Oct. 6, 2012. Granite Mtn. 8.6 mi RT, 3800 ft climb. Trailhead ~8:00. Lookout 10:00. 30 min break. Down 12:00.
It’s been an unusually dry and sunny fall in Washington, and with another beautiful day predicted this Saturday, it was time to get back into the mountains. On the recommendation of Shannon, I decided to hike up to the fire lookout on Granite Mountain. By leaving home at around 7:00 I could actually sleep in an hour or so – an added benefit for the weekend. As I turned off I-90 on Asahel Curtis Rd (NF-055) and looked up to my left I could just make out the fire tower – my initial thought was ‘Is that really ~3800 ft up?’ I planned to take a picture from the spot when I got back down, but of course forgot – maybe another time. I made it to the trailhead around 8:00am, and not surprisingly there were already ~10 cars in the parking lot.
The first mile of the trail is shared with the Pratt Lake trail which Jordan and I hiked a few years back. For the first half mile a happy brown lab kept chasing back and forth with his folks behind me – finding a little water in the streams that still trickled across the trail despite our miniscule rainfall since July. Though a climb, it’s pretty easy going up to the junction with the Granite Mountain trail, but then the fun begins. The trail starts out in the forest, making slow switchbacks up the slope – but holds a pretty stiff uphill line – so that it feels like you are climbing a foot with every step.
After another half mile, the trail begins to skirt the edge of an overgrown slide / avalanche chute that begins above the tree line and drops all the way to the base near the trailhead. Several hundred feet up the chute a stream dropped over the rock face, providing an early and unexpected waterfall return on this hiking investment (as an aside-if you click on the image you get a higher res picture…) Based on the trip description, I was anticipating a hike more like Mt. Si where the only real return is the burn in your legs and the view from the top. A good morning was turning into a great morning.
The trail headed back into the woods, climbing rapidly, then skirted the chute and finally crossed the chute heading east. The creek I saw from below must have come from an underground source, since it was nowhere to be found when I crossed the chute well above the waterfall. I find mountain streams fascinating – in this case wondering what the source could be since we were well past melt – there was no snow – we’ve had just a trace of rain since July 19th, and there were no lakes above the waterfall. I guess it will stay a mystery. After crossing the chute, I continued to climb, eventually leaving the trees below and hiking up through an alpine meadow westward towards the lookout tower. Along the way I passed a few groups of hikers, most of whom, like me, were soaked with sweat and breathing pretty hard.
When I emerged from the trees and looked back to the south, Mt. Rainier made an appearance, hovering over the Cascade ranges with its usual majesty. One unfortunate consequence of the long dry spell has been the prolonged fire season. From the moment I stepped out of the truck, the smell of smoke was strong, and as you can see, the haze extended for miles. The trail continued uphill through the meadow, though the slope eased off, and it did not take long to reach the base of the massive pile of rock on which the tower was built. On the way up, I crossed paths with 5 or 6 hikers heading down- the early birds – but my timing was perfect: when I reached the top I had it to my self for the ~30 minutes I spent up there.
I found a comfortable spot, somewhat out of the wind on the west slope, ate my nutella bun, and a PB&J bun, drank some water and enjoyed being King of the Mountain. I found a nice stable spot at the base of the tower where I could set up my camera and get the all important -’I was here and I’m King’ photo. With the wind picking up and my extremeties starting to get cold I started back down. Almost immediately I met up with the lab and his folks, as well as the others I passed on the way up. After that I almost felt like I was running the gauntlet – It seemed like I passed another ~75 hikers making their way up. I was doubly happy – 1st to see so many folks out for a hike and enjoying the incredible gift we have in our corner of the world, and 2nd -because I started early and managed to have the top of the world to myself. I made my way down, greeting one after another with a happy smile and comments on how much I appreciated gravity. When I reached the trailhead, the 10 cars had somehow multiplied to what seemed like >100! I called home, and when Clara suggested lunch out at the Roosevelt Ale House, a great morning turned into a fantastic morning.