Mountain Loop Highway
5 miles, roundtrip
(This is from what we recorded on a Garmin Fenix 6x)
Gain: 2129 ft.
Highest Point: 5280 ft.
Mt Pilchuck is one of the best all around hikes near the Seattle area. Not too long ago, it was actually a ski resort! We were a little disappointed we didn’t bring splitboards on the second day of the Summer gate opening, but the hike was super rewarding nonetheless.
It’s a workout with a decent amount of elevation gain, varied terrain between granite and currently snow, AND the views start immediately! First with the walk through the forest, where you cross a gorgeous stream and then later on as the forest thins out and you begin to see Mt. Baker, the Olympics, even Mt Rainier! The trail snakes around the mountain, but you also are rewarded with a 360 degree view at the top where an old fire lookout still stands and you can finally see Glacier Peak behind it!
The road is atrocious with giant potholes, so adventurer’s beware!! Once you make it to the parking lot, which is closed by a gate in the Winter until early Summer, there’s a bathroom and signs everywhere stating to lock your car from high theft rates and to also come prepared to know your limits with hiking/experience since there is a rise in Search and Rescue cases at Mt Pilchuck in particular. Always be prepared with your 10 essentials, even if the hike “is only a couple of miles” :).
At this point in the season, there is more snow melt off which makes the stream crossing higher in the beginning of the trail. The trail is also wet with overflow runoff as you’ll see in the beginning of the video. Once you meander through the forest and granite boulders, you’ll reach the beginning of the snowpack at about 1.4 miles in.
This is where you need to be honest with yourself about your comfort zone. You haven’t even completed half of the elevation gain at this point and as the snow continues to melt there will be more and more opportunities to posthole (fall through the snow). Sometimes there’s rocks a couple inches below, sometimes it’s a river or a farther distance down to the ground. Any way you look at it, it’s easy to twist an ankle or injure yourself!
Sarah brought microspikes and was glad she had them for added traction on the soft snow. Bryan did just fine with his poles, but is also extremely confident with his footing in any variety of snowpack (soft vs icy vs firm etc.)
You climb and lean towards the left peak. The trail goes through the middle of the two peaks you see. There’s some steep terrain and if you’re not comfortable with some nearly vertical places with snow, it’s best to enjoy the views where the snowpack begins and call it a beautiful day. There are some major cornices next to the lookout at the top so it is always best to keep your footing as close to the rocks and trees as possible, but also be aware of treewells!
The Climb Down
Once you’ve enjoyed your view at the lookout at the top, it’s time to make your way back down (if you’re not planning to spend the night!). After traversing the steeper sections, we chose to glissade (slide down on our butts!) from the pass, minding the areas with melting snow around the rocks and staying close to the path so as not to get lost. It’s best to glissade a portion, stop yourself, and then repeat so you can better manage your speed and distance without straying too far from the trail.
Be extra safe and cautious this time of year and have fun!! The snow softens up quick, but there is a lot of it to still play on in mid June! Make sure you have extra great sun protection! Bryan wore a hat and Sarah chose to cover her face with a buff, sunglasses, and a headband to protect her ears. Don’t forget to sunscreen those hands if you’re going to have them exposed! 🙂
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Gear We Use
Practicing LNT Principles, and Giving Back
We really want to encourage everyone to practice LNT principles when they explore these beautiful places. We spent years trying to minimize social impact on these locations, but the cat is out of the bag and these places are easy to find online. So it is our mission to share more about ways to keep these places as pristine as possible.
We also donate 3% of all our profits to organizations supporting the outdoors and working hard to keep these areas protected and safe.