Hiking Mount Si in the Time of COVID-19

Washington State parks reopened for hiking on May 5, 2020. Two days later I grabbed my trusty Discover Pass and headed for Mount Si in North Bend, Washington. 

I kick off every hiking season with a trek up Mount Si and have had many memorable climbs there, including the time I saw a guy carry a tuba all the way to the top. This year’s trip was unique, though, and I suspect I’ll never forget it. It came in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and was the first time I’d gotten out of house (other to walk down the street or grocery shop) in months.

Mount Rainier seen from top of Mount Si.
Mount Rainier as seen from atop Mount Si.

This hike will forever be burned into my psyche as the most life-affirming outdoor experience of my life. It was a reminder of everything I love about the Pacific Northwest, the outdoors, and just plain-old being alive. 

I went from top to bottom of Si without stopping to rest one time. At one point I even broke out in a run. I’ve kept myself in pretty good shape during this winter season, but the fuel that sent me to top of Si was pure elation at being free and outside in the sun on a beautiful day.

Not Nearly as Many People On Mount Si as I Usually See on a Beautiful Day

I didn’t know how many people to expect coming across on the trail. I counted them for the first leg of the hike but quickly lost that effort to the simple joy of being outdoors again.

All I can say is that I’ve done Mount Si dozens of times, and the crowd I saw there this time seemed far smaller than ever before. The weather was perfect, yet the parking lot was at only about 1/4 capacity when I pulled in at 8 am and at maybe 1/2 capacity when I left at about 1 pm. 

Smiling, Friendly People Hiking

Some folks on the mountain were understandably concerned about COVID-19 and wore face masks. They were the exception, but just about everyone was conscious of maintaining space.

Everyone kept at a distance from everyone else the best they could. It wasn’t like the usual Mount Si hike where I’d cross people on the trail and trade hearty “hellos” and jokes about how we don’t know why we subject ourselves to that ascent. People weren’t unfriendly. Just cautious.

Looking out from top of Mount Si
View from atop Mount Si.

The Haystack’s No Joke

This isn’t COVID-19 related, but I want to share something I was reminded of on this hike.

The spot that most hikers consider to be “the top” of Mount Si is not actually the top. If you climb up the boulders of that “false top,” you’ll link back onto a short trail that takes you to the bottom of a stony mound called the Haystack. 

The Haystack is not a hike. It requires actual climbing. The rocks are porous and give good grips, but the fall is no joke.

I think people underestimate the Haystack because there are no warning signs and because so many people hike Mount Si. Don’t be fooled, though, the Haystack is enough of a climb that many people find themselves terrified and clinging to the rocks wondering why the hell they went up there.

I know this for a fact. I’ve seen it a few times in the past, and I saw it again on this trip.

Northwest Nomad climbing up Mount Si's Haystack.
The Northwest Nomad climbs up the Haystack of Mount Si.

I love the Haystack climb, but partway up I looked down and realized that it’s really not something to take lightly. There was never a point where I felt like I was going to fall, but in several sections I looked down and knew that if I did fall I would be seriously injured.

One fellow who I ended up making friends with (shout out to Deepak) told me repeatedly that he couldn’t believe how shady that climb is, considering the fact that there are warning signs or guidelines about using any gear.

I laughed, but Deepak was right. I saw with my own eyes how often the Haystack catches casual outdoors-people off-guard and scares the beejezus out of them.

I love the Haystack climb. It’s my favorite part of Mount Si. If you’ve got the physical conditioning, dexterity, and desire, I fully recommend you go for it.

Just know that it might be above your comfort level once you get up on those rocks. Be mindful of your own limits and all that jazz.

Already Planning Mount Si Hike #2

Early on in the COVID-19 lockdown, I vowed to myself to spend as much time as possible outdoors this year, to really embrace the beautiful world around me and my precious freedom. I intend to uphold that vow.

I have many plans, but a second time on Si is a certainty, and probably sooner than later.