"Wimpy hikers, turn the page. This trail offers nothing for you but pain and heartbreak. If you think you've got the goods to scramble up more than 1000 feet per mile, read on. Mailbox Peak brings a serious burn to the thighs of even the best-conditioned athletes, but the rewards make it all worthwhile...
The trail leaves the road and turns near vertical, climbing ever-more steeply over the next 2.5 miles--the first 0.5 mile of road walking gains only a few hundred feet of elevation, leaving about 3800 feet for the last 2.5 miles. That means you'll be climbing about 1500 feet per mile, and most hikers consider anything over 1000 feet per mile to be steep!
...The trail climbs with ruthless focus--to get to the top in as direct a line as possible. As you move above 4000 feet, the forest falls away, the views open, and all pretense of switchbacks disappears. You'll now be scrambling up steep, open hillsides.
...Finally, after one last scramble through the rocky crown around the summit, you're there, standing beside the battered mailbox on the top of Mailbox Peak. After you catch your breath, pat yourself on the back--because if you're on the summit, you've conquered perhaps the most difficult hike in this book!"
This mountain, called Mailbox Peak because someone has indeed lugged a mailbox to the top, offers a 4100-foot climb to end at an over 4900-foot elevation!
I am SOLD! And I have NO idea what I'm getting us in to! But I am excited! So early the next morning, we head out!
There's a gentle rain in the morning, so we make sure to pack rain gear. It's an intense hike, so we make sure to pack water and cool layers. It goes up through the clouds and into snow, so we make sure to pack warm layers and trekking poles.
Quite a bit to carry, but for a day hike, it's not too bad. We're anticipating a 4 hour excursion.
We park, and begin to climb a gentle hill. We can feel our muscles waking, and our conversation becomes somewhat labored from the breathing. But all in all, this is good! We're pumped and confident that this will be a good trip! After about 10 minutes... we realized we've just now come to the trail head. We weren't even ON the trail! Just the little gravel road to get to the trail.
Well, ok, so it was a good warm up. Onward! Into the trees we go! And it is amazing - much like the rain forest, it is lush and green, with plenty of unique plants and a trickling little creek. Then, as described in the guide book, "The trail leaves the road and turns near vertical, climbing ever-more steeply over the next 2.5 miles." Our pretty little trail and gentle switchbacks disappear, leaving us with no trail, but figuring out our own way to scramble from white marker to white marker.
This is the best we could do with the camera to try to capture the steepness of this "path."
We are both beginning to slump, when Jen shouts out, "I see it! I see the mailbox! And people! We're almost there!" Thank goodness for that little boost! We climb and clambour through the last part of rocky terrain, and make it to the peak.
Or, as Jen puts it, We Bagged A Peak.
I guess that's what it's called when you reach the summit of a mountain? I am a climbing novice, so I just took her word for it!
Hot and sweaty, we plop down on the snow in our cooler layers, not affected in the least by the fact that it's a snow-covered cap. Jen is so excited, that she kisses the mailbox!
I am too tired to try to lean all the way over with my face, and just opt to pat my new friend.
We chat lightly with some of the other climbers, take pictures for each other, and then pull out our snacks. I check my watch - it's been almost 3.5 hours. Given that we thought we'd be done in about 4, we hadn't packed very filling lunches. I enjoyed about half of my trail mix, a Lara bar, and more water. Jen finished off her trail mix and shared some of mine.
The other hikers said goodbye as they began their descent, and we waved them off on their journey.
Soon, the thought that our mothers may worry and the cold both began to settle in, and we decided we couldn't enjoy the views too much longer. It was time to figure out how on earth to get back down!
We gingerly made our way back down the rocky crown. About 250 feet down, and we saw a lone gal making her way up. Refreshed from our break, we exuberantly greeted her. "You're almost there!! You can see the mailbox just around the next bend!"
Then a thought occurred to me... this young lady had probably just spent the better part of 2 to 3 hours trudging up this mountain alone, and was going to get to the now-vacant peak with no one to photo her with the mailbox!
"Jen!" I shouted ahead. "She needs someone to take her picture!" As tired as I was, I thought for sure we could make that last little bit again in order to help out a new friend.
With her infinite energy, Jen swiftly turned around and began bounding back towards me. "Sure!" She dropped her bag by me, traded it for my camera, and joined the new traveler. "We'll be right back!"
Hmmm, well, I had planned to go with them, but I was not about to argue with the idea of sitting on a nice, flat rock and getting to take in the sight! It was my own little meditation time! I just enjoyed feeling the wind rush by, seeing the foggy cloud moving in, and listening to a few of the small creatures moving about.
Fifteen minutes later, Jen and our new companion are back! We begin to pick out way across the rocks as we continue down. Jen, the little monkey she is, has sure footing from years of hiking and rock hopping. She's bounding down ahead of us. I hang back with Kristen, and we move more cautiously. Another hiker and his dog are heading up, and we say hello - promising him he's almost to the top!
On and on. It seems going down the boulders is even slower work than hiking up the snow had been! But the slippery snow is still scary to me.
Until we see the man and his dog coming back down. He deliberately sits on the snow, shifts around a little bit, and pushes himself off! Down and down he slides, whipping past us, and easily slowing at the bottom, no where near any drop offs.
We all exchange glances.
Instantly, like giddy kids, we make our way off of the boulder towards the snow, now moving laterally. Jen, of course, is there first, and drops to her backside, and down she goes!!! Kristen and I eagerly follow, laughing and whooping!
...and then we run back up and do it again! Ahhh, renewed vigor!
Here's a small clip!
The rest of the descent was pretty standard. We made it back to the trees, and had to very slowly make our way down. While it burned the muscles to make the big steps up, it tested the knee joints cushioning the impact on the way down.
But, thankfully, it wasn't the same type of work to come back down. We were breathing relatively easily, and so we were able to have a good chat with Kristen about where she's from, her hiking excursions, and sharing our stories. We laughed and joked, inspired by having defeated this mountain.
Six hours from the time we started, we finally reach the trail head again. Cheering and exhausted, we take a last picture, exchange email addresses, and head back to the cars.
So that's our story! I hope you'll go out and create your own challenge! It's a thrill to complete it!