After my two week absence I was finally back in Washington and ready to go hiking and be welcomed home by the mountains I love so much. Bobby had been wanting to hike to the summit of Granite Mountain all summer. Due to it’s popularity we had been putting it off, however we decided it was high time we braved the crowds and headed up. We arrived at the trailhead at half past nine and were glad to see that there were still some spots left in the parking lot. This trail’s popularity causes the lot to overflow quickly. We got our backcountry permits at the self service station at the trailhead. Again, the popularity of the trail was obvious due to the two permit stations at the trailhead.
We headed up the trail geared up for whatever the mountain may offer. Bobby had his backpacking pack that was stuffed with gaiters, snowshoes, and microspikes. We also had rain gear, cold weather gear, and lots of snacks. The weather was unseasonably warm and we were soon shedding layers as we began the long trek up. With 3800 feet in elevation gain in 4 short miles we were in for a good workout! The trail begins along a gradual uphill slope through a thick forest that protected us from the intense sun that was beating down. At about a mile we reached the trail junction.
We headed right to continue along the trail for Granite Mountain and were soon huffing and puffing as the incline of the trail became a bit more intense. We were switchbacking our way up crossing in and out of the forest and in and out of a gully that is home to many avalanches during the winter months. During this time of year however, the colors of the low growing shrubs were stunning!
We soon found ourselves in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness!
It’s always hard for me to accept that a wilderness area can be so easily accessible. It also seems wrong to me that this section is considered a wilderness area considering we were almost always within earshot and eyeshot of the I-90 corridor below. But, I digress… We made our way up the switchbacks and were soon above the tree line and the views and the fall colors we were greeted with were unbelievably glorious!
Lunch time was fast approaching and while we weren’t far from the top (about a mile) we decided to break for lunch before the summit. We found a wonderful sitting rock, soaked up the sunshine, and supped on PB&J and drank Orange Gatorade.
Back on the trail and ready to reach the summit of Granite Mountain following our brief respite we soon met a solo hiker who had made it to the summit. He said there was snow and that, due to the heat of the day, it was slushy and a little slippery but doable. He also said that whoever had forged the trail had gotten a bit lost at some points but despite the roundabout route we would eventually reach the top. We continued on and reached the snow level at around 5000 feet. It was patchy and muddy at first but soon became more substantial. I always forget about how hard it is to walk in the snow until I do it for the first time every season! Our pace slowed to a crawl as we trudged along the slushy snow that was at pretty intense inclines at times and had us “feelin’ the burn!”.
The trail was indeed obscure, especially when we had to almost crawl under the boughs of a fir tree…
Other hikers we met at this section agreed that this was definitely not the summer trail! The snowy section of the trail was tight at times and passing the numerous other hikers on the trail became increasingly difficult. We were giving those hikers coming down the steep, slippery snow the right of way. Hiking etiquette dictates that hikers going up have the right of way and those coming down should yield. However, the hikers coming down had a much harder time stopping due to the slick conditions and we were more than happy to let them pass.
We reached the top just after noon and were wowed by the views we were afforded! We could see EVERYTHING! We saw Mount St Helens, Mt Baker, Glacier Peak, Mt Rainier, much of the surrounding Cascade range, and the Olympics! There is a lookout at the top that is only occasionally opened and this weekend it was closed.
There were ten or so hikers sitting around the base and underneath the lookout enjoying the views and taking a much needed and much deserved break!
Bobby shot some pics and then we munched on our special treats and rewards of the trail, orange slices and KitKats! We find it very helpful to always have a yummy and favorite treat to congratulate ourselves with when we reach our goal for the day! Unfortunately not all the hikers were being respectful at the top and that was a little irksome. Primarily it was the group who had a dog off leash and they weren’t doing a great job of controlling him. He was constantly pestering Latigo and humping him and wouldn’t get off. Despite this somewhat frustrating inconvenience at the top we enjoyed the views and as more hikers came up and were looking for a spot to sit we headed back down.
The trip down was treacherous and we didn’t have enough of the proper equipment. Bobby has a set of microspikes but I don’t. He offered his to me but his feet are so much larger that they were too big. Also, my trekking pole had unfortunately broken earlier on during the hike up, the bottom plastic footy that my snow baskets would attach to fell off at some point and we never did find it. So one of my poles was of no use in the snowy, slippery section. Bobby donned the microspikes but gave me his trekking poles. I went first to try and help Bobby control Latigo. Latigo LOVES the snow and he LOVES going downhill all of which was spelling disaster for Bobby who was doing his best to control the overly enthusiastic 80lb pup on the descent. With me in front it slowed Latigo down enough that it was just uncomfortable for Bobby but not dangerous. Again, this trail is incredibly popular and we passed dozens of groups throughout the day and we, therefore, didn’t feel comfortable letting Latigo off leash.
Overall this hike was an incredible challenge with incredible rewards! I would say, get there early, brave the crowds, and go on a clear day so as to thoroughly enjoy the spectacular views afforded at the summit!