July 13, 2007.
Mt. Pilchuck Tr# 700 | 6 miles | 2,200′ ele. gain | 3 hrs.
Mt. Pilchuck is a popular hiking destination outside of Granite Falls, Washington. It’s located in a state park, is not too far from I-5, has a rebuilt fire lookout on top, and has more bang-for-your-buck views than many 3 mile hikes out there. I decided to start early to avoid the crowds; I’m very glad that I did.
The easy-to-follow trail began switchbacking through dark forest with occasional streams and boulder hopping. I walked at a steady pace so I could get to the good stuff quicker. There had only been a few cars at the trailhead but due to the awesome weather and size of the parking area I decided this would be a fast hike for me. Besides, I was still on the way to my final destination of the North Cascades; this was simply an opportunity to stretch my legs and get a glimpse of what I’d signed up for.
It only took 45 minutes or so before I was treated to tremendous alpine views. The scenery was rugged; glacial streams poured over rocky cliffs dropping to the valley floor. Tiny, succulent plants clung for life to the rock and dirt underfoot. Trickles of ice cold water sought lower ground as they snaked through the underbrush. The sun felt incredibly warm, and I stopped to take a drink of water. Bad idea. The bugs were so ferocious that if I stopped for even an instant, they mobbed my face and neck. I think I enticed them with the particular flavor of insect repellent I was wearing because they sure seemed to love it. It was like arthropod happy hour on my skin. They were waiting in lines just to have a chance to get me. Some of them were excellent at flying underneath my glasses and flapping around between the lenses and my eyeballs. “Think like a shark,” I told myself. “You stop moving, you die.”
And so I continued on my way, the scenery and my thirst both causing me to stop frequently. I remained on the defensive as those evil insects gnawed away at my will to live. Fortunately, I soon realized I was close to the top. The trail took one last turn into the woods, then came out again amongst a huge pile of boulders. Nice. I took one of a thousand trampled paths to the summit pile, and scrambled up the rock to a ladder. Once atop the ladder, I collapsed on the deck of the lookout. There were two girls inside.Not wanting to invade their summit time, I walked around the wooden porch, perched precariously on the cluster of rocks. I couldn’t imagine building this thing. From here, I enjoyed views north to Baker and Shuksan, east to Three Fingers and Glacier Peak, and south to Rainier. Once inside the lookout, I could identify a number of other peaks by looking at the interpretive displays so nicely laid out inside. As the girls left, I closed the door to free myself from the bugs for a little while. I read all the signs, gawked at the winter photos, and devoured some trail food.
Sigh. I guess I have to get down from here. I carefully descended off the summit, explored just a little around the rocky, flat top, got eaten alive for stopping to air out my feet, and returned to the trail. The hike down was fast and uneventful, except that I counted approximately 65 people on their way up the mountain. And there were twice that many people milling around the parking lot, screaming kids in tow. I was so happy to pop open the trunk of my car, have a seat, and munch on blueberries as I watched millions of tourons get ready for a hot, buggy day on the trail. It was only 10am and I still had a full day of adventure ahead.
If you must do this hike on a perfect summer weekend, just go early. If you’re used to alpine starts, you can sleep in for this one! It’s a nice little jaunt to get the blood flowing, and I bet it’s a spectacular journey in the wintertime.