Suntop Lookout

On Monday Gwen hiked to the top of Suntop Peak. She and Craig had an overcast morning that gave way to a sunny afternoon. A beautiful day in the mountains. Gwen set her stuffed hedgehog Hedgy on the outside wall of the lookout to include in photos. They then packed up and hiked down. Half way down she realized Hedgy was still up there. The next few days saw very high winds in the mountains. Gwen wanted to mount a rescue mission. With all the wind the chances of success were slim. He only weighs a few ounces and surely was blown away. The fact I had never been up Suntop was reason enough to come along. A road goes to the top of the mountain. There is a gate and a half mile long trail near the top. I believe the road is gated at the trail. In the winter The Huckleberry Creek Road is gated 1.4 miles from Highway 410 with a sno-park lot. The road to the top starts just a short distance from the gate.

We had a moderately late start, arriving at the 2250' parking lot at 10:10 am. We were on our way ten minutes later. On Monday Gwen found the lot bare. There was little snow for the first two miles of the road. This day there was a thin coat of snow covering the road from the highway to the top. Not even an inch down low and some bare spots as we started to climb. There were a few fresh footprints in the snow. The forecast for overcast was wrong in the morning. We had some blue sky and sunshine at first. It was a balmy 26 degrees at the start. The forecast also called for 9-11 mph winds. With calm winds down low and a steady uphill grade we stayed warm.

We packed snowshoes but it was clear that we would not need them for quite some time. The grade is very steady. No really steep sections and few flats. There are several junctions but the main road is obvious. I had often though of skiing the road in the past. There was not enough snow to make that easy. The gate just after mile two was open. There are mile markers all the way up. By 2.5 miles the new snow was several inches deep. It was very powdery. It fell at unusually cold temperatures. Unlike the usual Cascade Cement it was very easy to walk through. At about 3.5 miles the wind really began to pick up. I stopped at the 4 mile marker to put on a jacket and cinch up the hood. Another 1.5 miles of this would not be any fun. Fortunately as we climbed the wind died down. By now the blue sky had changed to white. We had a clear view of Mt. Rainier from Enumclaw but doubted we would have much of a view from the top. At about 4.25 miles we met a lone hiker heading down. He chose not to fight the wind near the top.

As we neared five miles we reached the trail. The trail actually starts down off Highway 410 and climbs to the top in around 8 miles. Way too long for a winter snowshoe trip. The road is much shorter. Just after the trail crossing there is a road junction. The right hand road quickly crosses the trail again and winds its way to the top of the mountain. Gwen suggested we have lunch there as possible high winds on the summit would make for a short visit. Gwen and Craig used snowshoes for the summer trail and their tracks were helpful to stay on route with the fresh snow. In trees at the start of the trail the snow was sparse We even saw a little dirt on the sides. As we climbed the snow deepened.

We quickly crossed the road again and climbed more steeply up the slope. About half way up the forest thinned and the wind really began to hit us. It was really frigid. The lack of snow allowed for safe passage. With more snow and the moderate avalanche danger we might have turned around. We left the trees when we reached the upper road just below the summit. The road was scoured bare. As we walked the short distance along the road the snow depth went from none to more than a foot of fresh snow piled up by the wind. We made it the whole way without using our snowshoes. I cut up the road bank earlier and reached the lookout building first.

I could see that the wind was blowing right across the wall Hedgy was sitting on. No chance he was still there. A short way from there the mountain top dropped very steeply. After days of very strong winds it was now blowing at 15+ mph with gust to probably 25 mph. Hedgy might be in Tacoma by now. The shutter were all buttoned up over the windows. The wood panel over the door was laying on the ground. It provided a wall that kept Hedgy on the mountain. There he was half buried by snow. Gwen soon arrived and was pleasantly surprised to find our rescue mission was a success.  We went around to the side out of the window. My thermometer read 10 degrees. That is plenty cold. Mt. Rainier was hidden by clouds. Most other peaks were below the cloud level. Lots of clouds but not such bad views either. We reached the top at 2:10 pm and headed down at 2:20 pm. Ten minutes was plenty.

We slogged along the road and dropped down the trail. Within minutes the wind was dramatically less. Soon it was gone entirely. In short order we were back at the road and took one more break. It was eight degrees warmer and without the wind it felt almost warm. The trip down was long but easy enough. The powdery snow over a rock hard base was easy to walk on. Before the 4 mile mark we met a lone skier coming up. He confirmed that it was still very windy just below. We met one other guy on our way down. Three other people over 11 miles is no crowd. The wind tunnel section was even windier than on the way up. We were below mile post 3 before it abated. At 5:05 we reached the car. It was snowing lightly. It was also the same 26 degrees as when we started that morning.

We had intermittent snow on the drive home. All the way home. It was lightly snowing in North Seattle. Within 20 minutes of my arrival home the top of my car was snow covered. There was three inches later that night. We arrived home just in time. I always enjoy a first time trip. Especially one that is relatively close to Seattle. Especially a mountain with a lookout. This trip had it all. The weather was better than expected. The wind was almost painful on the top but light most of the trip. Best of all, against all odds, Gwen found Hedgy.

Heading Out
Suntop In The Distance
Long Shadow
Big Paw Print
Still Thin Snow Cover
4 Mile Marker
Flocked Trees
Nearing 5 Miles
Looks Like Winter
Sign Board
Trail Sign
Half A Mile To Go
Steeper Trail
Gwen Reaches Road
Blowing Snow
Gwen Below Summit
Suntop Lookout
Gwen Approaches Top
Gwen & Hedgy
Snowy Peak
Dark Ridges
Heading Down
Wall Of Trees
Lunch Spot
Tree Lined Road
View To Summit
Snow Patterns
Almost Back
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2014