On a soggy January day, I resolved to get out there, damn the weather! But there’s only so many places one can go in PNW winters.
Armed with microspikes, I summoned my courage and joined a bunch of strangers from the Facebook group PNW Women’s Hike Meetup for what was promised as a slushy, rainy-day hike, but without avalanche danger on that particular day. I am always looking for more hiking buddies, but the scary experience of hiking with strangers, and the weather, nearly had me backing out. But, I loaded up my car and brought my pup Schooner along, met up with some ladies in the (plowed and clear) parking lot, and set off!
Most of us opted to ‘chain up’ when needed, so started without spikes on. Some of us had poles, others did not. It was a mix of packed snow and mud at the beginning, with a tiny bit of road walking and an immediate turn onto a small trail after crossing a road bridge. While I had a Gaia trail map saved, it was always nice to have a guide who had done the hike before leading the group. We had a nice straight stretch for a bit, and while we were climbing, it was very gradual. You are parallel to I-90 and can hear road noise for a bit of this trail, but them’s the breaks when hiking along a road.
There are multiple viewpoints (false balconies?) along the trail before the balcony itself. WTA says the first false balcony has a great view of McKellan Butte, but on an unclear day, there’s road and clouds to be seen. There are also scattered giant boulders about. This area is very popular for rock climbers, but maybe that’s more seasonal. We all chained up when the switchbacks got more plentiful.
However, even with less views than I was hoping for, the company was excellent. I am an extrovert who LOVES talking about shared interests, so talking about hiking and backpacking and gear with other like-minded people will have me in a good mood, regardless. Schooner zipped along up the mountain as I chatted with the other gals in the group, including one I really clicked with who shared a lot about Colorado. The climbing and switchbacks just go so much better if having good conversation, which is probably one big reason why I hate hiking solo (the other being constant fear of bears and cougars). There were a few areas of postholing, but other than that, the microspikes were more than adequate for the conditions. Of course, a lot can change in a PNW winter, so don’t take my word for it if hiking here in winter–check trip reports and conditions first.
In typical PNW fashion, right at the top, the official ‘balcony,’ it began raining harder than the entire trip up. A few quick pics and laments over the clouds and mist obscuring our view, and we departed.
I admit, this hike is one that’s all about the timing and not as much the destination or journey. That doesn’t mean it was bad, per se, but would I do this hike in pretty much any other season? Nah. But if itching to get out there in the dead of winter and avalanches and snow season, this does a pretty good job of scratching that itch. Not bad for a soggy January day!
Distance: WTA said 4.4 miles RT, my GPS clocked 4.8
Elevation: WTA said 1600 feet, I tracked 1300.
Parking: Discover Pass
Bathrooms: Pit toilets at parking lot
Best Beer Bet: No Boat or Snoqualmie Brewing in North Bend