Our Northwest

Popular Pilchuck luring unprepared hikers

Wednesday, June 21, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

Snowy Mount Pilchuck in the Washington Cascades, Snohomish County​Five hikers have needed rescue on Mount Pilchuck since June 8, with lingering snow and poor preparation a factor in all five incidents.

Snohomish Search and Rescue officials urge hikers to prepare for snow and always bring the 10 essentials, even if their target is just a routine late-summertime dayhike. The recent Pilchuck rescues involved:

  • a woman who slipped on snow June 8 and wounded her leg trying to self-arrest with an ice axe

  • a man who broke through snow and dislocated his shoulder June 11

  • a lost man who eventually returned safely on his own, but not until after prompting a June 11 air and ground search

  • a woman who ventured off-trail June 12 and got stuck on a perilous snow slope and suffered hypothermia before her midnight rescue

  • a man who lingered too long above the snow line this week and couldn't hike down the slick surface.

I've witnessed a few mountain blunders myself. One involved me.

Man stands by wind-blown tent on snowy ground at Chikamin Lake in Washington's CascadesThree of us were on a backpack to Chikamin Lake, which sits at 6,000 feet via a faint goat trail in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. A warm, sunny late-September weekend quickly gave way to a howling windstorm overnight that battered our tents and kept us awake. At dawn, we peered outside to find a thick dusting of snow on the ground.

Though well-equipped, we still endured a harrowing descent. The snow was less troublesome than the ice that sheathed long stretches of polished granite, hampering each step.

In 2014 my son guided me to Camp Muir, 10,188 feet up Mount Rainier. It's a dayhike that requires the 10 essentials, plus poles and crampons in case the perpetual snowfields ice over. While descending we encountered a hiking party at Pebble Creek, near the halfway point on the trail.

Jon climbs to Camp Muir on Mount Rainier, with Mount Adams in the backgroundIt was a family of men, women, and children, some of whom wore sandals. A woman asked in broken English, "How far to camp?" They intended to hike to Muir! We explained it was much farther and that different clothing and equipment was necessary for safety. They wore disappointed expressions and lingered as we continued down to Paradise. I hope they reversed direction.

Pilchuck is particularly tricky right now because of the thick winter snowpack and late spring. Officials warn would-be hikers to come prepared, and expect cell-phone coverage to be spotty at best.

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