So what do you do when you've had a solid week of "June-uary" in Seattle and the forecast shows just one good weather day on the weekend? You beg your wife to watch the kids and let you hike! Fortunately for me, my lovely wife (best mother in the world, of course) agreed. So early (as always) my buddy and I headed out I-90 all the way to exit 47 to take a crack at Granite Mountain. Driving directions and a brief description of the trail can be found in the first picture below. Make no mistake, this trail is not for the faint of heart. Like a lot of other hikes in the region, this one starts climbing pretty much right from the trailhead. Green Trails map #207 has this hike pegged 3.1 miles. With over 3800 feet of elevation game it's a serious workout.
Funny thing about Granite Mountain. It was the very first hike I ever attempted in Washington during my very first summer in Seattle way back in 2001. A guy I worked with organized after work hikes and invited me along. I had no idea what I was getting into. Young, dumb, and unprepared, I followed him up the mountain. It damned near killed an out-of-shape 24 year old me and I hadn't ever gone back until now.
We found the parking lot mostly empty before 7 AM (but a few people had beat us there, some who we'd later learn started as early as 5!) . Later in the day cars would be parked almost all the way back to the interstate exit. The pictures below show just a bit of the trail up to the junction of the Granite Mountain trail. It's about 600 feet over 0.6 miles in this stretch - the easiest section of trail by far. It's just touches the first avalanche chute for a couple of feet. From there you can see a waterfall and the ridge of the upper mountain. It's a nice glimpse of what is in store. At the junction you can stay on the main trail and head for Pratt Lake (which can also be reached from the Talapus and Ollalie lakes trailhead). We of course veered right up the hill.
I'd guess about half of the climb is in the trees. It does often extend into the first avalanche chute and then eventually across it and a second chute. You do get some views of Humpback Mountain and other peaks on the south side of I-90 from the chutes. You can also see the bowl where Annette Lake lies (but you can't see the lake itself). The pictures below are all from before reaching the meadows. The waterfall in the last couple of pictures is crossed in the second avalanche chute not long before exiting the trees into the meadows.
What I really like about this hike (and Bandera, Defiance, Dickerman, etc.) is the amount of time spent above the treeline in the meadows. Caution is warranted though. I have harped on people for not having the 10 essentials in other posts. I saw several people with no packs and no water. "Crazy," I thought. At the same time, though, I was not exercising judgement by taking advantage of one of the 10 essentials that I actually had in my pack - suncreen. I paid for it on the back of my calves and my neck. Not a pretty sight.
The meadows are rapidly become snow free. There is a bit of maneuvering through snow required but some of it can be easily skirted if one so wishes. We spend some time on the snow and some time just off the snow. In the last shot below you can see what I believe is a marmot. Lucky shot for sure. I saw what I thought was a dog in the bushes above us and then it darted out onto the snow before disappearing over the ridge. Big guy for sure. Easily the size of a small dog.
At about 5300 feet (just 400 feet from the summit) the meadow flattens out at a key decision point. The summer route is still buried under snow and I imagine it will be a few more weeks before the snow is completely gone. The winter route (or so another hiker told me) involves a scramble up some gnarly boulders. Though we had microspikes with us, I wasn't really feeling the snow so we took a shot at the boulders. The going was slow and we didn't make it too far (maybe another 100 feet up) before we decided that the view of Rainier from the decision point was enough for us. While we were up there a lot of other hikers arrived. Some took the boulders, some took the snow on the left, some crossed the snow all the way and went around the north ridge, and yet others, like us, decided to call it good at 5300 feet. We weren't unhappy with our decision. Each hiker has to make a decision based on their own goals and their own risk tolerance. My buddy has a big vacation planned in just two weeks and for him the risk wasn't worth it.
Most of the pictures below are just a few from our turnaround spot on the boulders. There were lots of great views to be had. To the south of course was Mt. Rainier which was never fully clear of the clouds while we were up there. To the east we could see Keechelus Lake just on the other side of Snoqualmie Pass. This lake was extremely low last fall after the summer without rain when we drove by it on the way to our Waptus Lake trip. The third picture below shows McClellan Butte (which is on our list of hikes later in the summer) out in the distance beyond the rocks. The last picture below was pretty lucky. My buddy and I were eating a snack from the decision point and he said "Airplane. Low. Headed right at us!". I grabbed my camera, jumped up, and caught the lookout and the airplane just as he rolled left to the north and circle around the mountain.
Another great hike. A little more than 3 hours up. An hour or so on top. 2 hours down. No injuries other than a nasty sunburn. We are definitely coming back to Granite Mountain another time with less snow. We want to get to that lookout.