Climbing into Winter at Granite Mountain

Granite Mountain Lookout

  • Roundtrip: 8.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,800 feet
trailsnow
Snow along the trail near the top of Granite Mountain.

Recent mountain snows have the SkiZer dreaming of an early season.

On a perfect fall day, it seemed like a great time for a climb to see what’s up there.

The Granite Mountain trail certainly fits the “climbing” bill: It goes up a mountain for 3,800 vertical feet, rewarding hikers with great views of Washington’s highest peaks from the top.

The hike

sign
Take a right to Granite Mountain.

Start the hike 16 miles east of North Bend, Wash., on the north side of I-90 at exit 47.

This trail gets down to business immediately. From a trailhead parking lot in a dark forest at elevation 1,800 feet, the first 1.2 miles climb steeply to a junction with the Pratt/Talupus Lakes Trail. Then things get REALLY steep and rough.

Along the way, you hear the sound of traffic roaring along I-90. The guidebook I used for this hike, “Day Hike! Central Cascades,” by Mike McQuaide, suggested thinking of the traffic noise as “an ocean breeze,” and from time to time, the auto traffic did sound like distant waves crashing on a beach.

It’s nice to pretend, anyway.

About two miles up, you hit an avalanche chute and eventually pop out of the forest for good. Then there’s a bunch more climbing to do — but at least the views are nice. Mount Rainier makes an appearance as you near the summit, and once on top, you can see the other volcanic big dogs: Mount Baker and Glacier Peak to the north; Mount Adams to the south.

Recent storms had dumped several inches of snow on the 5,629-foot peak. The crisp fall day turned to teeth-chattering winter about 800 feet below the summit.

fallcolor
Fall color covers the mountain side below the snow line on Granite Mountain.
lookouthikers
Hikers reach a rock garden, one of the few flat places along the trail, just below the summit.
firstsnowgranite
Snow covers fall leaves along the trail.
topviewrainier
View from the top: That’s Mount Rainier on the horizon.

SkiZer Suggests

Headphones: Those who can’t pretend-away the sounds of  a major highway might want to block out the noise with some music.

When to go: It’s a popular trail because of the easy I-90 access. Hit it during midweek, and avoid warm days: The slopes of Granite Mountain are south-facing and bake during summer.

Blister rating: Five out of five stars. This trail is relentlessly steep. Your heels will take a beating on the way up, your toes will suffer on the way down. Bring the Band-Aids.

 

 

 

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