Mount Rose, by any other name, would be as steep. The views would be as sweet. Nearby Mount Ellinor typically draws the most hiker traffic with its shorter, not-quite-as-steep summit ascent and superlative views. Mount Rose is a challenging, yet rewarding, alternative.
Angry goats forced the Forest Service to close the Mount Ellinor Trail for a few weeks, meaning some folks, such as myself, picked Mount Rose instead.
The other option I considered — Mount Jupiter — is a 7.2-mile one-way trip, made two miles longer by a private gate closure. Six or seven miles; I’m good with that. Nine miles one way? Not so much. Especially not for my first high country hike of the season.
So, for my first high country hike of the season I pick one of the steepest in the Olympics, considered “most strenuous” by the Forest Service? Yup. I was going to give my newly made hiking stick a true test. I built it out of a wooden broom handle, rope lanyard and a copper pipe end cap for less than $10 — a significant savings over the $80 version I saw online or the even spendier high-tech walking sticks many use, and a step up from a stick found in the woods. Plus, the lanyard matched my homemade sandals and could do for an extra bit of lacing in a pinch.
Thus armed, my dog, Dodge, and I headed uphill.
The climbing begins from the get-go. The trail gains 3,500 feet in less than three miles. That’s an average grade of nearly 22.9 percent. Steep, in other words.
The trail travels through a quiet forest of old-growth fir trees. Madrone burst out in a handful of sunny spots. You can always tell where the peek-a-boo view is by the presence of the sun-loving madrone. On the way up are glimpses of Lake Cushman, Prospect Ridge, Dow Mountain and Lightening Peak (I learned the mountain and ridge names when I looked them up online after getting home; from the trail they looked like pretty mountains across whatever valley was behind the trees).
I found myself focusing more on the climb. I wasn’t a stick-hiking believer before. It seemed unnecessary weight to carry. Boy, was I wrong. The weight is more than made up for by the ability to shift some of the work to the upper body during the climb.
I also noticed numerous scorch marks on the trunks. I missed the sign on the way in (but saw it as I signed out) pointing out that the area was burned by the 2006 Bear Gulch 2 fire. I found it fascinating how the forest had recovered.
The trail enters the National Forest in 0.4 mile and the Mount Skokomish Wilderness Area in 1.1 miles.
I was passed by some hikers and passed others. Eventually I reached the loop split to the Mount Rose summit. Prior to reaching the split, I headed uphill to the left on what I thought was the split, but turned out to merely be a side route to an outcropping with a view. The split is well signed and impossible to miss.
Head left for the shorter, steeper ascent. Some of the hikers went the other way. I didn’t because I find a steep descent more painful.
The trail is maintained year-round by volunteers (you need an ice axe in winter). Orange blazes above the snow line mark the route. On the way up they were orange, plastic ribbons. The return was with orange, metal diamonds.
The last .9 mile to the summit is a bit of a steep, sometimes rugged push. Wildflowers start to appear, as does a ghost forest of dead trees, their bone-white branches reaching skyward. Once you start the first downhill, you know you’re at the top. There are trees on the mountaintop, so its not like there’s 360-degree views of anything. Plus, there were clouds when I went, so the view wasn’t the best. None-the-less, I had a decent view of what I later learned was Bear Gulch Valley and one of three mountains: either Ellinor, Mount Washington or Mount Pershing. All are visible from Rose, but I have no clue which I was seeing.
The loop’s return heads gently down Mount Rose’s narrow, treed ridge. After a bit, it quickly descends through a muddy patch. Guess what? A hiking stick helps steady the balance on the way down as much as it assists the climbing on the way up.
Little birds flitted and chirped through the trees. I’m not much of a birder, so I can’t identify most birds. A pair of crow-sized, black and white woodpeckers with red-tufted heads, I believe were pileated woodpeckers, were a surprise sighting midway down. Dodge was very interested in them. Which reminds me of another use for a hiking stick: providing a barrier to sneaky dogs trying to scoot past you by your knees.
It took me a little more than 5.5 hours to hike the 6.4-mile trail. That’s significantly slower than my typical 2-mile-per-hour pace for average hiking/walking but not bad (for me) on such a steep trail. My legs have been feeling the hike for several days, but not as bad as they would have been without my handy-dandy new tool.
How long: 6.4 miles
How hard: strenuous (Forest Service considers it “most difficult”)
How to get there: From Highway 101, turn west onto State Route 119 in Hoodsport. Drive 9 miles to Forest Service Road 24. Turn left and drive 3 miles to the Mount Rose Trailhead (on the right). Signs point to an alternate access just beyond the main trailhead in use while bridges are being constructed. A small portable toilet is at the trailhead. Leashed pets allowed; no stock. No pass is required.