Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hike of the Week : Mailbox Peak

A few years ago, when we were training to hike the Inca Trail, we decided to hike up to Mailbox Peak. The trail was nutty, climbing  4000 feet in 2.6 miles. There was a lot of scrambling, lots of climbing through exposed roots and rocks. And -- given that we were only a couple of weeks away from flying to Peru, we decided to turn back and head down. I'm clumsy enough on a paved sidewalk -- the likelihood of me spraining an ankle or worse was very high.

In the interim a new trail has been built up to Mailbox Peak, protecting both the mountain from erosion and hikers from getting lost or hurt. The new trail is GREAT, and much more gentle at 4.7 miles.

We left early, arriving at the trailhead just before 7am -- too early for the gate to be open to the upper lot, but too late to slide into the lower lot without feeling like a jerk. But I colonized the parking across the street and we headed out.

The first stretch of trail crossed a few streams and went through trees and bushes that were screaming "SPRING! SPRING!!!" in a million shades of green. A little higher and we hit shady, second-growth forest.

We started climbing pretty rapidly, but the trail was well maintained and had switchbacks. Niiiiiice.

I'm glad that, for once, the pictures look as steep as it felt.

Lower down we passed a few little waterfalls and crossed two bridges.

And we kept heading up through the trees, though they felt thinner the higher up we climbed.

I noticed, as we continued to climb, that I had failed to tape up my heel as a precautionary move. Two or three weeks prior I didn't bother to put on my liner socks before going on a hike and basically skinned my heel. So since then I had been protecting the new skin with blister pads. Luckily, despite the steep trail, I didn't have any trouble. (But my heel, a couple of days later, is still slightly tender... must remember to tape up before the half marathon next weekend.)

As we got higher, we thought the tops of the trees were getting really thin. And then we realized that they were dusted with snow. Which meant fresh snow. In May.

When we came to clearings -- or at least thin spots in the trees -- it looked like they had been blasted by Queen Elsa ... all frosted with fresh snow.

We posed in the "snow", laughing a little at it because IT WAS MAY.

A little bit of Elsa's handiwork:

But once you're back in the big trees, the snow disappeared. (Yep, that's me taking the picture above...)

But when we came to another clearing we caught a glimpse of this winterrific view:

And soon the path was snowy. Full-on, a couple of inches of fresh snow snowy.

This was a particularly unpleasant stretch -- inching along the edge of a rocky slope, with snow obscuring loose rocks, holes, etc. And I assure you, it felt much narrower than it looks here. (Note how Wil's footsteps are completely single file.)

Why single file? Because this awaits those who step off the narrow strip of packed snow. POSTHOLE!

It was around this time that the trail got fainter. If two guys hadn't passed us just before the last snowy / rocky slope, we might not even have been able to follow it -- we could see their footprints. The path was faint, getting steeper, and it was really snowy. We looked at each other and agreed ... rather than do something stupid and get hurt, we would turn back. 

Given that it took me longer to go down the snowy rocky stretches, I think we made the right decision. As we descended, the woods got really misty.

But soon we were back under the mist and in the lowlands.

It took us 5 hours to get up and down in the snow -- and, no, we didn't reach the top. AGAIN. But, as with our previous attempt, it was definitely the right decision. I'm already seeing when we can add another trip to Mailbox Peak into our hiking and training calendar!

Mailbox Peak -- almost!

8.9 miles
2950 feet elevation

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