The Mountain Loop Highway just east of Granite Falls boasts some of the most rugged low-elevation terrain that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. I spent a summer weekday scrambling up to Del Campo Peak (elevation: 6613 ft) to watch the sunset – a quick and easy way to catch a sunset without having to haul in all the backpacking gear. Lucas and I set off from Seattle around 8:30 AM for a relaxing alpine day.
The approach to Del Campo is theoretically quick and easy – a flat walk along a washed out mining road followed by a few more steep uphill miles – but the summer heat wave slowed us down considerably. I discovered that it's actually possible to hydrate too quickly. I don't have a hydration bladder so I typically just drink from my bottle at breaks. It's been quite hot in Washington this summer and I sweat a lot, so logic would dictate that my water intake should be higher. On more than one occasion, I've found myself nauseous on the trail with a bloated feeling of fluid in my stomach and a watery taste in my mouth. I'm not exactly sure what mechanism causes this, but cutting back my water intake has helped drastically. Do feel free to leave a comment if you have any thoughts about this!
We napped at the lake before beginning our ascent up to Del Campo at 5 PM. Even though temperatures were at a record high, the small snowfield on the southeast slope was actually quite firm. Lucas managed to kick in some pretty firm steps that held their form until our descent due to the late hour that we crossed. We didn't bother to bring proper snow gear, so this crossing and subsequent dismounting of the emerging moat ended up being the crux of the trip for me. By 6:30 PM we were at the summit.
While the wildfire smoke wasn't thick enough to completely obscure the summit views, it did make for some interesting colors and lighting. There were essentially two smoke layers that day – one terminating at around the 6000 foot mark and another beginning at the 7500-8000 foot mark. The only time we saw any of the vivid sunset colors was when the sun crossed between these two layers. Before and after this crossing, the colors were surprisingly muted. Usually, the entire hour before sunset proper provides soft lighting that grows increasingly more vivid as the sun dips toward the horizon, but all we got was a ten-minute light show during the aforementioned crossing. Nonetheless, I snapped a few shots from the summit, including one of my favorites from this summer.
For comparison, see the photo below for the view just a half hour later. We packed up shortly after sunset and began the long hike down to the car. This summit block scramble is one of my favorites – very high quality rock, easy route-finding, and enough exposure to make you feel like you're truly climbing. Doing it in the dark is no different. Once again, crossing the snowfield was the trickiest bit, and after that it was smooth sailing by headlamp to the trailhead. Both times I've done this scramble have been to catch a sunset from the peak in the midst of a heat wave, and despite how miserable the hikes in were, this is absolutely one hike that I don't mind doing each year.