Mount Si
After hiking up Little Si near North Bend, Washington in 2010, I knew that I would eventually return to climb its nearby bigger brother, Mount Si.  With an elevation gain of about 1080 metres and a round-trip distance of about 12.8 kilometres, the ascent of Mount Si is a much more strenuous outing than Little Si, but with a purported 80-100 thousand visitors per year, the trail up Mount Si is probably more popular too.

While visiting my brother's family in Kirkland, I took advantage of an unusually good weather window on New Year's Day 2013 and headed out early to climb Mount Si.  Upon my arrival at the trailhead (different than the one for Little Si), there was already a large crowd gathered in the parking lot.  To my dismay, I noticed signs indicating that a parking pass (Discover Pass) was required.   I approached another hiker in the parking lot and inquired about where I might be able to purchase a pass, but he was less than helpful going so far as to suggest that I take a chance and forego getting one.  Being New Year's Day, it was quite likely that nobody would be coming around to check on vehicle passes, but given the immense popularity of this hike especially on a statutory holiday, it was equally likely that someone would come by to check.  Rather than risk a hefty fine, I backtracked to the I-90 where I spotted a local general store that surprisingly was open early.  A girl there with a distinct Southern twang in her voice said that the store did not sell any passes, but she suggested that I try a hardware store in the nearby town of North Bend.  I had my doubts about the hardware store being open early if at all on this day, but I headed to the town anyway.  Along the way, I spotted the local ranger station and stopped to see if I could get a pass there.  The ranger station turned out to be closed, but a sign on a window stated that, while passes were not sold there, they could be obtained at a number of places in town including the aforementioned hardware store as well as a couple of gas stations.  That was encouraging news, and shortly thereafter, I was able to purchase a parking pass ($11 USD per day or $32 USD annually) from one of the gas stations.

After wasting about 45 minutes hunting down a parking pass, I was back at the trailhead, and although the large crowd had already departed up the trail, there were more cars arriving in the parking lot.  It would be very busy on the trail on this day.  Most of the ascent of Mount Si is on a signed, well-graded trail that switchbacks gently up the south ridge.  The snow line on this day was about halfway up, and some sections of the trail in this transition zone were icy enough in the morning to warrant the use of hiking cleats which I noticed on a great many other hikers' boots.  I was fine with just my winter hiking boots, and once I transitioned fully into the snow zone, traction on the trail was not as much of an issue.  The fact that the snow was packed down solidly on the trail attests to how popular this hike is even in the winter.  The trail eventually breaks out of the trees amidst a jumble of rocks below the feature known as the Haystack, a towering wall that guards the summit of Mount Si.  This area was teeming with people ogling the expansive views and socializing amongst themselves, and the carnival-like atmosphere was not unlike that found on the most popular hikes in Alberta's Banff National Park or Kananaskis Country.

The summit of Mount Si is usually reached by a Class 3 gully--the crux--on the north side of the Haystack.  Unable to see the route from where I emerged from the trees, I impatiently asked a hiker who was heading down if he had gone up to the summit.  Sounding a bit annoyed, he said that he did not and added that he would not even consider trying the route in such conditions.  "Too steep, too much snow, too far to fall," were his words as I recall.  Undaunted, I followed tracks around the east side of the Haystack and eventually climbed past a wooden bench to the base of the crux, a steep gully about 30-40 metres high.  In dry conditions, the crux would likely be a delightful romp, but on this day, the gully was choked with snow which made climbing it a much more serious endeavour.  Some old faded tracks in the snow indicated that someone had gone up recently but not on this day.  Though I had my crampons and ice axe with me, I did not feel the need to use them as I easily kicked steps up the semi-hard snow.  As I got higher, it suddenly dawned on me that a slip here, while not likely fatal, would be sufficiently unpleasant and probably debilitating.  Since my position was too precarious to stop and remove my pack, I continued upwards cautiously ensuring that all my holds were as secure as possible.  At least two spots in the snowy gully were troublesome to climb up, and the final short push to the summit was a bit unnerving given the serious exposure to climber's right.

Seeing so many people milling about below the Haystack, I found it gratifying to have the summit all to myself, but despite the mild weather and far-reaching views, I was anxious to get down the Haystack before having lunch.  Taking no chances, I took out my ice axe and donned my crampons.  With the added security of this gear, I made short work of descending the Haystack and was back at the wooden bench in a relatively short time.  Just as I was about to remove my crampons though, I noticed that my small nylon crampon bag was missing.  I had inadvertently left it at the summit!  After some hesitation trying to figure out how much the cheap little bag was worth, I dropped my pack beside the bench and returned to the bottom of the gully.  Wearing crampons, I had an easier time re-ascending the Haystack, but upon my return to the summit, my crampon bag was nowhere in sight, likely blown off somewhere down the steep west face.  Disappointed that all that extra effort was for naught, I turned around to descend the crux for a second time.  This time on my way down, I encountered a fellow following my tracks up the crux.  Equipped with only ice cleats, he expressed some of the same apprehension I had on my first ascent.  Despite stating that he had already reached the summit on a previous occasion and expressing some reservations about continuing, he kept climbing anyway.  I wished him well as we moved in opposite directions.  He would be the only other person I would see reach the summit on this day.  At the bottom of the gully, I met a couple who congratulated me on my descent but had no intentions of going any further.  After removing my crampons and retrieving my pack, I found a nice spot below the Haystack to eat lunch before resuming my hike back to the trailhead.

All the way down, I encountered lots of people still going up, and much like my descent of Humphreys Peak in Arizona, I wondered if many of these people were going to make it to tree line before sunset.  I reached my car well before sunset after a round-trip time of 6.5 hours.
There's not much else to see for the first couple of hours. The morning sunshine illuminates the forest.
Post-holing up half the trail would have really sucked! Despite an abundance of snow, the trail is packed down well.
Mount Rainier is over 70 kilometres away. The views open up at tree line.  At left is Mount Washington while in the distance at right is Mount Rainier.
Looks a little daunting, doesn't it? The summit of Mount Si is at the top of the feature ahead known as the Haystack.
A rare sight as the Olympic Mountains are often shrouded in clouds. The Olympic Mountains make a stunning backdrop for the city of Seattle in this view to the west from below the Haystack.
It's every bit as steep as it looks! This is looking up at the crux section on the north side of the Haystack.
My first summit of 2013! Sonny stands on the 1282-metre* summit of Mount Si.

*According to my GPS.  The official figure is 4167 feet or 1270 metres.

Looks about the same as from Little Si! Across the valley to the southwest is Rattlesnake Mountain.
I may have to return someday for some nice sunset photos... The Snoqualmie River valley stretches out to the west.  On the horizon are the Olympic Mountains.
And thank God the summit is not full of trees like the next knob in the photo! Puget Sound is visible to the northwest.  On the northern horizon at right is Mount Baker.
With Mount Baker being over 140 kilometres away, I'm not sure how often you see it this clearly from Mount Si. Here is a closer look at Mount Baker.
Somebody's actually on the summit right now. Mount Teneriffe is about three kilometres due east of Mount Si.
Lots of peak-bagging opportunities here! The view eastward includes Mount Teneriffe (far left) and a host of other peaks in the Cascade Range.
Much easier with crampons! This is looking back up at the crux route after Sonny's first descent.
According to, the obvious crack at left is a 5.8 trad climb. This is looking up the south face of the Haystack.
There is supposedly an alternate ascent route which avoids the standard crux section by contouring around the base of the Haystack at bottom left. Here is a more comprehensive view of the Haystack from a nearby knob.
Simply not the right time of year to be photographing Mount Rainier from Mount Si. Mount Rainier is captivating even on its shadowy side.
If you look carefully, you can spot the guy that went up after me on the summit! Other hikers can be seen milling about on the rocks below the Haystack.
Just because there's nothing else to see on the way down! Moss covers a large boulder beside the trail.
Little Si barely discernible in front of Mount Si. This is Mount Si as seen from just outside the town of North Bend.
That alternate ascent route doesn't look like a picnic either! Here is a zoomed-in view of the Haystack.