We learned about Mt Pugh from a friend, an avid rock climber and mountaineer, who loved this hike but mentioned in passing that the hike can become a technical climb in bad weather. We went on the WTA website to confirm that it’s a hike that was within our skills since we don’t do technical climbs. We then checked the weather for the weekend. It was a thumbs-up all around.
We knew that this hike is a little over 11 miles round trip with elevation gain 5000+ feet, which we figured that we’d need between 6-7 hours of moving time. We left our place in Seattle at 9am and arrived to the trailhead at 11am. Despite it being a gorgeous day in late fall, there were only a handful of cars at the trailhead. Someone left a wine glass at the top of the trailhead message board which collected half of glass of yellowish liquid– at least someone thought it was a celebration worthy hike!
The hike started out in a forest that was exceptionally verdant, even for the Pacific Northwest. It seemed that sunlight was hardly penetrating through the dense foliage. The foot trail was narrow but well maintained. We crossed a couple of moss covered wooden bridges within a mile.
At the one and half mile mark, we found a lake with campsite to the right of the lake. I didn’t bother look up the name of the lake, so Tricia named it Still Lake because it was perfectly still. We stayed on the trail to the left, heading for the summit. The trail was switchbacks the whole way up. After about 2 hours and 4 miles on the wooded trail, we emerged out of the forest and found ourselves on a pile of giant granite boulders.
In front of us was a gully heading up the mountain face at 60 degrees. The trail continued zigzagging upwards. Since we were now above the trees, the view was spectacular. In the valley behind us were Sauk River snaking through the forest and various jagged peaks beyond the valley. The view in front of us opened up when we arrived to the top of Stujack Pass. We had the frontal view White Chuck Mountain which was a bare rock mountain with craggy peaks and deep glacial ravines. And slightly to its left hidden in the distance was the glacial volcanic peak, Mt Baker.
We took a short break to soak in the view and kept moving up. The trail became narrower at this point– steeper and twistier. Some of the soil was still frozen solid while other patches were sweating from direct sunlight. The fall colors were fading.
After turning behind a giant boulder, we found ourselves standing on a ridge. It was probably over 50 feet free fall on both sides. Even though the view was gorgeous, we were careful not to get distracted. We encountered several fellow hikers coming down from the summit and exchanged greetings. They advised us to follow the cairns not the footsteps. The last time I heard that advice was in the Himalayas crossing Cho La Pass. That was an experience we will never forget.
I led the way up towards the summit. It seemed so near at times. But then we rounded a corner and when the perspective changed, the summit seemed far above us. We encountered some snow patches that weren’t really a problem, especially since we both carried our spikes up just in case the snow became troublesome.
Finally, at around 3pm, we made it to the top. The summit had a fat area where we sat and enjoyed some water and food. The view was awesome from the top. We could see Mt Baker, White Chuck and various North Cascades peaks to the north; Massive snow capped Glacier Mountain was one ravine away to our east; Little Matterhorn was directly to our south with Rainier in the distance; the sun was moving slowly towards the Snoqualmie ranges to our east. A little chipmunk showed up to accompany us. The little guy had no fear and no shame– climbing up on my boot begging for food. To his disappointment, none was given.
We lingered around 30 mins on the summit and started to head down at 3:30pm. The descent was probably equally difficult as the climb up because we were looking directly down at the bottom of cliffs. But we were both focused and made it to the Stujack Pass without too much trouble. From the Pass to the car was easy. We picked up our pace, trying to make it to the car before darkness. I led the way down, flew through the wooded trails, and made it to the car by 6:10pm.
Thank you for the wonderful day, Mt Pugh. Until next time…