Monday, July 5, 2010

Hiking Ira Springs Trail to Bandera Mountain

Since moving to the Northwest, Sarah and I have been doing all we to explore out new neck of the woods. We're trying to explore all Seattle has to offer (and maybe at least learn whether Spring St. or Seneca St. comes first when traveling through downtown).

And, as you might expect, I've been trying to take advantage of hiking in this area since you can barely drive 10 miles without passing a trailhead. Sarah has been going with me on a few of them as we're both gearing up for an August trip up Mt. Katahdin back east.

Knowing that Katahdin is a 4,000-foot ascent, I decided it would be wise of me to start going uphill on some hikes. Since moving to Seattle I've has some steep climbs up to the Rattlesnake Ledges and at Wallace Falls State Park.

But I hadn't done anything that was a true mountain hike, going out above the timber line into exposed areas and all the trimmings.

That changed today, when I walked up Bandera Mountain, a 5,100-foot mountain near Snoqualmie Pass. The trail is a 3-mile route to a "false summit" (the actual summit is much harder to reach and not much higher), ascending 3,000 feet in the process. Let's remember that fact.

Why this trail? According to my trail guide... "views south the Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams." And, the weather people said that the clouds would burn off this morning and we'd have a beautiful day the rest of the way.

So, I was pretty undaunted by the clouds on my drive out to Snoqualmie in the late morning. In fact, as I was driving, the sun was starting to peek through from time to time. I drove down the USFS road (past an active logging operation, by the way) thinking my timing would be right on... that I would arrive at the summit and be welcomed by sunshine and views. I dug into the Ira Springs Trail.

An old friend used to describe some mountain hikes as "uphill hikes." Granted, when you are climbing a mountain, they're all uphill, right? Honestly, the 2,000-foot walk up Grandfather Mountain in NC felt flat compared to say, Overlook Mountain in the Catskills. And Bandera, it needs to be known, is an uphill hike.

But it starts off pretty easily. Past some lovely views of the Snoqualmie Valley... and where I could see the clouds still stubbornly scraping the tops of surrounding mountains. Let's go sunshine. Get it done.

Now, the trail guide says "ascend steeply." That pretty much captured the way of things from 0.5 miles to a trail junction at 2 miles. There, the trail guide says, "begin climbing a trail that could use steps and ladders."

Bear in mind, I'm well out of trees and into a field of brush and large talus (read: boulders). And, this is going to sound insane, but looking up the trail is basically just looking up. The stairway in your home is less steeply pitched than some of the spots on this trail. No really:
That's looking to the side, so I was hiking up that pitch. Oh! And see that fog? Yeah, at this level, I was actually within the clouds that didn't burn off. When the wind blew, I am willing to guarantee the pitch of the hill was made up of more degrees than the temperature.

I honestly have no idea how people were climbing this without telescoping trekking poles. It was no picnic with them and I am sure I couldn't have done it without them.

So I reach the ridgeline after the toughest climb of my hiking career. No view to speak of, but... there was snow. Oh yes, friends, on July 5, 2010, I touched snow in the northern hemisphere.

I do wish I could have had the nice view. I mean do a Google image search of Bandera Mountain and it gets pretty cool pretty quickly.

But the toughest thing about this hike... and the one I would tell anyone reading who might hike this trail (and judging by the comments from the last time I blogged a tough hike now and then some of those people read this blog): be prepared for descending the trail from the summit. The talus field is not overly difficult, but it's not a forgiving place... miss a step and, from what I could tell in the gloomy fog anyhow, it could be a few hundred feet of rolling before you stop. Again, without my poles, no idea how I would've coped.

Also, the tough climb is one of the most exposed places I've been. If I hadn't had extra layers, hypothermia wasn't out of the question. If the sun had been out, it would've been an easy sunburn. Be prepared for that.

Still, I have to say that as I was climbing, I kept asking myself if it was really worth it. Now, back in Seattle on my couch (where there, it must be noted, isn't a cloud in the sky and the sun is literally in my eyes), I would love to go back and do this hike again. And I likely will.

Just hope I can take the sun with me this time.

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