Monday, June 6, 2011

Hiking on Tiger Mountain: The Importance of Foresight

Moss-covered trees, NW Timber Trail, Tiger Mountain State Park

This last Saturday, we in the Pacific Northwest experienced perfect weather.  It's almost impossible to comprehend that we could have been so fortunate as to have a beautiful day fall on a weekend, but we did.  It's just another reminder that the heaviness and gray moods of the last seven months are side effects of flat-out shitty weather.

To celebrate, Jon and I had our first "family hike" of the year on Saturday, which means the dogs came along for the fun.  Coincidentally, unbeknownst to me, Saturday was also National Trails Day!  We didn't have any particular trail in mind leading up to the weekend, but once we knew it was going to be clear skies and 74ºF, we just knew the day had to be spent outside.  It's been too long!

Trees lining the slopes of the NW Timber Trail, Tiger Mountain

After a bit of research, we settled on Tiger Mountain State Park, which has several trails to choose from, and is only 20 minutes outside of Seattle on I-90 leading out towards Issaquah and North Bend.  From what we'd read and heard, it is one of the most popular hiking areas around Seattle.  Since it was going to be our first hike with the dogs since last July, we figured it'd be best to take it easy for the dogs' sake and stick to a trail that was well-maintained and well-traveled.

Let me just start off this very long run-down of our hike by saying that Tiger Mountain could really use a site map at the entrance to the park... Really.

We parked in the lower parking lot (there are two), just off of Hwy 18, and—with no planning, map, or knowledge of the trails routes—we picked the first trail we came to on our right: the Northwest Timber Trail.  At 2.3 miles, this "beginner's trail" weaves through dense, moss-covered trees and rocky, open slopes.  It was a really beautiful hike, and exactly what we had wanted heading out there.  Not to mention, the dogs were thrilled.

Happy boober-frog on a log!

We learned very quickly that—despite the perfect weather—there weren't too many hikers on the trail.  There were however many, many mountain bikers.  If you were new to the Seattle area and immediately went hiking on Tiger Mountain, you would think that people in the Pacific Northwest were the nicest, friendliest people in the world.  This, of course, is not true at all (beware the Seattle freeeezzzze), but there is a sense of comradery, courtesy and community on the trails that I have not experienced since living up here.

As the bicyclists passed, they nicely warned us of oncoming bikers in their riding party: "Two more coming up!"  "Five right behind me!"  "I'm the last one!"  It was great to see people 'following the rules', such as they are, and sharing the trails so graciously with us and each other.  Given the way people drive up here, I would never have expected this.

Anyway, as we came out of the NW Timber Trail, we were faced with a dirt road leading in two directions.  The sign read:

==> 1.0 mile to Hwy 18
<== 2.3 miles to Preston Railroad Trail

Hmm... Well, we weren't quite ready to pack things in yet, and we couldn't be certain if "Hwy 18" actually meant it would lead us back to our car, so we thought Sure!  Another trail sounds great! 

It was about 2 miles up the road that I started to panic.  Where we were going? What if we end up in the wrong parking lot?  What if we walk 8 miles and then have to back-track another 8 miles??

Luckily, we had full cell phone reception and Jon looked up the map online.  Great.  Now we had a semi-clear visual of what our position was:  the lowest P on the bottom is the parking lot where we started; the lower right-hand blue line is the Timber Trail; and at this point we are the furthest from the parking lot we can be, at the upper-most point of the East Side Road.  Yikes!  OK, not to worry—at least we knew where we were.

Jon near the end of the Preston Railroad Trail, Tiger Mountain

Since it didn't make any sense to take the road back, we decided to take the Preston Railroad Trail, which looked as though it would loop around to a road that would lead us right to the parking lot.  Hurray!  Despite not knowing how many miles the Preston route was, we soldiered on!

This particular trail was absolutely idyllic as far as forested trails go.  The ground was lush and soft, there were streams coming across the trail, the air was crisp and cool, the sun shone through and provided lovely moments of warmth.  The bicyclists kept coming (almost all of which were coming down the trail, while we were walking up it), but we never saw a single hiker.  At one point I just let Ennis off-leash.  He is the perfect hiking dog, and never wanders away from us, so I thought it would be a nice treat for him to have some freedom.

By the time we hit the third (and last) switch-back on the trail, I was feeling the strain.  Still not fully understanding the map, I was so relieved when we finally reached the Tiger Mountain Road.  Just at the trail head, we met a group of bicyclists who were sweaty and panting, and yet clearly waiting to start their ride on the trail.

This made me very nervous.

We asked how many miles the Preston Trail was, as there was no mile marker.  "About four miles," one of them replied.  Wow!  Nice!  Go us!  As I was silently patting myself on the back for a good 8+ miles hiked already, he followed up with "Yeah, we just came from down the road.  It's about 3.5 miles and change to the parking lot."


Excellent.  So our "short hike" had turned in to a monster of physical strain and endurance.  Lovely!  And this is where things went downhill—literally.  While the scenery is beautiful, the road leading down to the Tiger Summit parking lot was pretty steep, with loose gravel rocks along the way.  And while my Merrell hiking shoes are absolutely perfect trail shoes, they simply aren't made to withstand the impact of hard roads, so my feet and knees were absolutely killing me.

View into the valley from the Tiger Mountain Road

I have no idea how people are able to ride their bikes up this hill!  100 feet would be tiring as it was, but several miles?!?  Insanity.  I also noticed that Peekay wasn't faring too well either; he was limping a bit and had trouble keeping his balance while navigating the rocky road.  Guilt kicked in, and the last mile was pretty excruciating, for me and Peekay at least.  (Jon and Ennis were fine, those jerks!)  It was definitely about 4 miles of downhill backroad before finally (and joyously!) arriving back at the parking lot.

Just in case you haven't done the math, this hike was approximately 12 miles round-trip.  Definitely not what we had set out to do, but I admit that it sure felt nice to accomplish such an intense hike without any preparation!

If you have found this blog by way of researching these trails, and you're looking into doing a SHORTER hike here, I recommend taking the NW Timber Trail from the lower parking lot and then turning around and coming back once you reach the end.  If you are prepared for a LONG hike, take the route that Jon and I did—it really was an amazingly gorgeous hike, and would have been perfect if we had brought more water and different pairs of shoes for the trails/roads.

Also, Peekay needs hiking doggie booties.

Looking forward to more sunny weekends and warm weather; there are many more trails to explore!

1 comment:

  1. haha... boober looks like a frog.

    That was a fun excursion, and Peekay deff does need booties - hopefully more sunny days will equal more outdoor playtime! MAS SUN ASAP!