spoken about in hushed tones at dinner tables and WTA meetings, I will be proud to say I hiked it in its sadistic prime.

TRIP SUMMARY: There is no shame in taking the new trail. Your feet will thank you for it.

12:30 pm: Departed from the parking lot.

12:40 pm: Walked past shiny, pleasant, inviting looking new trailhead.

12:45 pm: Reached Sleepy Hollow like old trailhead. Don’t remember it looking this haunted.

1:30 pm: Passed a number of hikers who went up the new trail, but came down the old one. None of them seem to comprehend why we would want to hike up this way. We are unable to provide a logical explanation for them.

3:20 pm: Summit reached.

3:30 pm: Food.

3:40 pm: Headed back down.

4:00 pm: Heated debate at trail split. Maybe we should take the new trail down. Maybe there really is hot chocolate on the new trail.

4:05 pm: Immediate regret for taking the old trail back down. No hot chocolate. Steep grade. Possibly haunted at night.

5:30 pm: Arrived back at the car. Mutual agreement to never return to Mailbox (which means we’ll be back next week).

Mailbox Peak Part 2 - Siberia Edition

Waist-deep on Mailbox.

Waist-deep on Mailbox.

Needless to say, there is a bit of snow on Mailbox this week and if you're heading up, you can expect to be waist-deep in powdery white stuff like this for the last half mile. My hiking partner and I tried to power to the summit, but turned around about 200 yards from the top because we were both fairly interested in living and not really that interested in falling off a mountain trying to get to a mailbox. I felt bad because my hiking partner hasn't been to the top before, but I promised to take him back on a day that looked less like Siberia.

You're going to encounter snow early and often, so I'd say microspikes and poles are almost a requirement until some of this snow melts. This trail is already dangerous to begin with and footing is quite poor in conditions like this. I would advise people to skip that last stretch as it was quite sketchy and we both felt like we pushed it too far even getting that close to the summit.

I have a love/hate relationship with Mailbox, but it was still a really enjoyable hike, and the periods of misery you have on the trail are generally outweighed by a solid workout, some great views and a sense of accomplishment. But for the time being, Mailbox and I are not on speaking terms. Three feet of snow on this sadistic postal route is no good.

Mailbox Peak - First Blood

The real issue with this trail is not the snow or the elevation gain, but that my calves aren't made of iron. Everyone knows what they're getting into when they take on this beast. It's brutal, it's icy for the last mile and some combination of Ice Trekkers/Microspikes/Poles are advised if not required for this time of the year. This trail is steep (1,500 feet per mile) and without any traction in the snowy sections, you're going to have a bad time. 

This was my first time doing the hike and despite the sadistic trail conditions, it was a beautiful day and the view from the summit was one of the best I've seen in my two months in the area. The joke you hear about Mailbox is that there's a mailbox at the top so that when you get to the top you can send for help. It certainly feels that way by the time you summit, but you will feel accomplished for seeing it through, and rightfully so. 

Bring more water than you think you need. You're going to sweat and get drenched through an intriguing combination of intense trail conditions, wearing too many layers at times and not enough at others, frequent crying breaks on the few switchbacks that do pop up and of course, the ever present possibility of rain/snow/hail/whatever else this region can dream up. I packed for a Mt. Si like trip and found that I had shorted myself on supplies. Even though the elevation is comparable between the two and the trail on Mailbox is shorter, that just means it's going to be all the more intense. So, be prepared. The only other caveat I would have is to just keep those white diamonds on the trees in sight for the last 1.5 miles. It's quite easy to get turned around as the trail becomes scarce in that section. 

Either way, I would highly recommend Mailbox if you are looking for a challenging hike or are trying to discover how hard you can push yourself before your legs fall off. 

TRIP SUMMARY: Difficult, but rewarding.

9:15 am: Start

10:15 am: Stopped to debate whether or not this was a real trail or a fake trail that seasoned hikers take people they don't like to punish them

12:15 pm: Arrived at the summit

12:40 pm: Headed back down

2:30 pm: Arrived at car

2:31 pm: Fell asleep in car

??? - Woke up in car and drove back to the city hoping it was still the same day