Friday, January 30, 2015

Mount Washington Hike

On a mid-January day I had plans to hike part way up Mount Washington with a small group of friends.  Our goal was to get a good work-out and if weather allowed, enjoy a nice view.  With an elevation of 4450 feet, the trail from about 2000 feet elevation and above is normally inaccessible in the winter under several feet of snow. So our plan was to go about half way up staying below the snowline to the first spot with a great view.

Mount Washington is a nice destination for a day hike, located only 40 minutes east of Seattle.  The trail head is accessed from the parking lot in Olallie State Park.

Directions to the Mount Washington Trail Head:

  1. Take I-90 to exit 38
  2. Take a right at the exit
  3. After a short distance take a right at the entrance to Olallie State Park (Discovery Pass required)
  4. Access to the trail is at the end of the parking lot near the restroom and sign board

Ollallie State Park Parking Lot

There is no signage to indicate the way to the Mount Washington trail, but take the gravel path that leads uphill a short distance to a junction with the John Wayne Trail.  

The path from the Ollallie State Park Parking Lot to the John Wayne Trail
After arriving at the John Wayne Trail, to the left there is a sign listing several trails and distances, but still no hint of the Mt Washington Trail.  Instead of turning left, go to the right along the John Wayne Trail.
Trail Signs on the John Wayne Trail

After about a quarter of a mile is a path on the left marked with a small rock cairn, and I do mean small.  The little pile of rocks is maybe 18 inches tall.  

Unsigned Mt Washington Trail Head
A short distance from the trail head, a small stream and waterfall come into view.
Mt Washington Trail Head Stream and Small Waterfall
Although this trail has a fairly steep constant uphill grade, there is a lot of beautiful scenery including several rock walls that helps to distract from the climb.

Rock Wall Mount Washington Trail
Several of the rock walls have small waterfalls of dripping water, this one was large enough to qualify as a shower!

Take a shower along the Mount Washington Trail
 I always bring water for my dogs when we hike, but I had no need of it on this trail because of so many creeks and waterfalls.  Hank and Tim were able to take frequent drinks along the way.

Hiking with Border Collies
Our destination is the "owl spot" about 2 miles from the trail head.  The name suggests a birder's hotspot for owl sightings, but that isn't the reason for the moniker.  The name was created by The Mountaineers, a group of early hiking enthusiasts in the area who created trails and wrote numerous Pacific Northwest hiking trail guides.  They made a list of relatively short hikes that could be done in the evening after a day at work and called them "owl hikes".  This spot on the Mount Washington trail with the stone bench is the destination of one of these hikes.
Mount Washington "Owl Hike" Bench
The view to the north from the Owl Spot is the reward for hiking this far.

View to the north from the Mt Washington Trail
At this point we had reached our planned destination, but with a rare warm, sunny January day and an abnormal absence of snow, after a brief discussion, we all agreed to press on to the summit.  What were the chances we'd ever have the opportunity to hike together to the top of Mount Washington on a January day like this?

Mt. Washington Trail Sign
Ironically after hiking past the owl spot, and more than half-way up the mountain, we finally see a trail sign confirming that we are on the trail to Mt. Washington!

A Stream to Cross
A short distance later, we encounter a stream which was not possible to cross without getting wet feet.  It might not be safe to attempt a crossing at the height of the spring run-off.

A small pond on the Mount Washington Trail
The trail became quite wet and was essentially a shallow stream until we arrived at a small pond.  At this point the trail to the summit takes a sharp right.

Rock Scree on the Mt Washington Trail
Further along the trail passes through a large rock scree.

View of Mount Rainier from the summit of Mt Washington

 After a few more turns and a last steep uphill climb this is the breathtaking view of Mount Rainier that awaited us making the arduous hike to the top well worth the effort.

Mount Washington Hike
Length 8.5 miles, round trip 
Elevation Gain: 3250 ft. 
Highest Point: 4450 ft

A Grey Jay Looking for a Hand-out 
A welcoming committee of about five tame Grey Jays (obviously accustomed to mooching tidbits from hikers) met us at the top.
Hiking Border Collies, Hank and Tim

The highest point of the summit was a fairly easy incline where Hank and Tim took a rest overlooking the view to the south.

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