Sunday, September 19, 2010

For all the Tigresses

Huge shrooms in this climate.
This past Saturday, my pal who is now nicknamed "SAR" on this blog and I decided to meet up at the Tradition Plateau Trailhead of Tiger Mountain State Park in the Issaquah Alps (aka, Exit 20 off I-90).  SAR and I met a few years ago through an online forum for women skiers.  In the summers, SAR worked in the National Parks, and in the winters, she was a ski patroller.  She now just does the latter  (and pays the bills with a 9-5 job like the rest of us).  In her spare time, she's a volunteer firefighter and search and rescue team member.  She carries about four pagers with her at all times.  Yeah...she's a good asset if you decide to deviate from the normal route in the woods.

On Saturday, we both were running late.   Usually this is not good when heading to the general Tiger Mountain area -- a few weeks ago when I was driving by on the interstate, the frontage road to the trailheads was lined with cars, and I thought there was a concert or some other event going on.  Alas, it had been raining for four days straight, and even as I drove out of the city, I hit a rain shower.  I truly thought we'd spend our entire time in the rain.  Suffice to say, it was a safe-ish bet that at 9am, there would be parking at the trailhead parking lot (fits approximately 80 vehicles).

SAR and I decided to summit West Tiger 3.  There are three Tiger peaks: West, East and South.  West then has three more peaks, 1, 2 and 3.  West Tiger 3 is by far the most popular and what most people speak of when they say they are "hiking Tiger."  In reality, the area is chock full of trails, and to the extent that one wants to take a trail less traveled, she would be best served to bring her own map.  Just sayin'.

Our walk up the West Tiger 3 trail was uneventful.  It was SAR's first hike in a while, and she had torn a calf muscle earlier this summer.  So we considered the hike a test of her gams.  As for me, after weeks of doing trails with 1000' gains over a single mile, I was thrilled to be gaining 2000' over 2.5 or more miles.  For what it's worth, I am still the slowest person walking up the hills downtown.  I mean, women in heels cruise by me in the urban jungle.

At the summit, we were greeted by mist and fog and the sun trying to break through.  We took the obligatory photo by the summit sign and ate an early lunch.  SAR feasted on a bagel with turkey hot dogs sliced lengthwise and pickle relish as I ate my pb&j, where the bread was leftover tandoori roti from earlier in the week.  Suffice to say, our cupboards were not stocked.  A shaman then appeared at the summit.  Okay, he just looked like a shaman, with a long white beard and a staff with an eagle on top.  And he declared it took him 1 hour and 4 minutes to summit, which was not bad, but he's done it in under an hour.  ("We have shorter legs," SAR said to me as I mumbled, "Overachiever.")

Next, a pair of women (one in jeans and a white shirt, the other in black capri pants and a red shirt -- I think.  All I really remember are the jeans) wandered to the summit and wondered how they missed the Poo Poo Point turnoff.  Okay, this was my first time here, but the second I looked at SAR's map, it was apparent there was no turnoff to Poo Poo Point from where we were.  I mean, these women didn't even start at the correct trailhead to get there, unless they intended to do a 9-mile round-trip hike.  We pointed them in the direction of the trail they would have to take if they wanted to go to Poo Poo Point, and minutes later, as SAR and I were looking at the map to determine where we wanted to go, the women returned and said, "It looks really narrow there....are you sure that's the trail?"  Uh, aren't most trails single track?

Mossy trees on the TMT
The reality is, trails in the area alternate from very well identified to not marked at all.  Several trails depart the summit, and there's little way to discern which trail is which without an understanding of which direction you're facing.  We decided to make a loop and take the "really narrow" trail that the women turned back from: Tiger Mountain Trail to the Seattle View Trail to the West Tiger RR Grade Trail, back to the West Tiger 3 Trail.  Except, the Seattle View Trail is not marked at all, and we waltzed by thinking it was a trail leading to a viewpoint.  And because we missed that cutoff, we turned our ~6-mile hike into a 9-mile sprint (we had a time constraint) through misty old-growth forest (complete with soft ground!), overgrown scratchy fauna, and delicate spiderwebs.  On the plus side, the sun popped in and out of the clouds and we encountered only two other people -- they were geocaching -- on this route: TMT to One View Trail to West Tiger RR Grade to West Tiger 3.   The junctions of TMT/One View Trail and One View Trail/West Tiger RR Grade (and even the junction of Section Line Trail and West Tiger RR Grade) are all very well-marked, which is why it's surprising that there was a lack of signage for other intersections.....like TMT to the Seattle View Trail that we missed.  Upon emerging from the West Tiger RR Grade, we saw that it wasn't marked off of West Tiger 3, either.  Curious.  Once back on West Tiger, which is a broad path, it was another mile or so to the trailhead.  Families, groups, and trail runners headed uphill as we came down.  We returned to a mostly full parking lot...and I was only 40 minutes from home.  Superb.

Map of the area.

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