Hiking Mailbox Peak - The Most Terrifying Day of My Life
Ali here. I had the most terrifying day of my life on Saturday. And I’m here to tell you all about it.
So I spent about 10 days in Seattle with Kate until we flew to STL on Sunday. We’ve both been working from home as our physical offices are closed. The weather had thankfully been beautiful so we had been getting to the park each night with some friends (practicing social distancing) to get in some activity and exercise. I had been saying once the weather gets nice in Seattle that I wanted to go on a hike. Saturday seemed like the most perfect day, so a group of us decided to do a hike.
Now, let me set this up by saying I’ve never really hiked. I’ve gone on a hike in the desert in Arizona, but I’ve never hiked a mountain or anything. I am also not the most athletic or fit person in the world.
The group decided on a mountain called Mailbox Peak. They mentioned it would be difficult but no one ever imagined what we’d go through during this climb. Settle in for a long post here...
The morning started off with excitement. It was supposed to be warm and sunny so I got on my tennis shoes, leggings, a workout tank, and a jacket. Kate, Oakley, and I left the apartment around 11am, stopping for coffee and gas on the way to our friends’ place. We picked up the rest of the group, went through a breakfast burrito drive thru, and began our 45 minute drive to the mountain. Lots of laughs and chatting took place during that quick ride. We parked and made our way to the trailhead. (Now, let me remind you, I’ve never hiked like this before.) We started up a gravel path. I was on a mission, power walking up, not realizing this wasn’t actually the hike. There were two trails, one was longer and less steep, the other a lot shorter and more difficult. We chose the short option.
The first mile and a half I struggled but I was cracking jokes, laughing, stopping for water breaks, powering through. Had the rest of the trip been like this, I would’ve been sore and winded but I would’ve been okay. The rest of the trip was most certainly not like this. We began to hit ice and snow. We hadn’t prepared for that but we kept going.
Side note: I recently came off my anxiety medication. Additionally, I didn’t know I would be hiking so all I had were flat-soled training shoes.
Once we hit the ice and snow, things got scary. I had no traction in my shoes. I’m terrified of losing control, so slipping around was scary for me. Let me follow up with a note that I don’t skateboard, rollerblade, ice skate, snowboard, or ski. Basically sliding around terrifies me. There were moments on that climb where I was sliding everywhere. At one point, I slipped, slamming down onto the ground hitting my butt and head. I laid there, beginning to cry. I needed a minute laying there to collect myself. I wasn’t sure what else was in store for me. We eventually took Oakley off his rope leash and Kate used it to pull me up steep, slick parts of the trail. I was getting pulled and pushed along the way and had that not happened, I wouldn’t have made it. I began losing blood flow to my hands as I often had to put them in the snow to help myself up. I grabbed onto tree branches and pulled myself to different destinations or, sometimes, just held on for dear life. I began crying at multiple points as I realized eventually I'd have to get back down the mountain and I didn’t want to do that either. Finally, we hit a point where we thought we were close to the top. The views were amazing but the trails were incredibly narrow. An anxiety attack began. Kate wanted to take a photo with the gorgeous view and I couldn’t even do it. I couldn’t look down. We foraged on.
Many hikers passed us as we were going up and they were going down. We’d ask how much further and they’d let us know, often stopping for a chat. I relayed the information to many people that this was in fact my first hike. Every single one of them was in awe, saying I was doing a great job as this was an incredibly hard hike. Some of them questioned my friends on why they would start me on this trail and said I was brave. At that point someone in the group actually googled the difficulty level of the hike and it was ranked “hard”. I felt proud but also terrified.
Once we got past the narrow parts, we were close. Or so we thought. We finally got to a clearing. We were in the clouds, rocks everywhere, we could see everything. That wasn’t the top though. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t scale the rocks and get to the top. I began panicking, ready to cry once again. Thankfully two members of our group, Tim and Kelly, didn’t want to go any further. We walked horizontally across hip-deep snow (over rocks) to get to some boulders to sit on, enjoy the views, and wait for Kate and our other friend, Dawn, as they kept going.
Finally there was sun and time for a break. I made it to a rock and, without even looking down, began panicking again. All the thoughts flooded through my head of how high I was, how unsafe this was, how no one could get to me to save me, how I would have to make my way down. I FaceTimed my family to show them what I had done as I was shivering from the cold and shaking from my anxiety. We sat awhile, waiting on Kate and Dawn. Eventually it was about 4pm and we became worried. We didn’t know where they were and we were ready to start our trip back. They finally texted us saying to go ahead, that they would catch up. Note: they made it to the top, reaching the mailbox.
We began our descent, this time down the longer, less steep path. Our thought was this would be easier. I’m pretty sure we were wrong. While it was less steep, it was on the cold side of the mountain, which meant there was more snow and ice than the original path. It was also much longer. Many people had mentioned sliding down different parts of the mountain on their butt like a slide. I chose that option going down this way. It was slick, my butt went over many rocks, and even times like that were scary. Thankfully Tim and Kelly were patient, struggling themselves, and we played a game to pass the time.
Eventually Kate and Dawn caught up. Just as they caught up, the most difficult part came. It was too narrow to continue on my butt but too steep for me to feel comfortable being on my feet. Anxiety came back in full force and at one point I laid in the snow, crying, unable to breathe, and trying to talk myself back up. I honestly wanted to be left there to die. I’ve never been so terrified, so unsure of my ability to do something, and unable to see a positive end in sight. I talked myself up, and kept going. Tim and Kelly went ahead, finally finding a place where the snow and ice stopped. They reassured me I could make it and it would be easier from there. At this point, the sun was almost behind the mountains.
I finally made it to the non-icy/snowy part after many tears & anxiety attacks, no blood flow in my hands, feet, or butt. Kate hugged me, holding me in place at times, but the longer we stopped, the more feeling I’d lose and felt unsure of how I could continue. So we’d move.
At some point on the snow and ice, Dawn tweaked her already bad knee. She found a big stick she could use as a walking stick and leaned on that for assistance. As the blood returned to my hands and feet, it was by far one of the most painful feelings. We kept on. It grew dark and we thankfully had plenty of battery in our phones so we used the flashlights, kept the AllTrails app open, and put our phones on low power mode. We soon ran into search and rescue teams. The first was looking for two girls Kate and Dawn had seen at the summit. One of the girls was having muscle cramping and had to call 911. The next group of search and rescue team members was looking for two guys we had all seen up near the summit. They had gotten lost from each other. Both wearing shorts, one in a T-shirt, the other shirtless, and Vans sneakers. Thinking we were almost to the end as it was about 7:30 or 8pm at this point, we asked the teams how long we still had left on the trail. 2 miles they said. We were shocked. The third search and rescue team asked if we needed anything - food, water, headlamps, etc. They asked Dawn if she needed an ATV to take her back but she was sure she could make it down. The team radioed back to other teams just to let them know we were coming and to check on us. We kept going. We ran into another team and then a team of ATVs chopping tree logs from the path. We passed two more teams until we came across the final team. They insisted that they give us headlamps. They also asked if we needed help getting back down, if we were 1000% sure we could make it. Kate and I were sure but Dawn knew it would hurt. Still, she wanted to push on. The search and rescue team decided to stick with us, just to make sure we were safe. We officially became a search and rescue mission.
At this time, my jokes and laughter came back. For the first time in hours I felt safe, I found an end in site, and I could feel my extremities. I chatted with the rescue team the whole way back. They mentioned that they tried to avoid the old trail at all costs (the trail we had taken up the mountain). We learned more about King County Search and Rescue, a nonprofit group of volunteers that spend their nights (and sometimes days) helping people up and down the mountain. They come prepared with extra gloves, jackets, headlamps, spikes, electrolytes, water, food, etc. They escort people down the mountain and even carry people at times. These are regular people with regular jobs that come out and help, even during a time where we’re supposed to be social distancing. I couldn’t be more thankful for them.
We eventually made it down the mountain and into the parking lot at 9:30pm. We were reunited with Tim, Kelly, and Oakley. We gave back the headlamps, took a photo with our Search and Rescue team, and thanked them for everything. We piled our dirty, muddy, freezing selves in the car for the 45 minute ride home. It wasn’t until this point that I realized my butt and legs had been frozen. As feeling came back, it stung just as much as it had on my hands and feet. I was so sore. We dropped everyone off at Tim and Kelly’s and I said goodbye and gave hugs from the car - I felt like I couldn’t get up. We finally made it home and took a long hot shower to warm up.
We thought the hike would be a few hours in the afternoon. We’d have brunch and drink mimosas after, spending the evening at Kate’s packing, cleaning, and doing laundry. Our flight back to St. Louis was scheduled for 9am the next morning. Little did we know it would turn into a 9 hour hike that we weren’t prepared for. After our hot shower, we did some laundry and got to packing. I drank hot water and then took a Nuun Hyrdation Rest tablet to help me get to sleep. When we finally laid down at 12:45am, I began feeling like I was back on the mountain sliding down on my butt. I couldn’t get the images of the mountain, the slide down, and the terrified feelings out of my mind. I held Kate tight until I could finally roll over and fall asleep. 7am came really fast.
After this hike, I can honestly say I’m not sure I ever want to do that again. I could probably go back to the desert and do one there or make my way to the trails in Missouri, but mountains will remain a pretty view from afar. Unless I can take a train up and back. I feel so incredibly lucky that I made it up and down. I have bruises, blisters, and scrapes on my butt. My knees, hips, shoulders, back, and butt are all sore. My knuckles are bruised. But in the end, I can say I made it back safely, I didn’t break anything, and I feel so very lucky and thankful. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to experience that with. Everyone was positive and patient and helped each other out. It was an adventure of a lifetime. One I hope to never experience again.
Part of my anxiety on that mountain was the feeling of being a burden to the group and an embarrassment for Kate and myself. I felt like I was being annoying and dramatic with my crying, anxiety, and complaints. What if Kate couldn’t deal with that? Little did I realize, she thought I resented her for the hike. That I would blame her for all of this. I knew this was not her fault - she had no idea and neither did I. Had there not been snow and ice, it wouldn’t have been so bad for either of us. She was feeling scared and stressed at times too., especially after she fell on the way down. She was patient with me and held me. She warmed my hands, consoled me while I cried, and pushed me to keep going. On the car ride home, we laughed that if we could get through that together, we could get through anything. I honestly believe that. All I wanted when we got home was to be in her arms. I’m so thankful for her and there’s no one else I would’ve wanted to experience that with. She is probably the only one that could convince me I could make it down and is the only person I wanted to be around when I finally made it to the end. I couldn’t ask for a better person to do life with. I love you Katie Jean!