Mailbox Peak: King County Search and Rescue advice to safely hike the popular, strenuous trail

Earlier this week, King County Search and Rescue (KCSAR) warned of the pitfalls of the Mailbox Peak trail near North Bend, saying it is one of the volunteer organization’s most frequent search and rescue mission locations.

This year alone KCSAR has responded to help nine hikers on the extremely popular trail – six in a single, busy day.

As we’ve covered numerous trail rescues over the years, we are sharing this valuable information from our search and rescue friends about hiking Mailbox Peak – and bringing along the 10 essentials for this, or any hike.

King County SAR described the 3 types of injury responses they typically respond to on Mailbox Peak, offering the following advice to hikers who want to take on this ‘hike of legends.’ The information is also important – even on shorter, less strenuous hikes.

1) Leg Injuries

Mailbox Peak terrain and elevation gain can be punishing – even on the newer trail – with some relatively steep areas.

SAR frequently gets called to the trail to assist hikers who have slipped or tripped, resulting in a range of leg and ankle injuries. From sprains to fractures, these injuries – coupled with trail length – means a wheeled litter is most often the best way to carry an injured person down to the trailhead for medical care.

There are a couple of ways hikers can prepare to avoid any injury: wear good hiking boots with ankle support and good tread. Also consider taking hiking/trekking poles to increase stability on steep sections.

2) Hydration

Mailbox Peak Trail has an elevation gain of 4000 feet, with over 900 of that gain in just a half-mile. The 9-mile round trip often requires more water than hikers expect.

SAR said its volunteers have been called to Mailbox Peak multiple times for hikers out of water and experiencing medical conditions related to hydration and food needs.

There really aren’t any dependable trail locations to filter additional water, especially closer to the top, so KCSAR says packing enough water is key to being comfortable, especially in hot weather.

Also consider bringing along clothing and sunscreen for the weather you may or may not expect.

3) Navigation and Flashlights

Mailbox Peak can be tricky. One of KCSAR’s most frequent evening trail rescue missions involves someone finding themselves with a dead flashlight as night quickly falls.

Hikers should take a good headlamp – regardless of their planned hike start time – along with tested batteries and a set of spares.

KCSAR said if hikers do find themselves stuck miles from the trailhead with a dead flashlight and at risk of becoming lost or injured in the dark, they should call 911 and be as detailed as possible regarding their location and situation. This way the appropriate mission level response can be requested.

For a simple case like ‘lost on the trail in the dark,’ KCSAR can deploy a couple of volunteers with a spare flashlights. An injury mission, though, can require 30-60 volunteers to carry an injured subject to the trailhead.

So… if you’re heading to Mailbox Peak – bring the 10 essentials, including a basic first aid kit with splinting materials and other needed items to stabilize a possible injury. If you get lost or injured, these essentials could be invaluable while you wait for SAR volunteer help.

According to trail safety app maker Cairn, Mailbox Peak has pretty good cell coverage along most of the route. Thus, calling for assistance is usually possible. If your phone doesn’t have coverage and if you’re in need of help, you’re encouraged to ask another hiker to call on your behalf.

KCSAR said it ‘heartily’ encourages hikers to bring along the important 10+ essentials — including a mask for when social distancing is not possible; pack lots of water and don’t forget a camera.

Why the camera? Because you never know what you might find waiting in one of the most famous mailboxes in Washington State. Oh, and the views.

Happy (and safe) Hiking!

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