Mt. Adams Summit

Two posts ago, I shared some lessons learned from the experience of not successfully summiting Washington’s second highest peak, Mt. Adams (see The Lessons of Unsuccess). While I learned a lot on that trip, I was eager for a chance to return and see if I could make the summit.

Last weekend, I had another chance. This time with Angela W., a Seattle Mountaineer who I met on the Granite Mountain scramble. In a whirlwind, new gear was acquired, bags repacked, and it was off to Trout Lake for a second attempt. We rendezvoused at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, picked up permits, and set off to the trailhead in good time. By 11:40 were were booted up and on the dusty path, Angela for the first time, and me with a growing sense of familiarity to the landmarks and majestic views of the volcano ahead of us.

The amount of snowmelt between two weeks prior and now was remarkable! The area James and Kris had used snowshoes was now a dirt trail with a flowing stream where we stopped to filter water. The snowfields we had so easily traversed had given way to what was now clearly a glacier (Crescent Glacier) and the summer route that Dustin and I had debated over tirelessly last time was now clearly defined as up to the ridge and through the rocky landscape. Conditions change constantly in the mountains, especially where snow is concerned.




In the beating sun and afternoon heat, I made good use of my new acquisition, a shemagh. Having seen Dustin wearing it last time and knowing that I needed to do a better job of protecting my skin, I had ordered one online and was curious as to how it would work. As we worked our way up the rocks and back onto the snow towards the Lunch Counter (LC), I quickly fell in love with the comfortable, breathable material, and found all kinds of ways to use it to protect me from the sun.



We trekked up the softening snow and reached the bottom of LC at approximately 4:45 p.m. and pressed on, wanting to camp above 9,000′ so Angela could see how she does at altitude. Other climbers seemed to be pulling off earlier than us, opting to carry their gear less that evening and make up the distance with lighter packs in the morning. The result was that we ended up with our choice of spots and our chosen area seemingly all to ourselves.

My first priority was water, after getting impacted by a lack thereof last time. Near our site was a trickle of snowmelt and I was able to build a small pool and fill and filter enough water to replenish the hydration packs and have some extra for camp. Let it be noted that even though the night did not drop below freezing and the sun was bright both days, on our descent the trickle had stopped and there was no source of water outside of melting snow until we returned to the creek further down. Never take anything for granted in the mountains.


Our evening was spent admiring the views, playing with a beach ball Angela had brought, and watching the sunset. As opposed to last time, there was barely a breath of wind, and the absolute silence was amazing.

After a restless night (neither of us slept well, more of a long term doze for both of us), it was 3:45 a.m and time to get up and moving. We were on the snow somewhere around 4:40 a.m., beginning the climb to the false summit, Piker’s Peak, with crampons on and iceaxes out right around 5 a.m. The snow was solid and slick, not something I would recommend attempting without gear. As we climbed, we could see the headlamps of other climbers waking up and getting ready down at LC. We also saw a solo climber, Kason, who had started from the parking lot around 1:45 a.m. and was doing a single-day ascent. He passed us up Piker’s and we leapfrogged with him the rest of the way, sharing encoragenements back and forth as we all pressed on for the sky.

We reached the top of Piker’s Peak around 7:15 a.m. Two hours was about what we had anticipated for this stretch, and we enjoyed a break before taking on the final climb. From the false summit, it truly looked like someone had taken a mountain and plopped it on top of the mountain we had just climbed. I can see how disheartening it would be if you didn’t read up on Mt. Adams beforehand and expected an easy summit after making it this far.


The bootpath led to a final snowclimb, whereas switchbacks in the rocky scree showed us another option, though perhaps somewhat less traveled. I had no preference and ahead of us we could see Kason taking on the rocky path. After conferring with Angela, we decided to take the scree, a decision that worked fine for us an offered amazing views of the cornices and crevasses off the southeast side of the mountain, but perhaps not the route I would choose again. When we were on snow, it was amazing to look at the contours, the wind and sun having sculpted the snow into amazing patterns and frozen waves. It felt like stepping across a frozen ocean and was mesmerizing to behold. As we got higher, these troughs (also known as sun cups) became more defined, and on our final break before the summit, I was able to sit down inside one to show the size.



One final push for the summit remained! By now, Kason had made it and there were other climbers close behind. We pushed on and before we knew it, we reached the top with breathtaking views of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker to the north, the first time we had seen these familiar neighbors since entering the Mt. Adams Wilderness. A few more steps and we were at the true summit (12,276′) at approximatley 9:10 a.m. So, a total of 4.5 hours from LC to summit with several rests and breaks, not bad! My highest peak yet and an even sweeter accomplishment after having to turn back before. Never has a summit felt so good!

We walked across the frozen sea to the east side of the mountain and looked out at the areas that seemed to be Yakima and the Tri-Cities. I remembered seeing Mt. Adams from the road the last time I had been in Yakima, when I hadn’t even considered the possibility of standing on top of her one day, and it struck me again how far I have come in this mountaineering world in barely a year. So many blessings. Such a gift to live this life.




Soon it was time to descend. Just after 10 a.m. we were geared up and ready to go. We both tried the first glissades and felt the crunch of frozen snow beneath us. Angela decided it was out of her comfort zone and opted to walk back to LC, using the opportunity to practice more in crampons for future climbs. I opted to try out every small chute we came upon and by the time we reached Piker’s, I felt confident enough to take on the whole slide. Knowing the west chute led to rocks (from scouting on the way up), I chose the east chute. The top parts were a little challenging, taking a lot of muscle to dig in the iceaxe and control my descent, and at one point the chute walls were so wide that I found my legs splaying and was worried about a dislocation or fracture should I lose control of my speed. However, with attention and careful application of everything I have learned this year, I was able to slide slowly down the steep spots and enjoyed the rest of my 2,700′ descent in 10-15 minutes. What a ride! I stumbled over to the rocks at upper LC and found some welcome shade where I relaxed and waited for Angela.

We made it back to our tents, packed up, and headed down the mountain, happily wishing new climbers good luck and answering questions as best we could. The cold water at the creek crossing was the most delicious thing I have tasted in a long time, and it was gratefully followed by the Mt. Adams Burger at the local cafe back in Trout Lake. The four hour drive back was long and tiring, but the reality set in more with every mile. We had done it! I fell asleep exhausted that night and awoke with elation as it truly, fully set in. We had done it! Every time I push myself past the limits I thought I had, I realize how much more I am capable of. 

To climbing higher! To truly living! To new adventures to come!

Downtime Reading – Denali

Having to take it easy the last two weeks to allow my knee to mend gave me time to catch up on chores, hang with Harley, and get through a few more titles on my to-read list. Both of these were picked up at Half Price Books over the last few months and were delightfully contrasting short reads about experiences climbing Denali.


The first one, “6194” by Ed Darack, is a story about a young Californian who dreams of solo climbing Denali, and his many trials and errors in getting to that goal. He pulls no punches in sharing his mistakes and the lessons he learned as he became more involved in mountaineering. Several times I cringed or scoffed at his mistakes, but overall I admired his perseverance and seeing his growth from his first naive attempt to climb Mt. Whitney to his successful solo summit up Denali, and several mountains in between. 


The second, “The Accidental Adventurer” is the life story of Barbara Washburn, the first woman to summit Denali. Unlike Darack, Washburn never had dreams of peak-bagging or chasing a specific mountain. As she explains, her motives were to accompany her husband and support his travels and expeditions. Although she downplays her experiences through most of the book, the challenges she faced and her drive and dedication on the mountains are inspirational. 

Reading both of these gave an interesting range of views on what Denali is like. My takeaways are that it is a very long endeavor (days and weeks, not hours, to summit), requires a huge amount of stubbornness and dedication, and is possible to do even if you aren’t a mountaineering legend. Darack survived falling down 80 feet into a crevasse and endured whiteouts, high winds, and deep snow. Washburn seems to have lived a healthy lifestyle yet claims she never trained for Denali outside of pushing a stroller and raising children. What I noticed in both of them is that they both wanted to quit and faced their fears numerous times, and in the end it was a mixture of respecting the mountain and using caution combined with sheer determination that allowed them to succeed in reaching the summit and returning home safely.

Both are pleasant reads and recommended if you enjoy mountaineering, adventuring, and the stories of ordinary people pushing themselves towards extraordinary things.

The Lessons of Unsuccess

This weekend’s climb of Mt. Adams (Pahto to the Native Americans), the third tallest Volcano in the Cascades, was long anticipated. Plans and details were worked and reworked, obligations rearranged, and excitement grew each day leading up the weekend.

The day began with the drive to Trout Lake, a town at the foot of Mt. Adams where the crew would assemble and register at the Ranger Station for the climb. Via I-5 down to Oregon, following I-84 to Hood River then jumping back into Washington, the drive took me just under four hours without traffic. With an early start, I took my time and enjoyed several stops along the way, even one to simply admire the views across the Columbia.


A stop for brunch in Hood River provided amazing views of Mt. Hood, and also my first glimpse of Mt. Adams in the distance.

 Driving up highway 141, the views of Adams continued to increase and my anticipation grew even more. The presence of wilderness firefighting crews along the highway were a sobering reminder of how fragile these natural places we treasure can be. As I drove past, I sent a silent prayer of gratitude to the women and men who work so hard to keep us safe, especially this dry, fire-prone time of year.

I arrived in Trout Lake early and spent my time visiting the General Store and Saturday Market and pulling over for views of the ever present stratovolcano looming in the distance. Stopping in the Ranger Station to start on paperwork, I had my heart warmed watching one of the employees open a handwritten envelope and pulling out a check and exclaiming, “they actually sent the money owed, unsolicited–my faith in humanity restored!” No further context was needed to make me smile right along with her.

Perfect weather, plenty of other climbers passing through town heading to and from the mountain, and my full pack in the backseat just waiting to go had me daydreaming about how it would feel to stand at the summit the next morning with Mt. Adams successfully in the bag. Little did I know that this would not be the outcome of this adventure.


Shortly after noon, the crew had arrived and we were piling into one car to carpool up to the trailhead at Cold Spring Campground. There were four of us meeting, some for the first time, to climb Mt. Adams together. Finally meeting Dustin W., a man I’d gotten to know through Facebook messages over the past half year, primarily through sharing inspiring photos and beta about our hikes/climbs, was an absolute highlight for me. He came from the Tri-Cities with fellow climber James, and James brought his wife Kris for her first experience in snow scrambling. Introductions were made and conversation flowed as we piled in and Dustin maneuvered up the challenging dirt roads to the mountain. Then it was one last pitstop, boots on and packs up as we hit the trail just after 2 p.m.



The trail begins up an old road through the remenants of a forest fire (2012 Cascade Creek Burn Zone, according to WTA). The most obviously trafficked route was “summer route” and we followed it through the trees to the snow, and from there adopted a landmark to landmark approach to determine the way as we could see hikers above us tackling the steep slopes and snow filled bowl via a variety of routes. 

The hike in provided us with a lesson in team dynamics and decision making as we all had route opinions and different levels of acceptable risk-taking. In the end, caution prevailed and taking one leg at a time to assess and reasses brought us into the bowl and to the base of our first significant snow scramble below the Lunch Counter snowfields.

For the record, the next person who tries to tell me that Mt. Adams is “just a hike” is getting throat-punched. Traversing the bowl and beginning the steep ascent straight up, even at the most forgiving looking slope, was a challenge and made me evermore grateful for the fantastic instruction I have received from the Mountaineers over the last few months.

The slog through the soft snow to the Lunch Counter was tiring and the prospect of camp and a hot meal all the incentive needed to make the final push of the day. As we climbed the bowl and made our way up, winds began to pickup and we knew we were feeling the start of the 30-40 mph winds that were expected that night. The gusts kept us cool but also made the climb tougher. By the time we arrived at the Lunch Counter, we were shouting to each other to be heard and muscling the tents into submission as we worked against the increasing winds. In between assembling camp, securing our gear, and fighting to get the stoves going to make dinner, we were able to pause to enjoy the gorgeous sunset and I caught a glimpse off the east side of the infamous evening mountain shadow (my first sighting and definitely not the last!)

The high winds and difficulty with one of the stoves that evening gave the earliest hints that we may not be able to summit in the morning as planned. We had arrived later than expected (around 7:45 p.m.) and by 9:30 p.m, it was too cold with the wind chill to stay outdoors, the snow was frozen solid and chopping enough to replenish our dwindling water supplies would mean getting even colder, and all we could do was set the alarm and wait and see what conditions would be like in the morning. 12:30, 2 a.m., 3 a.m… the hours ticked by interspersed with periodic dozing and quiet conversation and speculation as to which tent would be blown off the mountain first by the strong winds. Catching a glimpse of the stars almost made it worth braving the cold, but after a few minutes outside it was time to be burrowed back in the sleeping bag. The image of the Big Dipper tilted up against Piker’s Peak in the moonlight is one of many moments I will treasure from this trip.

Sometime around 7 a.m. the winds were back to manageable levels and we had all managed to doze enough to look at our options. The original alpine start had been bagged due to the wind, and now we could see climbers heading up to the false summit and had to make a decision. James and Kris decided not to go, leaving Dustin and I to decide if we would make an attempt. Because we had come as a group, considering the several hour delay that would now impact our departure was a big factor. Also, the fact that we hadn’t made more water the night before weighed on me. I was down to a half liter in my backpack, having consumed two liters on the way up to the Lunch Counter. It would take another hour to make enough for me to feel safe making the attempt–some people need this or that when they hike, and for me it is constantly sipping water as I climb. Without adequate water, I suffer. Heading up to 12,276′ at the summit, I knew I’d be putting myself as risk if I didn’t have enough to stay lucid and keep moving. I know my strength and knew I could probably make it, but should I? As I scrambled around camp during breakfast, this debate raged through my mind. Finally, I pulled Dustin aside and told him I wouldn’t be going. Knowing he was the fastest of the group and having exceptional experience in mountaineering and solo climbing, I asked if he wanted to still go. I can’t begin to know what thoughts flew behind his eyes as he considered the many variables as well, but he made the decision to try and flew into action.

As I watched Dustin packing the lightest amount of gear he could manage and set off from camp, another lesson became concrete and migrated from my head to my heart: sometimes you have to say no to the climb. I’ve told people this since I can remember, telling each group I go out with to speak up if things feel weird and that there is no shame in turning around when you can’t keep going. “The mountain will still be there tomorrow” is an often heard phrase in the alpine world. I’ve said it countless times, yet for the first time I was faced with a decision not formed by the weather or conditions or any other objective factor that usually makes the decision easy. I decided based on knowing my own strengths and weaknesses and my role as a member of a team. I know I could have made it if I had tried. But I made a choice and as hard as it was, I know it was the right one. Mt. Adams will still be there another day. 

As if to solidify this choice, shortly after I had decided not to go, a combination of poor footing and an ill timed wind gust tumbled me onto the volcanic rocks and left me with a few bruises and a knee that required several hours of TLC (well, more like iBUProfen, ice, elevation, and rest) before I was able to make the trek out. It’s like the mountain gods were making sure I would stick with my decision not to climb further. Alright, point taken, this was not my time for Adams! Instead, I learned to be happy with the views around me and to celebrate the fact that I had now spent a night at elevation (approximately 9,200-9,400′ depending on where you camp). Small victories, and good ones!

 Watching the climbers ascending above the Lunch Counter. Dustin is probably one of the dots towards the top.

 Relaxing at camp Sunday morning.

 James and Kris returning from some glissade and iceaxe practice.

 St. Helens to the west.

 Mt. Hood to the south.

Just before 1 p.m., James, Kris, and I were standing around watching the human specs moving up and down the mountain, speculating on which one might be Dustin. We concluded that if he had made good time, he would likely be just approaching or starting to glissade down from Piker’s Peak. No sooner had we said this then from our west came a joyous hail and we watched the man himself climbing over the rocks back to camp. Dustin must have flown part of the way, having returned to camp with a successful summit in roughly 4.5 hours roundtrip! For reference, most trip reports have people taking 3-5 hours to make the summit alone from the Lunch Counter. Pretty amazing mountain goat status right there!

 Dustin returning to camp with the mountain behind him. 

 Dustin’s summit photo.

As Dustin recounted his climb and began rearranging his pack, something clicked for me that I had always wondered about while reading the stories of climbing expeditions to places like Denali and Everest. On those expeditions, there are team members who make it all the way to base camp or a little beyond and never a step further. In their accounts and interviews, they always extoll the success of the climbers who made the summit, their words sometimes tinged with personal disappointment but always with an overwhelming mixture of pride and gratitude for the ones who did make it. And I always wondered, how, after coming so far and putting in so much effort, do these people not feel resentful or negative about the fact that they got left behind, that someone else took the journey that they had planned for themselves and would now receive the accolades and glory for it. Yet now I understood. Mt. Adams may not be an Everest or Denali, not even a Mt. Baker or Rainier, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was how proud I was that a member of my team had made the summit, that he had trusted us enough to wait for him, and that we had enough faith in his abilities to know he could do it. Another lesson learned, this one full of joy and a deeper understanding of the mountaineering community.

On the drive home, I called my parents to check-in and started to feel a flush of shame at not having accomplished what I had set out to do. Yet my mom listened to my story of the weekend and the climb, and as I explained the highs and lows of one person’s success and my own unsuccess, my mom said exactly what I needed to hear: “I’m proud of all of you, and you especially because you’ve shown me that you’re not just a peak-bagger. You’re a mountaineer.”

 Breaking camp, James and Dustin engaged in  synchronized packrobatics as Kris and I look on.

The climb/glissade/hike down was uneventful, full of conversation and laughter and wellwishes to other climbers also descending from the mountain. The ride back to the Ranger Station to retrieve vehicles and be on our way seemed too short, and it was bittersweet saying goodbye to new friends after sharing such a wonderfuly chaotic adventure.




Still riding the high from the last 24 hours, I somehow found the energy (read: insanity) to stop at Multnomah Falls on the way home and make the 2.4 mile roundtrip hike to the overlook on top of the falls, in flip-flops and with an aching knee no less. Hiking and stubbornness must be a part of my genetic makeup. And thank goodness for that!

 Multnomah Falls

 The view from the top of the falls (895′)

 Evening on the Columbia River, on the way home.

Mt. Adams is a challenge and an adventure, and if you have the abilities and mindset for it, I highly recommend it! May you find joy and success, or unsuccess, as the case may be.

Pahto, I will be back. Thank you for teaching me so much this weekend.

To follow our trail…

Mt. Adams South Climb (WTA)
Mt. Adams (Summit Post)
Mt. Adams Permits/Red Tape (USDA Forest Service)
Multnomah Falls

Granite Mountain Monday

Monday morning I joined a Seattle based Mountaineers group for a scramble on Granite Mountain. Granite is a year-round scramble (although taken with extreme caution in the winter as avalanches are common and deadly), or a lovely eight mile hike for those looking to stay on trail and still be challenged by approximately 3,800′ of elevation gain. Though still patches of snow at the top, the trail is accessible and well travelled by hikers eager to take in the gorgeous views.

Our group (myself, Angela, and Heidi, with trip leader David) met at the TH and departed at approximately 10:45am. Note that there is still a stand for permits into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness that must be completed and attached prior to your hike if you choose to go. We followed the main trial through the forest, feeling out the group’s pace and getting to know each other.



The trail crosses numerous gulleys as it ascends (the source of serious avalanches in the winter), and under David’s direction, we left the main trail to ascend one of these for our first scramble. Several areas required greater attention as we navigated up what at times felt like a dried waterfall, and one section was a challenging enough climb that David mentioned it was likely rated higher than he had anticipated and though nervous, I was proud to be able to overcome some of my lingering fear of actual climbing enough to work through the problem and come out safely at the top. 





Once we left the gulley, we were surrounded by an abundance of beautiful wildflowers including Bear Grass in full bloom. Carefully navigating the wild terrain with proper care and etiquette, we made our way back to the established trail and stopped for a brief lunch break. 




We followed the trail for a ways, raising the eyebrows of several day trekkers who glanced a few times at our full packs and helmets. Now we could see the lookout tower at the summit and the views continued to expand as we glanced back over the I-90 cooridor and around at the neighboring peaks.



With the tower in sight, the trail took a noteable divide, the right branch switchbacking to the top, and the left providing a boulder/scramble route along the spine that appears well traveled judging by the wear to the dirt and worn boot paths on sections of rock. With our sights on the top, we spread out over the boulders and made our way to the lookout tower.






After relaxing at the summit, we took the trail down and took our time, stopping to admire views and look at neighboring peaks and routes for future adventures, arriving back at the cars a little after 5 p.m. 






To follow our trail…

Granite Mountain (WTA)
Granite Mountain Trail (Mountaineers)

Alki for Seafair and SUP

Although there is an official kickoff to Seafair, for me it always begins when the Seafair Pirates land at Alki. If you are unfamiliar, Seafair is a summer festival in Seattle that lasts for 10 weeks and includes numerous events (75, according to their website). As a ski patroller, I have had the privilege of volunteering as a first responder at numerous venues over the years, and as a local, I love how many events there are that draw us outside, often to the waters’ edge. There are runs, triathalons, parades, the huge hydroplane race and airshow weekend, and of course, the landing of the pirates at Alki.

 Posing with a Coast Guard mascot during Seafair.



My friend Rose H. and I got there too late for the actual landing, but we spent hours people watching, walking the beach, and watching the pirates’ antics. The atmosphere was festive and there were people all over the area swimming, kayaking, playing beach volleyball, and admiring the gorgeous views of downtown Seattle across the bay. 



What we looked forward to the most, however, was going Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) that evening. Rose has done it numerous times and I was both nervous and excited to give it a try. We rented from Alki Kayak Tours for $20 for the hour and set out into the water. I loved it! I’ve heard that SUP is a core workout and I definitly see why. Between thighs and abdominal muscles needing to engage to keep balance, shoulders and arms are at work paddling, and jumping up and down takes all kinds of attention and movement. I’ll admit that I fell in once, but getting back on the board was much easier than I thought it would be. Although by no means an expert, I highly recommend that anyone considering trying it go and do it. And if you hesitate because it looks too hard, you’ll never know until you try! Personally, I know I have a lot to learn and a lot more falls and swims in my future, but I still can’t wait to get back out there and go again!






To follow our trail…

Seafair
Seafair Pirates
Alki Beach
Alki Kayak Tours

Mounds to Mountains

This weekend provided beautiful weather and excellent opportunities for adventure! With Em, I was finally able to visit the Mima Mounds near Olympia, then with Patrik B. and his friend Erin, I finally got to see the renowned views from the summit of Mt. Ellinor.

The Mima Mounds is a nature preserve surrounding the “mysterious” earth mounds that fill the area. A dome shaped information station located a few yards in from the main parking area provides placards with the various theories on how these mounds were formed, from permafrost and glacial movement to the work of local pocket gophers. The loop trails through the area are relatively short but one could easily add up the miles by walking each trail and looping back around for a change in perspective.

 


According to the signage, there are different wildflowers in bloom from early spring to late summer, and seeing the lovely blends of colors on the hillsides caused me to make a mental note to return again to see the different blooms.
The only downside of this place is that the nearby Capitol Forest has a shooting range and our walk was punctuated by the sound of gunshots. However, signs at the beginning warn you to expect this, and after a while they just became background noise to the extent that memory fails to distinctly finish if it was truly silent or if the noises were that insignificant. In either case, the Mima Mounds are beautiful and quite worth the visit. In our short hour, we logged approximately 2.5 miles. I look forward to returning and doing more!

The next day was another hike but at a different pace and elevation. Patrik and Erin invited me to join them in summiting Mt. Ellinor in the Olympics, and I was eager to go. I first did this hike in 2013 with my family and we took the winter chute (it’s like walking up a snowy staircase for several hours then sliding straight down in a snow trough), and the neighboring Mt. Washington in 2016. In both cases, the clouds were thick and the views nonexistent. This time, the forecast was perfect and the promise of seeing the renowned views too great a temptation to refuse.

Although it is July and the treacherousness of the chute diverts most hikers/climbers to the summer trail, we quickly discovered that the summer trail is still deep in snow. Our anticipated hike turned out to be more of a snow scramble for the most part with dirt trail at the very beginning and end. Luckily the summit was clear and Patrik and Erin were experienced enough that it only took a few tips for them to excel in their glissading abilities on the trip down. We saw other hikers in shorts and tennis shoes with minimal gear, some turning around at the snowline and some pushing all the way to the summit. To each their own, but we were grateful for the gear we had as it made for a much more pleasant (and safer) experience.

At the summit, we had the pleasure of seeing several mountain goats, the local animals I have heard of time and again but until now have never encountered personally. We gave them their space and followed goat protocol as had been posted on the signs at the beginning (such as moving around them with caution, not feeding them, and being prepared to chase them off if they are too aggressive. See this link for more information). Having them blocking the trail at several points became interesting, but we managed to work around them and did not have any negative encounters. Plus we got some awesome photos so that was a bonus!

Roundtrip from the upper TH is 3.2 miles with 2,444′ elevation gain (that’s a lot in 1.6 miles to the top) so this hike is rated as expert/strenuous. With the current snow conditions, it is definitly still a scramble climb. However, there are bootpaths to follow and it is perfectly doable with the right preparation and gear.

IMG_6672 The snow scramble, with Patrik and Erin in the upper left glissading down.

As the snow continues to melt, summer trail will become clearer and provide and excellent, challenging hike for the rest of the summer. For extra mileage, start at the lower TH for a 6.2 mile RT with 3,300 elevation gain.

 Looking up at the summit from the upper TH parking area. You could see the cars from the top.

To follow our trail…

Mima Mounds
Mt. Ellinor

Whittaker’s Wilderness Peak Trail, Cougar Mountain

There aren’t always full days available to go adventuring. What I love about the Pacific Northwest is how many places are available to explore no matter where you are or what your timeframe is. Most of our cities have parks and areas for urban outdoor adventures, the mountains and sound are always in the background enticing you to come out and play, and there’s plenty of accessible options right in the middle. Thursday provided an excellent opportunity to reacquaint with one of these middle options.

Having several hours to use between the end of work and meeting up with my sister, the easy availability of places like Squak and Cougar mountains in the Issaquah Alps seemed perfect for a quick stroll. These are places my family explored many times when we children were wee and cutting our alpine teeth in the foothills. With no expectations or route plans other than a brief stroll through the trails, Josh A. and I met at the TH and began walking. 

 The trail begins.

The trail was well maintained and there were surprisingly few people. In fact, we only ran into other hikers at the TH at the beginning and end. The switchbacks and elevation gain surprised me–this was a real hike, not the walk in the park that one might expect from somewhere so close to town! The area was so inviting and the presence of huckleberries and salmon berries so enticing that the quick stroll turned into a full 5.48 miles (WTA says it’s 4 miles RT, but we wandered a bit more as we are prone to do) as we followed the trail named in honor of renowned Everest climber Jim Whittaker, found our way to the summit of Cougar Mountain (Wilderness Peak, a summit without views but a lovely wooden bench that invites one to sit back and admire the beauty of the trees) and made it back at a fast clip with a total time under two hours. 

 The view (upward) at the summit.

We had not planned to summit Cougar or be out for more than an hour max, which is another reminder as to why one should always carry the very basics on any hike and plan for the unexpected. Being able to adventure further was a treat! For anyone looking for a shorter hike a little bit closer than the distant peaks, the Issaquah Alps have an abundance of offerings worth taking the time to visit. Just pack some essentials and remember that these are mountains, not city parks–something even I am guilty of not remembering from time to time.

 Part of Whittaker Wilderness Peak Trail on Cougar Mountain.

To follow our trail…

Issaquah Alps Trails
Wilderness Peak Loop