It's been a long time since I've been up Mailbox, but that doesn't mean Sunday mornings don't find me on some trail. This time it was Guye Peak and Cave Ridge.
This circuit has a lot going for it. Start at the easy-to-access Alpental parking lot. Almost everyone there is heading to Snow Lake so they look at you funny when you start walking up through old avalanche debris, but nobody is following you.
(If anyone was following you they might bail as soon as the trail gets going. The first part is the same as the trail up Snoqualmie Mountain. It's unmaintained and brutal. Some sections you walk up a running creek that demands you grab the trees along the side to prevent falling, but some of those "trees" are devil's club!)
At the boulder field you can look for pika. There are bunches there, but this year they were quiet. Since the sign pointing to climber's right (through the rocks) is hard to see most people at this point would continue up toward Snoqualmie Mountain so you have even less company.
It's easy to find the trail up to Guye Peak when you reach the saddle because it can only be one possible direction. Keep going and you descend into the Commonwealth Basin (a great route up to this area in itself, though long) and to the left is obviously the wrong direction.
Later in the year there will bucketloads of blueberries, but now the bushes just serve as veggie belays as we climbed up the steep, steep slope. However, when we emerged from the trees we were in the open alpine meadows. Big rock slabs, lots of heather and flowers made it easy to forget about the troubles down low. The summit has great views, though the true summit is a couple of dicey moves away. (Without a rope we usually don't bother tagging it.)
If it were only Guye Peak, that'd be one thing. Too short for a Sunday morning's walk. However, back across the trail over the saddle and there's a trail (or a series of trails) to Cave Ridge. Perhaps the best part of Cave Ridge is the... caves. There are a couple of big obvious ones (including one with a register and warning) and tons of weird depressions that look all the world like they could be a cave entrance.
Above all the trees is another mostly open summit with great views in most directions. Even better is the route down the back side (to the north) where you can slip into the valley between Cave Ridge and Snoqualmie Mountain. Eric and I came up that way last year, but going down is definitely the better direction. Still a bit of snow, lots of marmots, and a great view of Rainier.
Plus, you get to go past the waterfall that's one of the best features of the Snoqualmie Mountain trail. Minus, your companions will try to talk you into climbing Snoqualmie Mountain. (Remember to just say no.)
Of course, there's lots of pain and suffering thanks to steep, unmaintained trails, but all in all it's better than Mailbox even if you don't get all the gain.
(If you want a bonus side-trip to make it a little longer check out Phonebooth Peak. The phonebooth isn't there any longer, but it's still a neat diversion.)