26 January 2016
Central Peak via Bullitt Fireplace Trail, Squak Mountain, Issaquah Alps
5 miles, 1459 ft. climb to 2025 ft. maximum elevation
I have a serious confession. I am not comfortable in the woods. I have a deep-seated fear of uncertainty. I do not look favorably on dirt and mud. I am not well-acquainted with animals of any nature, much less those in the wilderness. There, I admitted it. All of it.
Thirty-something years as a city dweller
has had left me completely clueless on how to survive in the event of an apocalypse. During the past nine months of actively spending time on the trail, I have quickly come to appreciate all that the outdoors offers me as both a solo hiker and a mother of budding explorers. I now tolerate exposure to natural elements that leave me caked in mud and soaked in sweat, as I earnestly struggle with a poor sense of direction while being pursued by camp robbers of all shapes and sizes. Actually, I have a sense of pride now when I return from my adventures looking like a woodland creature. It’s all worth it because each time I come back stronger and wiser, more tolerant and appreciative of life than when I left.
While my weekend hikes take me far and wide, from Mt. Rainier National Park to the North Cascades and back to my home base along the I90 corridor, my weekday journeys only allow me enough time to explore my “backyard.” Just like its sister mountains in the Issaquah Alps, Squak Mountain offers me ample opportunity to fulfill my conditioning goals with its variety of neighborhood trails just 10 minutes from my home. Today’s visit to Central Peak via the Bullitt Fireplace Trail gave me the perfect chance to take my mental limits to the very edge.
This morning’s weather forecast called for a chance of rain. Well, more like tropical storm rains without the beauty and warmth of the tropics. It was a full-blown downpour with drops the size of pebbles that turned the exposed old road at the start of the trail into a waterlogged trench filled with swampy boot prints. I now understand my husband’s knee-jerk reactions to hide at my invitations for a hiking date. I can imagine him miserably marching in the rain throughout his years as an enlisted soldier as well as during his time as a cadet. I have to admit this was not fun.
The trail took me into the rich forest typical of Squak Mountain and its siblings once I made it past the road. Even deep into this winter season, the forest was thick with second growth trees brilliantly illuminated by moss and old trunks nestled by lush ferns. The natural beauty here made up for the lack of view and excess of water. As I climbed my way up the mountainside along the well-maintained trail, I imagined what life was like in this wilderness. I could see remnants of what once was upon reaching my initial destination of the eponymous fireplace: a rustic retreat with the intent to gather family and celebrate life. Previously owned by the Bullitt Family, this tragic former summer estate was donated to the State of Washington and reestablished as Squak Mountain State Park, which now allows the public to enjoy nature’s gifts.
After taking a few moments to explore the fireplace, I continued past the site unto the Central Peak Trail. There was nothing truly memorable about this section of my journey, except that it was a short thoroughfare to Squak Mountain’s highest summit. Central Peak itself is crowned with little more than microwave towers encased behind chain link fences. With the storm upon me, there was obviously nothing to look out to beyond these metallic towers. I left knowing that I finally made it to the top of this mountain. On dreary days like this, there is good reason to take a direct route rather than meandering through the deep woods, even if it means missing a bit of nature’s offerings.
I made my way back down via Central Peak and Eastside Trails. Aside from being unexpectedly ambushed and surrounded by a pair of unleashed hounds belatedly followed by owners unable to control them via voice command, my return route was uneventful. The trail here was shrouded in thick mist, reminiscent of a path depicted by any one of Grimm’s tales. There were overflowing puddles, fungi draped in moss, and an endless supply of felled trees outlining the history of this mountain. By the time I reconnected with the Bullitt Fireplace Trail, I was drenched from the rain and cloaked knee-high in sludge. It was the perfect trek to test my limits in preparation for greater adventures to come. Trust me, there will be a great many more…
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than one seeks.” – John Miur