Union Peak

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Even here in Washington State the sun peeks out through the clouds once in awhile, and occasionally we get lucky and the sunny day aligns with a weekend. There are many places to explore on a sunny weekend – mountain tops offering sweeping views, deep blue lakes, expanses of never-ending meadows, and all of that within a relatively short drive from Seattle.

Several destinations on our list promise good views. We consider them one by one, looking at their difficulty – we want a challenge but it’s going to be the first snow scramble of the season and we want it to be enjoyable as well, and there is also an avalanche safety concern. Last two winters were warmer and relatively dry, but this year the mountains are buried under several feet of snow that according to the current avalanche forecast has a good potential to start sliding. The peak that seems to be a good match for both our condition and the condition of the snow is in the Steven’s Pass area, along the famous winter playground called Smithbrook Road.

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Union Peak rises to the sky about 3 miles down Smithbrook Road. Neither of us is partial to the road slog, we’ve been here way too many times, but at least the trail is broken solid and the walk is easy and fast. At mile 3, the road makes a sweeping right turn. This is where we head for the woods. We have a narrow trail to follow. It’s making a gentle rising traverse at first, and then switchbacks several times. Our first objective is a flat area at the base of the peak from where a rib can be followed towards the summit ridge. Occasionally we make a stop to consult our GPS, we cannot be sure that person who left the track was heading for the same destination, and eventually there is a spot where it’s time for us to leave this track behind.

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From the flat spot, which I can imagine in a summertime would be a meadow filled with wildflowers, we have an opportunity to hop on another track and switchback up the steep hillside towards the summit ridge. We are in trees initially but it doesn’t take long before the trees break and our eyes can feast on views of Smithbrook Road area from a completely new angle. It’s a view of snow dusted peaks stretching towards the horizon, beautiful winterscape as far as we can see. Thick cloud layer rolls through the valley below us, concealing the river we know flows there, and the highway cutting its way across the range.

We gain more elevation, now making our way up the summit ridge. If I were in better shape, this stretch would be a pleasant stroll through a mix of snow covered trees and open areas of pristine white snow but today the grade drains my energy. The summit comes in a view and I muster the last of my willpower to reach it.

The view takes the rest of my breath away. It’s so beautiful up here. So quiet. The ridge to adjacent Jove Peak temps us and one day we will return to scale it. For today I’m satisfied to stay here and soak up the beauty of the Cascades. They sure feel like home.

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