Ascent of Puyallup Ridge Lookout on 2014-03-08

Climber: Craig Willis

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, March 8, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Puyallup Ridge Lookout
    Elevation:4877 ft / 1486 m

Ascent Trip Report

I had been wanting to visit Puyallup Ridge Lookout during Winter but had two concerns: a Sno-Park located above 3000' along a Forest Road and an ascent of 20+ miles roundtrip which would require most people to do as an overnighter. I discussed the approach with Fay Pullen, who was able to do this as a 22-mile overnighter two years prior to my visit. She convinced me not to be concerned with the elevation of the Sno-Park, as she had recently visited the area and no snow was on the road leading to the now-upper Sno-Park location. I also contacted the MTTA and found out that the ridge route to Puyallup Ridge Lookout had virtually no sections susceptible to avalanches... perhaps only a 400-yard section in a 10.5-mile span.

A few days after I spoke with Fay, weather forecasts showed a storm system was moving into the region sooner than expected, probably by Saturday afternoon, and was expected to last several days. On Friday night, I took a 30-minute nap on my sofa as I contemplated going to Puyallup Ridge not as an overnighter but as a day trip. If I hit conditions just right, and considering the route was completely along road systems, I knew it was possible. I packed up my day gear and drove for several hours down to the Sno-Park. There, I took another 30-minute nap before heading out at 1:00 AM.

With so much snow dumping in the mountains during recent weeks, especially that week leading up to my visit, I was surprised to find little snow for the first 1.5 miles. The ridge road system becomes known as the "Rainier Vista Trail" as it continues beyond the Copper Creek Hut turnoff. Several critical junctions were not signed. One sign at a "T" intersection even showed "Puyallup Ridge Lookout" could be reached to the left or right, which looks odd at first glance; keep following the ridgetop roadway. I took advantage of firm nighttime snow and was able to travel the first five miles without snowshoes; this allowed me to maintain a very good pace.

I reached the summit at 6:00 AM, only five hours after I left the car and just as sunrise was trying to peek out from behind Mount Rainier to the east. The red and purple colors near the eastern horizon were gorgeous! The summit was one of the windiest places I had visited in a while, and I had to find a place next to a building to crouch down, snack, and drink water.

After a 30-minute summit break, I noticed clouds moving into the region very quickly so I decided to head back. I also knew that the daytime snow would soften and perhaps slow down my pace, so I wanted to limit my exposure to slogging up and down old snow-covered roads during a rainstorm. The snow on the return trip was definitely softer but not enough to impede progress. With limited sleep and a lot of distance covered, I took two 15-minute breaks during the return trip. When I stopped to take off my snowshoes approximately 1.5 miles from the car, I felt the first brief misty drizzle coming from the sky but it soon stopped.

I arrived back at the car at 11:30 AM, only five hours after leaving the summit and despite two 15-minute breaks (so it was only 4h30m of moving time to travel the 10.5 miles from summit to car). I threw my gear in the trunk and hopped in the car. Just as I started my car, the rain started dumping. I really lucked out with the weather.

This trip had my three classic elements for a great solo day trip: Limited sleep, long drive to trailhead, long hike/snowshoe distance. I want to express a personal "thank you" to the MTTA, which did a fantastic job maintaining the Sno-Park and grooming the first few miles of the route.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:3437 ft / 1047 m
    Elevation Loss:3437 ft / 1047 m
    Distance:21 mi / 33.8 km
    Quality:3 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Snowshoes
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Overcast
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:2537 ft / 773 m
    Extra Loss:900 ft / 274 m
    Distance:10.5 mi / 16.9 km
    Route:Ridge Roads / Rainier Vista Trail
    Trailhead:MTTA Sno-Park "A"  3240 ft / 987 m
    Time Up:0 Days 5 Hours 0 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:2537 ft / 773 m
    Extra Gain:900 ft / 274 m
    Distance:10.5 mi / 16.9 km
    Route:Rainier Vista Trail / Ridge Roads
    Trailhead:MTTA Sno-Park "A"  3240 ft / 987 m
    Time Down:0 Days 5 Hours 0 Minutes

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