Mount Townsend : A Summer Ritual

I’m not sure what I was thinking. When I heard Mt Townsend was snow-free, I put it on my radar and never gave it a second thought. It’s a 2.5 hour drive to the trailhead, (the last 14 miles on a forest road, the last mile through deep potholes that could swallow a small car) an 8 plus mile hike and over 3000 ft of elevation gain. Any one of those things were enough to give me pause, but there I was, my butt in the seat, at 4:35am. 

Here’s the thing about this hike. It is a grueling climb all the way up. In fact, the final mile in the sun seems endless. But the views and the air and the 4 miles down are what stay with me long after I have returned home. When I think of Mount Townsend, I think of five visible volcanoes, a cool stiff breeze at the top and rhodies in full bloom in the woods. For some reason I block out the four miles of up, up, up. 

The last 14 miles to the trailhead are paved, narrow and well signed until the last half mile. Beyond that, take it slow. Those potholes are surprisingly deep and hard to see until you’re right on top of them. The lot holds about ten cars comfortably and was half full when I arrived after 7. The bathrooms are closed at the time of this writing, best plan ahead. 

With 3000 feet of gain in just over 4 miles it should come as no surprise that this hike begins climbing right out of the gate. The weather was perfect. The lower trail through the woods is lined with beautiful rhodies in full bloom, and with streaks of sunlight slipping in, the path is stunning. At just .5 miles I hear birdsong and realize already that I am overdressed. A rookie move. 

About a third of the way up the rhodies thin and give way to treetops, shadows and sunlight. Wildflowers are blooming and in the gravel drainage shoots, you begin to get your first good views of what will be a stunning view along the horizon of five volcanoes. The trail has just enough shade to create good stopping points to let your lungs recover briefly as you make your push to the top. 

The last hundred yards is gorgeous. At the top you enjoy 360° views. You see five volcanoes to the east across the Cascade range, Rainier, Adams, St Helens, Baker and Glacier Peak. You’ll also enjoy views of Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the Salish Sea. To the south and west you can see Mount Constance, Warrior Peak, Mount Mystery, and Mount Deception. 

I made it down in about half the time I took going up. Taking in the last views from over 6000 feet the trail descends quickly and by the time you reach the shade of the rhodie-lined woods it’s easy to forget the grueling grade going up. 

I stopped in Port Gamble on my way home for a visit with Heidi and her fabulous dogs at The Artful Ewe. One of my favorite people and one of my favorite places. I didn’t remember a photo but here is a photo from my last visit. 

A perfect finish to a great day. 

And now, I rest up for the next adventure, knowing I can do most everything left on my summer to-do list!

14 Comments on “Mount Townsend : A Summer Ritual

  1. I’m grateful that I love the wee hours. It’s a completely different experience that so many miss out on!

  2. Spectacular pix. And wonderful account of the day. Inspiring me to push myself a little harder. Love the oh-dark-thirty wake-up too 🙂

  3. You are such a badass, Bonnie Rae! What a glorious trail leading to breathtaking views! Thanks for sharing these photos, which are also fantastic! I am in total awe! 🌞

    • Thank you so much! It’s a really beautiful trail and the views make it all worthwhile. I always like to *think* I’m a badass, but mostly I am really, really lucky to live here! Thanks for writing.

  4. Wow!! Not sure I could do that so I appreciate you taking us along!! Heading to White River on Wednesday. I feel better prepared with your recent reports! Ready for snow or flowers or both!! Thank you!

    • You will have some beautiful weather for your trip! I think I’ll be at Sheep Lake on Weds. Hope you let me know how your trip goes. Happy Anniversary!

  5. Ditto that “what were you thinking?” But I know, I’ve done it too, on this very hike. I won’t again. As grueling as the upshit is, down is just as hard for me. But the trail is beautiful, and the top stupendous. And I am thinking of repeating another one this summer that I said I would never do again. So there you have it. We follow our heart instead of our brain. Good on ya!

    • Well, if I’m telling the truth I guess the world feels less safe to me these days. I’m not great with navigation either, so I’m okay doing familiar trails. I have nothing to prove. I have fresh eyes every time I step onto the path, new or familiar, and always have an unexpected experience. That said, I do have a couple new ones on my list for this summer, so we’ll see!

  6. Oh this collection of photos really is spectacular, and you have made me realize I have not been pushing myself to hike this year. But I could. I could do like you and just take 2/3 of a day and go, and I know I would love it so what am I doing at home? Funny about the rookie move of overdressing. I can relate. I get so mad at myself when I do that, because I know better. I love, love, love the shots of the trail. You really have made me ache to get out there. Thank you. <3

    • Yes, Crystal! I love your adventure tales. If you hike in Oregon I might just have a new place on my list. Thanks for taking the journey with me. I had just started feeling like I had my packing and clothing down to a science. Next time!

    • Haha … right? What WAS I thinking? Well, mostly about the view and that sweet mountain air and that going down was a breeze by comparison. And I don’t feel as bad as I thought I would today!

    • Thanks so much, Deb. Sorry I didn’t see you on my visit yesterday. The hike was a challenge, but the reward was great.

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