The Nastiest Trail in Washington Is…

I just hiked what I am prepared to say is the worst trail in Washington State, even if it does lead to this dramatic summit:

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What are my credentials for making this determination? Simple: I’m the veteran of some truly awful terrain. Climber’s trails. Old trails. I’ve covered a lot of ground. Mailbox, Teneriffe, El Dorado, Silver Star, Neiderprum, Black Peak, Aasgard, Mount Forgotten, Stujack Pass, Headlee Pass. If it’s littered in boulders or just a ramp of dirt with no traction, chances are I’ve seen it.

I was pretty sure I’d seen it all, until:

Baring Mountain

Baring Mountain is one of the standout peaks along US2. Its twin summits are visible for miles, and its north face drops away thousands of feet, a feature that made it popular with BASE jumpers. That popularity also made it the site of Washington’s most ironic rescue. After a friend died jumping off of the summit in 2010, a man repeated her feat in tribute a week later. His parachute got fouled in a tree. He was helped down and promptly arrested.

I thought I was prepared for the trail. I knew it would be rough. I like to think I’m prepared for anything. The fact that the trail literally leaves from the outhouse should have told me it would be a $%^# show, but I was not expecting this:

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Even the trees have given up. “No, we can’t do this. This is bull$#%^.”

A mile of it.

It happens without warning. One minute you’re walking on a slightly overgrown, but level climber’s trail. Then you turn right at a cairn, and…the trail just heads straight up the slope. It does that for 2,000 vertical feet, an average grade of nearly 40%.

Sometimes there’s traction, but most of the time it’s just bare, smooth dirt. One section has undercut a root that dangles in thin air. Comforting.

You hit the ridge, and you start going up and down. Occasionally, there’s a downed tree lying across the trail. There are a few rocky, open sections, like on Teneriffe. Then you start to climb up to a higher ridge over dusty soil and duff that crumbles underneath your boots. No trail crew has ever been here, and even if they had, there’s not much to work with. Scratch that – there isn’t anything to work with. Neiderprum has some similar stretches, but they don’t go on for a mile. Mailbox has more footholds and (I can’t believe I’m typing this) isn’t nearly as steep.

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Is it a scene from an Indiana Jones movie? Nope, it’s a trail. Sort of. 

Going up it wasn’t nearly as bad as coming down it. I stupidly thought this was a scramble. I was expecting rocks, so I ditched the trekking pole, thinking it would be useless. Oh, how I missed it. The soles of my feet and my knees had to do all the heavy lifting of balance and traction the whole way down. My knees are pretty agreeable, but even they took issue by the end.

What truly distinguishes this trail, though, is its diversity of rough terrain. After the ridge, you have to travel through a rockfield in a gully. It’s like the backside gully of Mount Forgotten, but longer. Towards the top, it’s loose like Headlee or Stujack Pass.

After that, it’s rocky like Snoqualmie Mountain – clambering over one talus slope after another, and then there’s a final section through steep vegetation, kind of like Sperry Peak. (OK, the high-angle bushwhacking of Sperry is worse, but it’s the only bad thing about Sperry, and it’s such a small percentage of the climb.)

In recognition of all of the above, I hereby declare Baring Mountain the worst trail in Washington. Congratulations! Truly a well deserved honor.

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