Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How Much Wood Can A Pilchuck Chuck?

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Mount Pilchuck is the most recognizable peak in the Cascade Range seen from Snohomish County. Everyone knows Mt. Pilchuck, and if you live near Lake Stevens you've glanced up at Pilchuck's hardened face and wondered, "Who's standing on the Firewatch this very moment?"

Well I'm here to tell you that it should be you standing in that glass encased look out - soaking in the magnificent view! Is it a tough climb? You betcha! Pilchuck has wasted hundreds of city-slickers with its sharp inclines and endless switchbacks. Do you want a challenge? Do you want rewards? This hike is perfect for you! Let me tell you about it....
The year was 2008, mid August, when a friend and I took on "The Cuddly Mountain". We call it The Cuddly Mountain because the name Pilchuck sounds like something small and furry, doesn't it? Well its not. To help clear that mental picture let me throw out some raw data:
As far as we know, Mount Pilchuck (Elevation 5,340ft) was first climbed in 1918 by topographers. The elevation gain from the trail head to Pilchuck's summit is roughly 2,166 ft. PHEW! Now, if you were to tell Timothy that you climbed Mount Pilchuck the first thing he’d say is, “Yeah, but you drove half the way.” Don’t you just hate it when people verbally degrade your accomplishments? Don’t listen to him. It’s a rough 6 mile hike, okay? Worthy of even the most avid hiker. But what’s nice is that it is easily accessible (good roads) and the trail is extremely well maintained minus complaints of litter. Please do Washington State Parks a favor and bring an extra plastic sack to pack up any stray plastics you come across.
Of course you’ll need a $5 permit to hike the trail, so make sure you stop by Verlot Ranger Station on Mountain Loop Highway. The Rangers will give you directions to the trail head and any bit of information you’ll need about weather, trail conditions, ect. (Left: photo of me near trail head)
When my friend and I climbed the mountain we weren’t very prepared. We brought a few waters but hardly any food. Even if you only plan on spending a few hours out in Nature, be sure you prepare for 1-2 days. I am not joking. Everyone participating in the hike should shoulder a backpack filled with sweaters, food, and especially water. If you’re the gutsy type, you can ask the Rangers how many people have gotten themselves lost this season. If you’re especially curious, ask them how many people have died on Mount Pilchuck. The numbers might shock you.
On that light note.... the trail starts out pretty level, weaving its way over one or two streams and through some dense woods - thick with moss and fern. As you begin the switchbacks the forest will thin, you'll see hardier pines and less vegetation. It'll be about an hour before you breach the tree line. When that happens you'll see this: photo to your right.
That, my friends, is what you'll be climbing: A magnificent fortress of rock and shale. At some point the earth will fall away on your left. When you begin to hear moving water, perhaps a waterfall you can't see, scoot carefully to the edge of the trail (left side). There will be a drop. Below is Lake 22. The water you can hear and possibly smell is spring water vaulting off the face of the mountain.
At each turn, at the beginning of every switchback, you'll be given a perspective. There is no other peak of Pilchuck's height within miles to obstruct your vision. In order to reach the fire watch you will have to rock climb. I'm afraid of heights, so I kept my eyes on the rock and didn't allow my thoughts to consider the possibilities.
When you reach the top.... just stay there. Take your time and watch the landscape change with the light its given. See the clouds form and dissipate over Snohomish County. Try to spy Lake Stevens, or Everett, or even as far as Seattle. The fire watch has a 360 degree observation deck. Inside it is filled with informational plaques that'll tell you how the firewatch was built, as well as enlighten you to just how far you can see into the horizon. You also might want to strike a pose for the folks back home so that everyone will know, "Yeah.... I conquered The Cuddly Mountain, and it felt good!"
Other than that, best of luck to you and your poor unfortunate friends who've chosen to follow you!


  1. Sounds too challenging for an old person, like me, but glad you could take me with you in your blog! :-) Did you spy any animals on your way up, or down? Beautiful pictures!

  2. Thank you, Mom. :-) I kept my eyes peeled for mountain goats but the closest thing to wildlife I got was a chipmunk. Still pretty darn cute.

  3. Wow! it makes me want to conquer the cuddly mountain too!
    love this one