Vibrant greens layer-caked with silvery rock candy and lichen-glazed boulders — Mount Pilchuck stands like a jagged tower in the clouds. About a mile and a half into a hike to the top, this scene appears just after turning a soft corner and opening to the first good look at the peak waiting to be scrambled up.
We happened to be there on a semi-sprinkly day. Clouds surrounded the peak, cresting in and out of a thick fog.
The Pilchuck hike feels a little like it begins before it starts. Three miles of dirt must be driven before the trailhead, filled with potholes more than 3 feet wide and 10 inches deep. The road is a game of dodge between car tires and holes all the way to a seemingly random paved section a little more than 2 miles up the hill.
The 5.4-mile roundtrip hiking trail starts flat, but only long enough to make initial backpack adjustments. The climb doesn’t quit until you get to the tippy top — a tower sitting on 5,327 feet of elevation.
Valley views begin early and follow the whole trail — on a sunny day, but there would be little shade. The trail, starting at about 3,000 feet high, is mostly exposed after a short stretch of trees. On a semi-rainy day, don’t be discouraged. The extra shade from the clouds makes the uphill less sweaty, and the way the fog rolls through the rocky cliffside is kinda magical… yes, Lord-of-the-Rings-ish.
After some strategic, straight-up boulder scurrying, the jagged Pilchuck peak sits under a ladder leading to the fire tower, originally built in 1921. The 360 view looks over the Puget Sound and gives a layered landscape of cascade giants, like Mount Ranier, Baker and St. Helens. This is the only part when a clear day might make it a little more amaze.
No matter the weather though, the trek offers a short but physically rewarding hike, some forest time and mountain majesty.