We all hike for various reasons; getting out of the city, adventure and exploration, enjoying nature, letting our dog be a dog, the spirituality, photography, and always, exercise. Some hikes offer a good balance of many or all of those, others can offer only one or two. I prefer a combination of all of those, but when I choose a hike, I usually have one aspect in mind over others and it depends on my mood, the seasonal timing, and who I’m hiking with.
For example, early in the season, many of the toughest hikes are snowed over to the point of being a futile snow slog or downright dangerous due to avalanche risk or fickle weather. Other times, friends may prefer an easier hike along a river or near the ocean. Doesn’t matter, really — all hiking is good hiking — and Washington has trails for everyone.
But in the early shoulder season April through mid-July, while we wait for the snow to clear from the roads and trails that lead us deep into the backcountry or to the higher routes, I focus on conditioning hikes to make sure I’m fit for any adventure that I plot out for the peak season July through mid-October. And living near Seattle, we have familiar training hikes: Mt. Si, Mailbox Peak, Mount Teneriffe, Mount Defiance, and later, Granite Mountain.
Yes, there are others, but these well-worn bootpaths are the go-to tests to see if you’re ready for the summer. May is when many folks are in final training for Rainier, so you’ll see scores of folks with full packs trudging up these steep grinders, building up strength and cardio, and working past the crippling quad or joint soreness so they aren’t hobbled on their bigger adventures.
Of these hikes, my favorite conditioning hike is Mount Teneriffe. I usually do it once or twice each Spring. I like it because it’s far less crowded than Mailbox and Si, and the peace lets you focus on staying in tune with what your body is doing and being able to take a rest without getting in other people’s way.
|Mt. Teneriffe’s elevation profile, round trip. The blue is a plot of my hiking speed.|
Folks generally think Mailbox is the toughest popular hike west of Snoqualmie Pass along I-90. I’m not sure how much of that is because they are unaware of Teneriffe — which is an argument about Teneriffe’s popularity, I suppose, or that they simply assume Mailbox is the toughest because that’s what everybody talks about. Mailbox has a much bigger and better trailhead that was just updated. Teneriffe has nothing but a small school bus turnaround where maybe 20-25 cars can park at a time.
|Mailbox Peak’s elevation profile, one way.|
I have a slight obsession with this. I have done both hikes — Mailbox twice and Teneriffe at least five times. Objectively and subjectively, Teneriffe is tougher overall, and here’s why:
First though, let me qualify the Teneriffe hike. Many people summit Teneriffe along the exceedingly long road trail. Or they come over from Si, again, largely on old, relatively gentle and even forest roads. Or they take the somewhat shorter trail up to Kamikaze Falls and then up the ridge to the summit (~ 8 miles round trip). I now only take the old closed trail (sorry, trail keepers!), sometimes called the Kamikaze route, because it follows the creek mostly and it’s tough and unmaintained. And it’s just under 6 miles round trip. Saves about 2 hours time, too.
Back to the comparison. Consider the trail data, one way, up each peak:
|Distance, one way (miles)||2.66||2.98|
|Base altitude (ft)||824||951|
|Peak altitude (ft)||4833||4794|
|Slope over entire trail||28.5%||24.4%|
|Distance over top 3,600 ft||1.98||1.82|
|Slope over top 3,600 ft||34.4%||37.5%|
|Distance over top 2,500 ft||1.43||1.1|
|Slope over top 2,500 ft||33.1%||43.0%|
|Distance over top 1,500 ft||0.87||0.7|
|Slope over top 1,500 ft||32.7%||40.6%|
[this data is gathered from GPS tracking logs. The analysis was gathered using Google Earth]
Objectively, Teneriffe’s trail is much more rugged. At the falls, if you take the trail that starts right along the falls, you’ll be scrambling hand over foot for a ways as you head for the ridge. There are large and uneven steps and roots and loose rock. And once you meet the ridgeline, you’ll be on a beeline up that ridge with virtually no switchbacks until you get about two-thirds the way up there; Mailbox has many more switchbacks than Teneriffe, which dramatically reduces the slope and lengthens the trail. If Mailbox had no switchbacks, it’d be at least as steep as Teneriffe.
|A moment of zen whilst grinding up Teneriffe|
|Heading town Teneriffe|
Teneriffe’s trail along the ridge is quite rugged and offers a few places where a misstep would send you tumbling down the side of the ridge. I’m not saying it’s dangerous, especially compared to higher level scrambles, but for a casual hike, it’s got the potential to ruin your day.
|Lower portion of Mailbox trail|
Mailbox offers a few places to mess yourself up. Many people prefer to climb over the big boulder field near the summit rather than go around it. I’ve done both and I prefer the going around. One slip on the boulders and it’s going to leave a mark. The rest of Mailbox’s trail is very worn down and at some times, hard to follow, especially through the rooty wooded area about half way up. Lots of people get lost or slip and hurt themselves on the roots.
|View from Mailbox looking south|
Summit views are nice on each, but I have to say Teneriffe’s is a bit more dramatic, as it’s on a more prominent pitch, and you can see Glacier Peak and others up in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. And Mailbox, has, of course, the mailbox.
|Looking across to Mailbox from Teneriffe|