5 January 2016
West Tiger 3 Summit via Highpoint Trailhead
6.5 miles, 2100 ft. climb to 2522 ft. maximum elevation
After being thwarted from hiking up Rattlesnake Ledge by yesterday morning’s snowfall, I decided to try my chances on the trail again today. Rather than attempting fate against potential driving hazards, I thought it would be best if I took my conditioning hike closer to home. West Tiger 3 is located less than 10 minutes from my neighborhood, making it the perfect hike to maximize my time on the trail. As I turned off exit 20 of Interstate 90, I noticed far too many cars parked along the roadside leading up to the main parking lot. Then I realized the main gate ahead was closed. No, say it ain’t so!
The fantastic team of Washington Conservancy Corps was graveling the road leading to the parking lot this morning. Since they were spending the entire day(s) working to make it safer for hikers to reach the numerous trails throughout West Tiger Mountain, the WCC crew directed those of us just arriving this morning to start our trek from Highpoint Trailhead, which begins on SE 79th St, just outside the official parking governed by the Department of Natural Resources.
In its full length of 2.3 miles, the Highpoint Trail is an enjoyable introduction to West Tiger Mountain. This easy forest path gently winds through the base of the notable giant until it connects to the multitude of trails that intertwine throughout the mountainside. For today’s purposes, I hiked one-third of a mile from the trailhead until reaching the DNR parking lot. From there, I cross the lot and followed the signs in the direction of the more popular hiking trails, including Tradition Lake Loop, Tiger Mountain and West Tiger 3 Trails.
After briefly passing through the flat, wide walking path of Around the Lake Trail, I found myself at the trailhead to WT3. The trail, a former logging road, transitioned immediately to dirt-covered gravel paving the slope up a mild incline. At this lower altitude, the trail was still under a green canopy of conifers, ferns and moss-covered trunks. I must say, even though I’ve enjoyed the incredible winter landscapes from my recent hikes up snow-capped Mount Si and Mailbox Peak, I have missed the rich hues of the forest emerald, hazel and silver found in the depths of the Issaquah Alps. The morning fog still lingered throughout the bottom elevation of Tiger Mountain, which highlighted the dark, bare limbs on the distant ridge line. Even in the mist, the trail provided me an eerie welcome back to my “home” mountain.
Once I reached an altitude above 1500 feet, I could see the neighboring mountains of Squak and Cougar peering out over the valley fog. What a seductive way to keep me moving upward to eventually see their summits in full splendor. I continued on my way up the deep cocoa path into the verdant forest. The ground began to harden with sections of frozen tundra as I moved further up toward the WT3 summit, until I eventually noticed snow along the trail beginning at 1650 feet above sea level.
At this point on the trail, I briefly took a break to put on my crampons, which would ensure stability on the ice and snow. Just then, a pair of trail runners, whom I had crossed paths early on, were now coming back my way. I couldn’t believe how quickly they had reached the summit. When I mentioned how impressed I was by their speed, these ladies laughingly told me the trail above quickly transformed into an ice skater’s stage making it nearly impossible for them to keep going. True to their word, I began crunching my way through slick sheets of ice within 20 yards following our encounter. I was so thankful not to have forgotten my crampons today.
The trail gradually shifted from chocolate dirt to silver ice and ivory snow as I trekked another quarter of a mile towards the summit. I could clearly see the debris from yesterday’s rain all across the white path before me. After an extremely dry summer season, these brittle trees couldn’t tolerate any more stress and had literally cracked in the bitter wind. Now, the warmer temperatures of the morning were straining the winter’s covering beneath my feet, changing the recent snow to ice and slush. I gingerly stepped through the moving slush until I reached the junction to Cable Line Trail. Having trekked up that vertical line a few months prior, I knew I was a mere minutes from the summit itself. I was running short on time at this point, so I opted to hike up the shorter, yet steeper route. Cable Line Trail was so much easier in the snow today than it was in the pouring rain and thick mud when I was last here.
Once I made it to the nondescript summit of West Tiger 3, I succumbed to my craving. I devoured a Tanka Bar in a matter of seconds, enjoying every bit of this buffalo-cranberry jerky. Being alone on the tiny summit, I took the opportunity to tromp around in the snow-laden surface. My shoes sank ankle-deep into the snow beneath me, leaving potholes throughout the third capstone on my beloved West Tiger Mountain. While the skies were still overcast, the morning’s fog had completely dissipated. I could clearly see the sister summits above me in the near distance, as well as the lower crests of Squak and Cougar beyond the trees to the west. It was a stunning juxtaposition of light against dark and soft opposite hard.
I retreated down the mountain after briefly admiring the scenery around me. This time, I chose to take the WT3 trail for its arresting vistas of the Cascade Mountains to the east. Today’s panorama was strikingly outlined by the snow-capped ridges throughout Snoqualmie Pass and beyond. As I wound my way down the trail, I delightfully came across a young evergreen decorated with bright red ribbons from the holidays. Thank you to whomever took the time to share your joy of the season with fellow hikers like me. The serenity of this lone tree offered me a sense of lightness that allowed me to seemingly float all the way back to Highpoint Trailhead. After disappointingly returning home yesterday, I came away from West Tiger 3 today with a renewed appreciation for my beloved Tiger Mountain.