Trip Report    

Seattle Basic Alpine Climbing Conditioner - Mailbox Peak

Mailbox Peak is defiantly a winter scramble at this point, know the conditions and your groups ability before going higher than the old/new trail intersection.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Snow on the trail about 1,800 feet. New trail several blown down trees, route covered in compact snow and ice. Old trail same, however route finding a little more difficult. 3 inches of powder sitting on solid ice above the boulder field, didnt go higher.

Arrived at the trailhead and started hiking at 7:00AM. Our plan was to do the old trail up, make a decision at the new trail intersection, go higher if we can/conditions were safe enough. We were prepared to turn around at any point if anyone in the small group of 3 indicated they didnt feel comfortable for any reason. 

We took the old trail up, encountered snow  at 1,800(ish) feet and immediately needed microspikes. Due to the heavy snow the trail was hard to follow at times, pay attention to the markers in the trees. At the old/new trail intersection now is several feet deep. Decided to swap to crampons as microspikes were not enough, this immediately made a huge difference. It took us 2 hours to get to the intersection. We had encountered several small Mountaineers groups who had warned that they had to turn around at the boulder field due to worsening conditions higher. They encouraged take the winter route up and avoid the summer boulder field as there was going to be more fresh powder. 

Upon hitting the boulder filed we took the winter route up. Another random group gave us grief for going "the harder way" up (because it was steeper.) We explained our reasoning, and stated the summer route was worse for conditions, and we kept going on our path kicking steps as we went. That group would go to the summer route, hit the solid ice we were warned about and would link back up with us on the winter route. The winter route was far better, still having solid ice a few inches below. Several times along the way we kicked through to the boulders/rocks below and risked spraining ankles or worse as we post holed up to our knees or hips. At the top of the boulder field we called it. Lots of people up there in only tennis shoes and no microspikes, scary.

Both of my SIG students had never been on crampons before. They also didn’t have ice axe with no prior experience in these types of conditions on snow. Based off of that, and having heard that conditions only got worse higher, as the leader, I decided this was far enough.  From where we were at given our path back down the boulder field with low consequence  on runout and accident severity this was the correct call. I gave a crash course to my students on plunge stepping as well as self arrest with hiking poles.  And we descended. Got some really good practice plunge stepping in in a foot a fresh powder. My students had a wonderful time testing out their gear.

The new trail was in good condition with a well defined boot path the entire way. The new trail feels about 4 miles too long and never ending. Although the new trail  is probably safer on the decent than trying to route find down the old trail. We kept our crampons on the entire way for additional practice, although we probably could have used microspikes. On the way we found a valentines day balloon in the snow, captured that to be tossed in the trash when we finished. 

Got back down to the cars at 12:00noon. Overall it was a great day to get some conditioning in and practice with crampons. The group had fun and everyone had solid conversations about decision making along the way.

Remember folks, the goal isnt the summit, its about making a full return trip back home in one piece.