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!