Mt.Pugh is a beast. That pretty much sums it up, thanks for reading…..
Really, that is all one needs to know about this behemoth, at 5300′ of gain in not much more than five miles it’s a thigh burner to say the least. It’s also not a place for acrophobics, the upper reaches are abundant in dramatic drop offs, airy perches and scramble routes snaking along impossible looking rock.
The Mt.Pugh trailhead is found at the very east reaches of the Mtn Loop Hwy, and a NW trailpass is required to park.
There isn’t much of a parking lot to speak of, but that being said, it shouldn’t be impossible to find parking. The road in, at the time of this writing, is more or less suitable for all vehicles.
It’s easy to miss the trailhead if you’ve never been here before, so keep an eye out for other cars and if there are none, a trailhead kiosk on the right after taking a wide left bend in the road.
The trail gets going through fairly dense forest, modestly climbing up to Lake Metan. It’s not much of a lake, and has very limited shore access.
The waters are still here and of a dark tea color, the result of tannins leaching from the fallen coniferous debris. I think Lake Metan is an endorheic lake and it’s waters have a distinct taste, even when filtered. It is however your last chance for water until much later in the hike, and that is only if you know where to hop off the trail to get some snowmelt.
Lake Metan also affords some established camping spots if you poke around.
Leaving Lake Metan the trail begins to climb in earnest, switchbacking beneath the tall trees and mixed brush. There isn’t a whole lot to do or see along this section but climb, though keeping an eye out might yield some mushrooms.
After what probably seems like a lot longer than it should have taken you’ll break out into a large boulder and talus field, the “knife edge” ridge looming above you. I always kind of think of this as the first part of a trick the mountain pulls on you,
“Oh, well I guess thats not too far to the top”…..
The trail continues up and to the notch to the north, across mixed talus and boulders, some of them loose and infested with evil screaming Pikas. Don’t let them get in your head man, they’re waiting for you to roll your ankle, then they’ll strike!
You’re heading up toward the grassy gap in between a pair of rock buttresses, this is known as Stujack Pass. As far as passes go, I don’t know what ol’ Stu Jack was trying to pass here. He could have just saved a lot of time and elevation by going around the mountain.
Climbing up to Stujack, switchbacking up through steep meadow, the elevation disparity begins to increase dramatically. I imagine right around here is where acrophobics may begin to get uncomfortable. Near the top of the pass meadows give way to crumbling rock which will henceforth from here become common grade.
The trail then snakes up more steep meadow, alpine trees and rock until you begin to gain the “knife edge” ridge and get your first view of Mt.Pugh proper, or the second part of the trick I like to think,
“Wait…what the hell is that? We’re climbing THAT!?”
You’ll now begin to make your way across the “knife edge” ridge, which is full of those aforementioned dramatic drop offs, airy perches and snaking scrambles. To your right and about 1000′ below you is the boulder field you recently ascended from. In many places it would only take one misstep to get right back down there.
On your other side is a narrow glacier occupying a fault which bisects the mountain. I’ve read that this is known as the Straight Creek fault, and thusly, without any other proper given name, the glacier by default could be called Straight Glacier. Sounds good to me. It’s interesting to note the distinct change in the rock type when you cross the fault where the knife ridge and Mt.Pugh meet.
She blinded me with science! SCIENCE!
Not far into the ridge you might see some heavy bolts jutting out from the rock, and if you investigate the area further you’ll discover the remains of the old tram winch that used to supply the fire lookouts on the summit (both long gone) The winch spool is still fully wound with cable. Enjoy the history and leave it how you found it.
You’ll continue along the ridge, up and over rock, across perilously narrow paths with hair-raising drop offs and finally to the moment when you are looking across the fault, face to face with Mt.Pugh’s steep rock face.
Even right in front of you, the path is still obscured and the rockface unclimbable. With no where else to go, you cross the fault and then a scramble path, blown into the rock many years ago, reveals itself.
The scramble itself is not difficult and feels a lot more protected than some of the stuff you experienced along the ridge.
You’ll now begin to hike again along steep airy meadows, the Sauk Valley thousands of feet below. There is one more scramble section ahead, across a slab that isn’t too wide, but is often covered with loose rock. Be careful.
The rest of the way is very pleasant, (unless you are terrified of heights) switchbacking up the heather and jutting rock as you make your way to the summit, on a clear day drinking up the incredible views of the Mtn. Loop neighborhood and beyond.
When you finally reach the summit you will be greeted by Glacier Peak dominating the eastern horizon, Whitechuck to the north and Sloan Peak to the south. The entire 360° panorama is amazing and is sure not to disappoint!
The summit is pretty spacious, providing much opportunity for your own little private picnic. There would be places to sleep up here with a bivy sack, and could probably set up a tent on the old Fire lookout platform. Maybe I’ll try that next time
Happy Trails, Harry Biped