The old route up Mailbox Peak holds a special place among the peaks along I-90. It has traditionally been a rough climber’s trail, an unrelentingly steep, rooted, rocky, muddy torture test, a crucible in which the summits of summer are forged. More than almost any other trail, it assaults gravity with single-minded determination, proceeding more or less due east straight up a ridge line to the summit, gaining some 3,800 feet in two and a half miles after an initial short jaunt up a DNR road. There is nary a switchback in sight. This makes it an attractive, but treacherous, prize for hikers. Scarcely a year goes by that some hapless party doesn’t get lost here, despite the white reflectors that mark the trail. For this reason (and to bring a halt to the horrible erosion associated with the existing trail), the Department of Natural Resources has been building a new trail, on the north side of the peak. This new route, scheduled for completion in 2014, will wend its way to the top in a relatively civilized five miles, though nothing can diminish the elevation gain between the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road and Mailbox’s 4,800-foot summit. For those still looking for the brutal ascent to the summit, start up the gated road, bypassing the inviting new trail about a hundred feet past the gate, on the left. Roughly a third of a mile from the gate, turn left into the woods. A sign with warnings about the difficulty of the trail (it's not exaggerating) marks your point of departure. The next fifth of a mile is relatively gentle and scenic, traveling along a runoff stream in tall forest. And then things get steep. The trail starts climbing and doesn’t stop - a very brief flat section in a third of a mile is a very momentary aberration. In fact, the trail grows steeper and steeper over the next half mile until it is pitching upwards at its steepest angle. Though it may not get any steeper from here, it hardly lets up. Along the way, there are few landmarks to mark your progress, just slight changes in the surroundings. In 0.15 miles, the trail crosses into dark, dense new forest – the least scenic stretch of trail. In 0.15 miles more, the trail starts traveling over exposed roots that are incredibly slippery when wet (which is often). After a third of a mile of these root ladders, break out into the open for the first time. In a quarter mile, the trail heads back into the trees to the north, avoiding an open talus slope to your right. When snow blankets the trail, an unofficial route heads directly over the rocks, but in summer, avoid these rocks. In another fifth of a mile, the trail joins the open ridge for the rest of the way to the summit. On any but the nicest days, a stiff wind blowing from right to left will be your constant companion from here on. Mailbox is not known for its scenery, but the terrain is not without its rewards. From the first talus slope all the way to the top is proper wilderness, forested with old gnarled trees that have survived the harsh winds of many a winter. On a nice day, the views from the summit are as good as any along I-90. Mailbox stands at the prow of a long ridge, giving it greater prominence – ubiquitous Mount Rainier seems even closer than it does from Bandera or Granite. In early summer, the final half mile is covered in beargrass, lupine, and Indian paintbrush, as well as several other varieties of wildflowers. In winter, every tree, rock and blade of grass along the summit ridge will often be spectacularly rimed with windblown snow and ice. The greatest reward, however, is merely the joy of the effort itself, of digging deep within yourself to summon the strength to conquer the mighty Mailbox and inscribe your name in the summit register contained – appropriately enough – in a mailbox someone installed at the top.
words from wha.com