It’s pretty amazing to me that after 14 years of exploring Washington State and the Northwest I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of beautiful places to see. It’s equally amazing that until Tuesday I hadn’t done much exploring on the Mountain Loop Highway. How did such an incredible place evade me for so long? Well, one thing is for sure: my “to-hike” list just got a whole lot longer.
Over the last week we’ve had uncharacteristically cold and clear weather and the mountains have been sparkling with fresh snow. Naturally, I couldn’t stay at home with such blue skies beckoning. Since the first big snow fall can close the Mountain Loop Highway, I knew my window of opportunity to finally bag Mount Dickerman was waning.
On Tuesday my crazy Jake dog had stitches removed from a laceration, a perfect time to celebrate! We grabbed the gear, hit the road, and headed north to play in the snow. I marveled at Mount Baker the entire drive—so clear and gorgeous. What a day it was going to be!
Temps had dipped into the 20s the night before and transformed the Mountain Loop Highway into a nerve-wracking icy drive east of Verlot. I eased my way the 20 miles to the Dickerman trailhead probably more carefully than I needed to but being solo with no cell service didn’t make me eager to pull a rally racing stunt.
After a morning fiasco of forgetting my hiking boots and having to detour back home, I pulled into the trailhead lot at 11:30, later than I wanted. It was nice to see only 5 cars: enough to make some trail friends without being too busy. Even though I had lights, I was incredibly motivated to get down and back off the icy roads before dark, so I set a blazing pace up the mountain. About a half mile up I ran into a hiker coming down who told me that if I were hiking all the way I “better not dawdle”. I assured him I was pretty speedy.
The trail begins in beautiful forest and was snowy from the start. There were a few small icy spots but for the most part, the traction was good. I didn’t really need MicroSpikes but I used them anyway since I figured I’d eventually need them. For the first 2 miles or so the trail climbs up numerous switchbacks until it reaches a small clearing with gorgeous views of Big Four Mountain. I was sooooo excited for this summit!
A well worn trench all the way up made for pretty easy going through the deepening snow. I stopped to linger in one section of trail right before you make an easterly turn to the summit. With the fresh snow in the trees and the sun shining it was spectacular!
As I stopped to take photos I noticed the snow around me looked different and when I got closer I couldn’t believe how gorgeous it was! After posting a picture on Facebook a friend identified it as hoar frost, formed during cold and clear nights when water vapor leaves the snowpack. Apparently it’s a big problem in areas like Colorado but we typically don’t see it here in the Pacific Northwest because we’re hardly ever both cold and clear. Hoar frost can act like ball bearings under a big slab of snow and is a serious avalanche hazard on steep slopes.
Continuing up and to the east, the summit of Dickerman comes into view and Vesper, Sperry, Big Four, and Del Campo loom large and beautiful. I passed a few hikers on their way down who said the summit was windy and cold but the views stunning. I couldn’t wait to get up there!
Below the summit the trail crossed a snowfield and then the going got much tougher. The snow was deep and the ridge was steep. Every time I’d take a step up, I’d slide back down two or three. I don’t even think snowshoes would have helped in this section. It was quite the comedic battle of endurance with the snow. As Jake and I slowly fought our way up, sliding down in a few areas, a man on skis appeared, making his way down. He said this was the trickiest section and then the trail leveled out again. We chatted briefly and off he went, zipping down the slope, creating fresh tracks in what was obviously a very short but very fun powder run.
Indeed, the brutal steep snow climb was short and after a draining slog I met three other people just below the summit who were enjoying their summit libations in the sunshine out of the wind. When I finally pushed over the top of Dickerman I thought I had stepped into heaven. I could not believe the views! These kind of summits where you suddenly take that last step and are greeted to a full panorama of mountains are so dramatic and breathtaking.
Compared to the 50mph wind gusts I hiked in a few weeks ago, today seemed tame, but still windy enough to chill you to the bone. Even with extra layers I knew I unfortunately wasn’t hanging out to sunbathe. I snapped photo after photo and sat a while enjoying the solitude. Dickerman far exceeded my expectations, wow.
Despite getting a bit bogged in the deep snow I had managed to hike up in about 2 hours and hit the summit around 1:30. I knew I had plenty of time to get down before dark so I lingered a bit, enjoying the views and letting Jake play in the snow.
The hike down went quickly and we returned to the trailhead around 3:45. My only regret of the trip was not stopping at the Big Four Ice Caves on the drive out. I was so concerned about getting off the icy Mountain Loop Highway before dark that I decided I’d come back another time. A scary black ice incident two winters ago while driving to the Methow has made me a bit nervous about dark icy roads.
I’ve done some pretty spectacular hikes in the last year and Mount Dickerman easily landed itself on my favorites list. When I think of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen, I think of Sahale, Hidden Lake, and Dickerman. I will definitely be coming back and exploring more of the Mountain Loop Highway.
Round Trip: 8 miles
Elevation Gain: ~4,000
High Point: 5,658
Hiking Time: 4:00