I picked out Mount Pugh the day before because it looked like a relatively short an easy climb. At about 10 miles round trip and 5300 feet of elevation, this was indeed moderate for a Cascade Peak. Plus it looked fairly popular hence it would be a good choice as a solo trip. I awoke to an overcast day in Seattle. I wasn’t too worried about this though because I was hoping that I would be able to climb above the clouds. Alas, today was not the day to have a sea of clouds below me but Mount Pugh was a worthy and fun climb regardless. As I drove up I-5, thankful that I was out early enough that there was no traffic, it began to rain. The rain continued all the way to Darrington and began to let up somewhat while driving the 12 miles on the Mountain Loop Highway although the clouds were still thick.
The trail, as usual, began in thick forest filled with ferns and evergreen and, as always, too dark for photos. The trail traverses southward for a while, crossing a few streams tumbling down the mountain before switching back over and over to Metan Lake. I was moving really fast today and arrived at the lake well before an hour. I stopped briefly for a picture and realized I was in the middle of a blueberry patch. So I partook of the free eatings. They were really good. I planned on snagging some more on my way out (of course, I forgot). I continued on up past the lake which was phase two of the switchbacks. As I hiked higher, the trail became wetter and upon entering the clouds, I was surrounded by a lightly falling mist.
Eventually, I started running into small patches of snow and shortly thereafter, a large steep slope opened up in front of me. High above, the slope was totally socked in clouds but it was still wispy where I was. I crossed a short snowfield as the trail began winding up the steep slope. The best wildflowers that I’ve seen in Washington yet were on this slope. There were some really need red Colombines up here. However, this display couldn’t touch some of the flower displays I’ve seen in Colorado. At the top of this slope is Stujack pass, that is really more of a notch than a pass. There’s a towering rock outcropping on the left and the trail begins winding up ridge to the right. This is where the climb of Mount Pugh becomes really fun.
The trail wends around a fairly broad ridge climbing higher and higher. I couldn’t see much of anything other than misty clouds blowing past me. Although I really wanted the views, it was enjoyable hiking in the surreal clouds. After perhaps five hundred feet of gain, the ridge becomes much thinner and rockier and the trail stays right on the ridge crest. I would imagine this would be a pretty good place for views since both directions are totally obstructed. Sections of the ridge in the mist though were neat in their own regard: sometimes the ridge would be thin and steep enough that the flanks were eventually lost in the clouds.
After a few more thin ridge moments, all of which are perfectly safe, a large buttress appears right in front of you. This is the 3rd class section of the climb. The trail becomes very rocky and climbs up a steep gully. Past the gully the 3rd class turns a bit easier and, still third class, climbs some lesser angle slabs. After this, the 3rd class difficulties were over and the climb was a pleasant climb around boulders and towers. In these conditions, there were numerous false summits. I’d see a rocky shape in front of me and shortly thereafter I’d see another rocky shape, higher than the last, beyond. This continued several more times until I arrived on the top. There are a few nice camping spots on top. This would be a fantastic place to bivy! The sun was trying to peek through the clouds and I thought that maybe the cloud level would indeed drop and I would be treated to an amazing spectacle, but it wasn’t meant to be this time. Not a big deal, this was a great hike anyway. I highly recommend this climb to novice hikers as a something a good bit more exciting and rewarding than the peaks outside Seattle.