Walk the old road 400 feet from the parking area to a permit kiosk. Obtain a self-issued wilderness permit, which is required, even for day use. Resume hiking in pleasant forest, which quickly breaks out to views of Mount Adams, the Goat Rocks, and Mount Rainier.
The first half mile drops 200 feet, some of it steeply. Get used to it. Although the net gain to the summit of Shellrock Peak is less than 500 feet, you have to earn it via significant ups and downs.
The total elevation gain shown in this guide is the sum of the gains in both directions, 2625 feet (1550 in and 1075 out). Some of the route is in forest, but much is open, with limited or no shade.
At 1.0 mile, a wooden sign nailed to a tree marks the junction with the Burnt Mountain Trail. It is easy to miss. Just after the junction, the trail rounds a curve to a full view of Mount Rainier, drops to 6100 feet, then regains all of that and more. At 2.0 miles and 6460 feet of elevation (finally above the trailhead altitude!), a side trail on the right leads to the summit of Burnt Mountain at 6536 feet.
Continuing, you’ll soon have a clear view of Shellrock Peak and the barren ridge leading to its summit. Cairns mark where the briefly faint trail slants down to the left over step-like eroded rock, beginning another significant drop in elevation.
At 2.9 miles is a windswept saddle and the lowest point of the hike, 5900 feet. Climb to 6300 where the junction with the Shellrock Peak Trail, at 3.6 miles, is marked with weathered signs on a tree. Next comes the tricky part. Some routefinding and off-trail hiking are necessary. Here is the way commonly followed.
Continue on the Ironstone Mountain Trail about 500 feet, 200 to 220 paces. There may or may not be small cairns on the right side of the trail. No matter; there is no trail. Choose the least brushy route, and head in a north-northwest direction for another 500 feet. (You do have a compass, right?)
When you see the first large rockpile marking the beginning of the ridge to the summit, it will be obvious. Commit to memory the way you came, so that you can more easily reconnect with the trail on the way down. The structural geology of this area is very complex. To geologists, Shellrock Peak is a “dacite-andesite plug”, one of several in the area. Fortunately, everyone can enjoy the distinctly different types of rock ahead.
From 6400 feet, climb the rockpile on a boot path, and continue along the ridge. The route to the summit is visible on a clear day, gaining the final 435 feet in 0.6 mile. Step carefully, as some rocks will move underfoot. An unnamed lake can be seen at the eastern base of the ridge, at 6200 feet. As you climb, stay left of the fin of darker rocks along the ridge, then as you approach the spine of magnificent rock columns, move to the right for the easiest route. If snow lingers along the ridge, be mindful of cornices and adjust your route accordingly. Continue to the broad, roomy summit of fractured rock slabs at 6835 feet. Enjoy the views.
WTA Pro Tip: There is no water on this hike, so be sure to have as much as you need with you.