8.6 Miles Roundtrip
3800 feet elevation gain
Granite Mountain has been on my bucket list for a long time. Located just west of Snoqualmie Pass, the mountain is famed for amazing 360-degree views of Mt. Rainier to the south and Mt. Baker to the north. It’s also one of the few hikes in the area to feature a lookout tower at the summit.
The Granite Mountain trail is off-limits most of the year due to extreme avalanche danger. Now that summer has arrived, the snow has finally melted out – except for the last mile or so which crosses a snowfield. Word has it that the snow can be avoided, however, by scrambling to the summit along a ridge. That sounded promising so I decided to check it out, along with my hiking partners Shristhy and Ash.
We arrived at the Pratt Lake Trailhead on Saturday shortly after 9:00 am. Overcast skies meant fewer crowds but also lessened our chances of views at the summit. We hoped the weather would cooperate so we could at least catch glimpses of distant mountains.
Our route began along the less strenuous Pratt Lake Trail. The last time I hiked this way, I was on my first solo backpacking trip to Pratt Lake three years ago. It felt good to be back. I found wild strawberries growing along the path here which was a real treat.
We reached the junction to the Granite Mountain trail after about a half mile and that’s when the climb really began. The trail zigzags through the trees and across an avalanche chute to above the tree line. The clouds partially lifted as we hiked and we could see mountains on the other side of the I-90 corridor for a few minutes.
We reached some ponds just before the trail crosses over to the north side of a ridge. From that point on, the trail is covered with snow as it climbs to the summit. The views would have been fabulous, if the weather had cooperated, and many hikers elected to stop here.
We decided to press on, and opted to scramble over a boulder field along a ridge to the top. I’ve never really scrambled up boulders like this before – it was fun but a lot harder than I anticipated. It was definitely a full body workout as I was using my arms just as much as my legs to maneuver through the granite rocks. At one point, I lost a water bottle from my pack’s side pocket into a crevice between the rocks. I had no idea how to safely retrieve it so we left the bottle behind and kept going – lesson learned for next time.
It definitely felt like an accomplishment once we reached the top, even though the lookout was locked and there was no view today. As we sat down to eat lunch, it started raining. We elected not to stay long as we were worried the boulders would get slippery and we hadn’t brought the proper gear to take the summer route down.
We took our time as we slowly descended down the ridge. It began to rain harder and the rocks were slick and treacherous. I spent most of my time on my butt scooting from rock to rock as I was mildly terrified of slipping and breaking my leg. At one point, we met a hiker on his way up who stopped to retrieve the water bottle I thought was gone forever. It was a little embarrassing but I was relieved not to leave it behind.
We cheered once we exited the boulder field and rejoined the trail. Whew! That was an adventure. There were still almost 4 miles to go, however, so I put on the rest of my raingear and we pressed on.
It rained steadily the rest of the afternoon and we were soaked when we returned to my car. The entire hike took just over 7 hours – a little longer than I anticipated due to the scramble up the ridge. I probably won’t attempt a scramble like that again on a cloudy day as I never would have started up the ridge if I knew it was going to start raining.
Between the 16-mile hike last weekend on Tiger Mountain Trail and today’s adventure on Granite Mountain, I’m starting to feel a little worn down. My creaky knees are a bit sore due to a flare-up of arthritis. So I’ll be taking it easy the next few weeks to let my body recuperate.