1 November 2015
Hidden Forest Trail via Chirico Trail
10.5 miles, 2200 ft. climb to 2350 ft. maximum elevation
There’s something about hiking in the forest at the tail-end of a rainstorm that just reawakens my soul. My senses are more attuned to details often missed in my daily rush to be somewhere else as I am wont to slow down to take in every sight, sound, taste, scent, and texture when I’m on a freshly washed trail. Following this weekend’s major storm, the first of the season that provided a much needed snowfall of over 13 feet on Mt. Rainier, I took my weekly solo-hike closer to home to maximize my time alone on the trail. Besides, I wasn’t so sure about driving deep into backcountry roads up to secluded trailheads in my husband’s commuter car with 35 mph winds, flood warnings and possible snow. Safety first!
Even though I’ve hiked the popular Chirico Trail on Tiger Mountain many a time, my intended destination has always been just the 4 mile round-trip to PooPoo Point with a thousand and one of my best strange(r) friends. While it’s a great conditioning hike, this trail is not my first pick to explore nature in peace. Arriving at the trailhead today at 8am, Chirico Trail offered me great solitude as most folks were just waking up in their warm, cozy homes preparing to spend the day cheering for their favorite football team (GO HAWKS! GO BRONCOS!). Afterall, who in their right mind would want to hike in such stormy conditions? ME! ME! ME! With the unforgiving winter weather fast approaching, I’ve recently switched out my smaller day pack on long hikes to my Deuter ACT Lite 35 + 10 SL to hold my 10 essentials, extra winter layers and weather-related gear. I’m so glad I did today because I ended up using every bit of my winter equipment. A few folks commented about my extra weight, thinking I was just doing the well-worn 4 mile trail, but my goal was up past PooPoo Point to Hidden Forest Trail.
Following the drought this summer, Chirico Trail was previously a whirlwind of dust and dirt; but today it was awash in fall colors, highlighting the stone steps against the deep green hues of fern and conifers. The quietness of the trail allowed me to hear the cascades of an unexpected waterfall within the first 500 ft of the trail. It’s the small wonders of nature that make the rain and sweat forgettable on my extended solo journeys.
Passing just a handful of hikers on the trail up, I was able to make it up to PooPoo Point in under an hour, even with all my gear in tow. I had the lookout all to myself and even beat the incoming rain. On a clear day, Mt. Rainier rises like a titan behind Issaquah Valley, but it was not to be today. I was still treated to a panorama of fall colors throughout the valley and a clear reflection of Lake Sammamish in the near distance. After a momentary breather at the South Launch, I trekked through the trees up to the North Launch, where the paragliders take off in flight on nicer days. As a few other hikers arrived just behind me, I decided to move on and head in search of the Hidden Forest Trail.
From the North Launch of PooPoo Point, I headed towards the privy, which directed me to PooPoo Point Trail (the other trail that leads to this scenic point. I passed by a crew of WTA volunteers getting ready to spend the day maintaining one of the many trails this amazing mountain has to offer. After spending a half mile walking along a well-worn, muddy path, I turned up the windy, narrow One View Trail, which transported me completely into a world alien to what most hikers know of Tiger Mountain. I was welcomed into this seemingly secret forest by an old, moss-covered tree stump. He seemed to say to me, “There’s more to Tiger Mountain than PooPoo Point. Head up yonder and you will see the Hidden Forest.” The Welcoming Tree was absolutely right!!! Though I had been on this trail before in the Spring, it was still such a novel experience allowing me to appreciate the changing seasons. The storm blew down a concoction of textures and colors, including red vine maple leaves, holiday green pine branches and a variety of felled trees blocking parts of this underused trail. Best of all were the canopies of moss-covered branches lit by gorgeous yellow trees begging me to enter the way from Tiger Mountain Trail up to the Hidden Forest Trail.
Once I emerged from Tiger Mountain Trail, I decided to head down Tiger Mountain Road to explore the logging region of the mountain. There wasn’t much to see along this way aside from cleared forests with cut tree trunks and discarded limbs piled into dead mounds. Unfortunately, I had the worst timing in my decision as the clouds completely ripped open while I hiked up and down 2 miles of uncovered railroad grade road. (You know what though? I was completely warm and somewhat dry because I came prepared for the weather! I digress…) So, I trudged back up the road in my gaiters and waterproof jacket, hoping the powers-that-be appreciated my rain dance enough to grant me reprieve.
Of course, the rain slowed only once I returned to the cover of the Hidden Forest Trail. When I started my descent down the trail, I realized that it wasn’t called HIDDEN FOREST trail, but was rather denoted HIDDEN Forest Trail. This narrow trail steeply wound down the forest under the cover of overgrown brush and did its best to hide its slippery mud under fallen leaves of brown and yellow. The terrain was completely different from the lower portion of Tiger Mountain, as well as the forested upper summits of West Tiger 1 and 2. It was as if I was transported to a jungle deep in the mountainous lands of Southeast Asia. I have to admit this section of the trail was so much fun to bushwhack, especially with my microspikes crunching through leaves and sticking it to the mud! As soon as I put them on, I felt like a super forest hero ready to tackle the trail at the speed of lightning. Well, at least I made it back down to PooPoo Point in time to miss the whipping 35 mph winds!
Once I got past PooPoo Point, I quickly glided down Chirico Trail. I crossed paths with a handful of families on their way up – they were lucky to miss the rain! Although I enjoyed the solitude of this rainy day hike, it was nice to know I would soon be home to a dry house and my cozy family. When I got to the car, I remembered the piece of Halloween candy my eldest offered me as a treat to go with my hot coffee after my hike. It made my day all that more special!