Aug 31, 2008

Tiger Mountain: West Tiger 2 Summit

A month ago the family tackled West Tiger 3. This morning I set out to hit West Tiger 2, which is the middle peak in the triad of peaks comprising West Tiger Mountain. It was a cloudy, drizzly morning, so instead of driving straight for the peak and spectacular views I took my time and did some exploring.

Tiger Mountain is interesting with a myriad of trails. It makes it easy to hike in "loops" where you can finish where you started without retracing your steps. I didn't have a plan going in, but happened to take the optimal way (from a time perspective) to get to West Tiger 2. I started at the High Point trailhead off I-90 Exit 22, and took the Tiger Mountain Trail (TMT) just passed the gate off the West Tiger 3 trail. This is a flat-to-steady climb for a good mile and a half. At that point, after crossing a couple bridges, the trail will split. TMT continues to the left, and the K-3 trail starts and veers off to the right. The sign says its an unmaintained trail, but its in good shape. It takes you a steep 400 feet up to the West Tiger Railroad grade, and in doing so shaves about three miles off the TMT, which meanders down and around the mountain until meeting back up at the West Tiger Railroad Grade. Anyway, back on the trail, the grade heads east and west on a flat trail - head east (left) a half a mile and you will find yourself back on the TMT. Take that about 800 feet up of switchbacks, and you will find yourself close to the summit. Look for a sign for West Tiger 2 about 2500 feet up, and take the trail to the left to the summit.

I really don't know what kind of views are available here, I imagine they are excellent. You also walk right by the antenna tower visible from the freeway. Walk past it and you will see a sign pointing you to West Tiger 3. I assume you can also get to West Tiger One from here but did not notice a sign (actually that's probably what TMT will do). I followed the trail back to West Tiger 3, took that down to the Talus Rocks Trail, and followed that to the Nook Trail. That took me to Tradition Loop and back to the parking lot.

The entire trip was four hours, with 2200 feet of elevation gain, covering about 7 miles (that's a guess as I didn't have good GPS coverage). I really liked the various trail and the options it gives you to explore various areas of Tiger Mountain. I'll be back to see where TMT takes me past West Tiger 2.

Aug 24, 2008

Ira Spring Trail - Bandera Mountain

The Ira Spring Trail is a trail that feeds several destinations along the north ridge of the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River, including Mason Lake, Mount Defiance, Banana Ridge, and Bandera Mountain. Take I-90 to exit 45, head to the north side of the freeway, then follow FS 9030 to the west. Follow the signs to the Ira Spring Trailhead, about 3.8 miles from I-90, elevation 2150 ft.

The trail has a gentle upward slope for the first mile and a half, then pushes more aggressively uphill for another mile through a few switchbacks, each one revealing more and more of Mount Rainier as you make your way up. At 4150 feet up you'll encounter a junction. Head west to make your way to Mason Lake, continue heading up to make your way to Bandera Mountain. The next 500 feet up are a killer, a rock meadow field at a 45 degree angle. Had to take a couple minutes of rest three times in this short stretch, but the promising views from the top kept me motivated!

You'll emerge from the meadow back into forest, and shortly across boulders as you make your way to the first summit. To the north on a clear day you will catch views of Mason Lake, Mount Baker, and the north cascades. At the summit, about 3.25 miles from the trailhead and elevation 5150 feet, the views are spectacular, stretching from Seattle and Bellevue to the west, to Rainier and Mount Adams to the south, to the Cascades to the east. Three views of volcanoes on this day, not too shabby.

The trail continues east a half a mile to the real Bandera Mountain summit, which is about the same elevation but will dip between the two summits. Having enjoyed the views here, and hearing that this is the best viewpoint on Bandera, I took a pass on going to the end of the trail.

Mount Rainier from the first summit.

Mount Adams peeking through the Cascades.

Mount Baker emerging from the clouds

Seattle as viewed from Bandera Mountain

Aug 23, 2008

Mount Catherine

We took advantage of the good weather today and the family headed up to Snoqualmie Pass to check out Mount Catherine, with a 5050 foot summit with panoramic views of the Cascades, including Mount Rainier.

Getting there is a little tricky - take I-90 to exit 54 (Hyak) and head north. You'll cross road 906 into what looks like a chalet community. There will be a sign for the "Twin Lake Trailhead" - spot that and follow the road through the chalet community, past a water treatment facility, and to a logging road that will take you to the trailhead. Three miles from I-90, you'll spot the Twin Lake trailhead on your left. Go two miles past that, and you will find the trailhead for Mount Catherine on your right, at elevation 3700 feet.

The trail is a little steep, as its only 1.5 miles long but takes you up 1300 feet in that span. It is well groomed albeit narrow most of the way. There are occasional views on the way up, but the real treat is the final 50 foot scramble to the summit. There you will be treated with a panoramic view of the Cascades, from Mount Rainer to nearby Silver Peak and then down the Snoqualmie Valley (you can see Mount Si in the distance) to across the Cascades to the east, the summit is amazing.

This is arguably the best ratio of view-to-effort in the Snoqualmie-Mt Baker National Forest. This trail is also kid-friendly - in fact my kids loved the final scramble to the top, they felt like "rock climbers."

Looking down on Kecheelus Lake

Great view of Rainer from Mount Catherine summit

Looking south across the Cascades

Aug 14, 2008

McClellan Butte

As you pass exit 38 from the west on I-90, looking up to the right you'll see an rockytop mountain that towers above its siblings. McClellan Butte reaches almost 5200 feet into the air. Take exit 42, go south, then east at the junction a tenth of mile, and you'll quickly and easily find the McClellan Butte trailed. A Pacific Northwest Forest Pass is required.

The parking lot puts you at 1500 feet, so a 3700 foot elevation gain along a 4.5 mile trail awaits you. If you've taken a peek at the top of McClellan Butte from the highway, you can deduce that amazing views await!

The trail starts simple enough - a .4 mile trek up to the Iron Horse Trail, then a .4 mile walk west to the marked trail, then another .4 miles to cross a logging road. Once you get to about 3000 feet (about a mile from the logging road), its starts a steady, steep climb to the south side of the mountain. At the end of this steep hike (4900 feet up, 4 miles from the trailhead), you get your first amazing peek at Mt Rainier, so close it seems that you can reach out and touch it. At this point the trail levels considerably, and you only have a half mile, 200 foot climb to the end of the trail.

The trail end leaves you with views of Mt Rainier, the Olympics, Seattle (downtown is obscured by Rattlesnake Mountain), and Mount Si, as well as along the Snoqualmie Valley (both east and west) and across Snoqualmie Pass. If you want a view of Mount Defiance, Dirty Harry's Balcony and Peak, Mailbox Peak, and Banana Ridge, you'll need to climp another 125 feet up a fairly steep and dangerous rockface for the summit. Dangerous in that a fall will be fatal, but safe in that there are plenty of footholds and the rock is slanted making it fairly easy to scale, just be careful.

The top gives you a 360 degree view with no obstructions - McClellan Butte towers above its siblings. I took an hour and just soaked it all in.

Except for the rock scramble, this is a kid-friendly hike. And so far, my favorite hike and views to date.

Rainier view at the turn

The view east from the top

Mount Si as seen from the end of the trail. I didn't take my camera with me to the peak, as I was a little gunshy with the rock scramble. Next time, I'll be getting a picture of me with Mt Rainier in the background :)

Aug 7, 2008

Change and Hall Creek Viewpoints

Nestled between Mount Washington to the east and McClellan Butte to the west is a ridge that splits the Hall and Change Creeks. If you're driving I-90 and take a look to the south between the two Exit 38s, you will see the ridge I'm referring to. It juts out all the way to the Iron Horse Trail, and meets up with Mount Washington to the south. This past weekend I went exploring this area and was pleasantly surprised at what I found. A short trail (about 1.5 miles) with about 1900 feet of total elevation gain made for some wonderful hiking and better views.

Parking for this area is between the two Exit 38s off I-90. If you are coming from the west, go right off the exit, go past the Twin Falls trailhead, and about a quarter mile down the road you'll see an old road-turned-into-parking (can't miss it). Park there, and at the point where the road crosses Change Creek, you'll find an unmarked trail on the west side.

This trail takes you up to the Iron Horse trail, and you are likely to find plenty of rock climbers here - this is arguably the most popular area west of Snoqualmie Pass for rock climbing. Once you get the Iron Horse trail (about 300 feet of elevation gain), go east across the Change Creek bridge, taking time to enjoy the wonderful views of Change Creek. Also, take a peek to that ridge just east of the bridge, that's where you'll be heading :)

To the east the Iron Horse trail next crosses Hall Creek, and there's a large bridge for that. Just before it, on a smaller bridge, you'll see an unmarked trail right next to the fence. Take it, and it will switchback up about 500 feet to the first viewpoint, an awesome view of Hall Creek below. Continue up the trail, a steep climb for the next half mile or so. At about .8 mile past the first viewpoint, you'll come to an area where you are on a ridge that splits both Change and Hall Creek - you'll know it when you come to it. Remember this spot and continue up the trail another .2 miles. There will be a turnoff and a sign labeled "Hall View" or something similar. Take that trail up a short ways, and you'll be rewarded with an awesome viewpoint of Change and Hall creeks. Arguably one of the best viewpoints (Snoqualmie Valley, Middle Fork, Mailbox Peak, Mount Si) that's not a mountaintop in the valley.

Back at the main trail, it continues on and meets up with an old logging road that will eventually wind around Change Creek and take you to the top of Mount Washington. On this day, I headed back down to the ridge I referred to earlier. Instead of taking the trail down, I wormed my way along the rocks on the ridge for .1 miles and was treated with making it to the ledge that juts out to the Iron Horse Trail, which at this point was about 1200 feet below. Again, awesome views of the valley.

A word of warning, this last trek is not suitable for small children, and I would be wary of the trail above the first viewpoint with small kids. Some steep dropoffs off a narrow trail. Not a family friendly hike.