Mileage: 6-7 miles, depending on how direct a route you choose.
Elevation Gain/Highest: 4100ft/5587 (if you get all the way to the lookout)
Map: Green Trail No 143 Monte Cristo, GAIA Topo
Favorite Eats After Hike: Wallace Falls Café
11/24/2016 In preparation for Thanksgiving dinner, we went in search of a hike but may have bitten off more than we could chew. The weather didn’t bode well for the views I had last year on Pilchuck, so I wanted something steep to make it worth going out for. I felt like more than the Index Town Wall or Wallace Lake so when I read that the road to Evergreen Mountain Lookout was closed, I thought I would try and find the winter route that a friend had told me about last spring. Looking at the map, I guessed it must follow the ridge up and we could just intersect the road below the TH. Easy, peasy. We’d get a good calf burner and be home in time for turkey and pie. I figured there would be some snow, so we threw in the microspikes and rain gear.
We parked at the pullout just past the Rapid River bridge and surprisingly there were no other cars (sarcasm). I didn’t think we’d see anyone today and we never did. Donned with optimism and packs heavy with several changes of clothing, we made our way back into the woods at 7:30am. The trail wanted to take us down an old moss covered road and as much as I wanted that to be the trail, I eventually found a boot path straight up to the right that took us on our way up along the ridge. It was easy to lose with all the overgrown foliage and downed trees but random garbage and flagging confirmed we were on the right track. My guess is that folks out mushroom hunting use this trail, as well.
At about 2500ft, we began to cross old abandoned roads that switchbacked tightly up the ridge and gave a little reprieve from the trail which felt more like a “game” trail at times. We skipped the first few opting to continue to follow the trail straight up but at about 3000ft there was a faint memory of a road that seemed to head fairly straight up the ridge and offered less resistance to the brush we had begun to battle. There seemed to be impressions of old logging roads intersecting all over the side of the mountain. Snow began to cover the ground in spots and soon we were simply heading up through the open forest, staying a bit to the left hoping to intersect with FR 6554 at the bend at 3500ft.
Seriously, I don’t think we could have lucked out any better because we hit that road right at the bend! There was about 9″ of snow on the road and everything was a silent winter white. Originally, I had assumed there would be a way to continue up the ridge, skipping the last switchback in the road but with the snow and steep bank it was not obvious where to head up. Rather than take a chance at missing the TH, we safely followed the road up adding to my estimated miles for the day. It wasn’t deep enough for snowshoes at this point but by the time we got to the TH had 4300 and 10am, they would have come in handy. Oh, well.
The snow was falling and wind blowing and we had a decision to make about when to turn around and still make family dinner. I guessed we’d have to turn around 10:30-11am in order to stay in good graces with those expecting our contribution to the meal. Turns out my bf is stubborn as me, so he was willing to keep going even if we didn’t make it all the way to the lookout. Of course, we both wanted to make it that far.
Now on actual trail, our main challenge was the postholing. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t glad to have someone taller than me leading the way. Most of the trail has a least 2 feet of snow and because the trail is narrow we had to hug the slope to avoid putting a foot off the side. Those steep steps in the first bit of switchbacks are even steeper for us shorties with all the snow on them! We made it up to saddle that looks back at the TH and were greeted by icy wind and deep drifts of snow. My bf looked back at me for direction because if you have been here you know all you see is a steep ridge in front of you. I pointed to the break in the trees where the trail heads north onto the western side of the ridge and he continued on. Staying to the left of the snow piling up on the ridge, he still managed to sink in waist high several times. The part of me that wanted to make the lookout was battling the part of me that was wondering what-in-the-heck we were doing.
The snow on the slope stayed at about 2 feet until we got into the trees around that 1km sign and the wilderness boundary. We continued on up the ridge as it weaves in between the trees on that last little bit until you come out to what should be views of the lookout up on the ridge to your left. I remember reaching this point with my niece when I did this hike in 2015. For us, it was pretty much a wall of white. Standing there at 11am with the view going in and out and getting colder by the second, we made the judgement call to turn back. When your SAR bf thinks it’s wise to head home, you listen. Exercise and fun in the snow would have to be our reward.
We decided on the way down to try and skip the road and make a straight line down the ridge from bend in the road to bend in the road. It started out pretty well but eventually the snow had too much brush bending down over the trail to know for sure if we were on any sort of “official” route. Knowing that we needed to keep right or we would miss the road and end up on the wrong side of the ridge, I kept telling my bf to stay to the right. I know he was worried we would end up too far up the road and defeat the purpose of skipping it but after quite a bit of bushwhacking and post holing we came out literally back at the bend in the road we needed! Dang, lucked out again.
At this point, snow had been falling for awhile and the snow level had dropped so we no longer had a boot path to follow down from the road. We depended even more on the old ghosts of road, assuming they would get us down the ridge. The snow remained until well below 3000ft. Finally hitting the familiar stretch of road we had come to after coming off the ridge walk, we began to look for where we would head back on the boot path down the ridge.
The truth was, however, I was kind of hoping to just walk this road switchback and save my knees a bit. Turns out, this wasn’t such a good plan because the switchback we wanted didn’t look like more than a mossy meadow and the road continued on down straight taking us WAY on to the other side of the ridge before switching back. And when it finally did reverse, it simply ended a few yards down. Not realizing this until we were bushwhacking down the slope and coming out to a viewpoint that had the Rapid River on our left and Beckler River in front of us, we were not even close to where we needed to be. Standing on the steep side of the mountain at 2pm (dinner was at 4pm in Kenmore), I texted my son to find a ride to dinner because we clearly were going to be late. I checked our elevation at 2500ft and pulled out the map. Looked like we would be heading back up to find the old road we needed because our viewpoint had a dropoff preventing us from simply following the slope around to the west side.
Eventually we made it back up to the switchback we should have taken and found the trail heading back down to the car. I was so glad to be on something that looked familiar! We picked up a sackful of litter on the way, too. We got back to the car at 3pm drenched, tired and sure to have quite a few new bruises but satisfied with our adventure for the day. As for dinner, we arrived only an hour late with the pie we had promised and there was enough food leftover I ate two plates full. As much fun as that was, I think I’ll stick to a routine hike next year.
Sorry there aren’t more pictures, it was pretty wet for pulling the camera out…
Directions: Drive east on HWY 2 past the town of Skykomish, turning left onto the Beckler River Road. Proceed along this road for about 7 miles to where the road turns to gravel. Just past a junction with FR 6520 and 6530 and a bulletin board for Blanca Lake, you cross a one lane bridge over Rapid River. Park on the right in a pullout just past the bridge.