12 November 2015
Squak Mountain, Issaquah Alps
3.5 miles, 1300 ft. climb to 1350 ft. maximum elevation
This morning I decided I wanted to explore the trails in my “hometown.” I imagined I would be able to gain more distance on my time-limited weekday hikes if I was geographically closer to Little Hiking Buddy’s school. I was so wrong about that decision today! Due to general indecision, poor planning, convoluted directions and misguided thinking, I ended up spending more time in the car and on city sidewalks than I had intended. BUT, and a major BUT, I discovered a gem of a trail on one of the lesser known mountains of the Issaquah Alps, which I will definitely return to for another weekday hike or a longer solo-adventure in the coming winter season.
Squak Mountain is the overlooked sibling to Tiger Mountain. When asking Seattle residents about local trails, even those barely knowledgeable about hiking, they will immediately mention Tiger Mountain along with its overwhelmingly popular PooPoo Point. But, if asked to name the mountain overlooking PooPoo Point, many wouldn’t be able to identify Squak Mountain. I’ll admit, I was once guilty myself! However, now that our daily school commute involves driving through the Squak-Cougar Mountain Corridor at least 2-3 times, I wanted to explore more of what this gentle giant has to offer. Unfortunately, I didn’t check my map destination closely and ended up in a residential neighborhood at first; which was then followed by my hasty scroll-through of a local site for the trail description, leading me to park over a mile away from the actual trailhead. I had no one to blame but myself! But, I really wanted to get into the woods, so I walked through downtown Issaquah with my hiking gear and headed to the nearest trailhead I could find. I guess that’s the beauty of living in the “foothills” of Trailhead City – there’s always a trail somewhere nearby.
After hastily walking along downtown sidewalks, I found the beginnings of a trail and made my first crossing of Issaquah Creek. The graveled trail here took me along the water, offering me scenic views of Tiger Mountain in the distance as well as “ladders” for salmon to swim upstream during spawning season. I listened to the melodic gurgling of water as I reached the old Issaquah Creek Dam, and before I turned up the sloping hill towards a residential community at the base of Squak Mountain. Once I passed this stretch of trail, I located the actual Squak Mountain Access Trailhead. (Note to self: park here next time!)
Squak Mountain Access Trail immediately took me from the urban buzzing of civilization into the quiet solitude of wilderness. I found myself again listening to the rhythmic flowing of the creek, as I crossed over it twice during this section of the trail. The beautifully built bridges and cascading stairs exhibited a level of care that made this trail even more inviting. With winter just around the corner, the late fall foliage covered the path so fully and freely – the subtlety of the softer greens and yellows contrasted against the sea of brown leaves left me inspired to get out my canvas again. I even ran across a brightly colored fungus growing from a log, as well as what appeared to be a cougar print in the mud. To think, I was only minutes from our community center, local library and city hall. Unbelievable!
After a mile on Squak Mountain Access Trail, I found my way up to East Ridge Trail. This trail was ALL uphill or downhill, complete with many switchbacks to remind you of more inclines ahead. With the mud and slippery leaves underfoot, I was so glad to have my trekking poles to pull me up the steep slope and to save me from one too many missteps this morning. Even then, I was amazed by the delicate changes in the natural landscape from sea level to mountain peak. At almost 1000 ft. up, the horizon was no longer covered in swampy brush; but, instead open with bare trees ready for winter. I was bestowed views of our local high school in the valley below and my neighborhood along the ridge out in the distance. I caught myself gasping at the sight of Tiger Mountain as well as the famous PooPoo Point up close at this elevation (it was a fantastic change since I’m usually on it and can’t see anything from any of its peaks). With the lush of summer, I’m sure it would have been nearly impossible to see any of the scenic points then that I did on my hike today.
With only a few minutes left before having to head back down, I managed to reach the East Side Trail, which rounds out the loop to East Ridge Trail. My intended goal was to summit Central Peak, the highest point on Squak Mountain, but I was happy to have made it up to this point, especially after all the mishaps of the morning. Hiking has not only given me the physical strength to keep up with my family, but the mental agility to see the beauty in everything around me, even when I’m surrounded by rain and gloom (literally and figuratively). I found another treasure of solitude to explore just minutes from home…did I mention I was the only hiker on the trail until my descent halfway back, whereupon I met a pair of lovely older ladies with their dogs trying to get up before the storm arrived? And, yes, this was all minutes from my busy, little metropolis of Issaquah.