I sincerely hope this doesn’t become a feature but in all likelihood – what with my penchant for hiking and discovering new local trails – I’m bound to get into some trouble from time to time. Let’s just hope all future misadventures end as awesome as this first one did.
On Sunday I was looking to take advantage of the wonderfully non-rainy Seattle weather and get outdoors. Hiking is always at the top of my activity list, but I didn’t necessarily want to just hit up my tried and true local park, Saint Edward State Park. I had previously noticed that one of my followers on Twitter (have you followed me? If not, DO EEET!) was a serious outdoorsman and seemed to know local trail systems pretty well. He had a bunch of recent posts highlighting Tiger Mountain, which is located near Issaquah, WA (about a half hour drive from me) and I thought he would be a great contact for advice on getting to know the mountain. So I sent him a quick message to request his expertise:
@JulieLoses Nook trail to Talus waterfall and down West Tiger 3. It’s a nice loop and not too hard. Go for it!
— Tyson Storey (@ty923) May 11, 2014
I looked up trail maps to cross-reference his recommendation and made the snap decision to try it out THAT DAY. After preparing a sandwich lunch, filling my trusty water bottle, lacing up my hiking boots, and slathering on sunblock, I swiftly drove to the Tradition Plateau trailhead off Interstate 90. Once there, I doused myself with some more high-SPF sunblock, fired up RunKeeper, and started on the trail.
The heavily-traveled, well-manicured Bus Trail gets one into the forest, and I made a left at the Nook Trail junction. The Nook – with quiet brooks running along nearby, ferns swiping my shins, and lush Northwest foresty-vibe – was far less traveled. I only spotted two families as I hiked the length of the trail ’til it meets the Talus Rocks Trail. A member of one of the families was SMOKING A CIGARETTE and I could smell it about ten minutes before I even met him. WHY would you come out to a place like this and then light up a cigarette? SMH. ANYWAYS. The second half of Nook was pretty challenging for me as it just kept going up and up and up. Definitely got my heart rate up and I could feel the sweat soaking my shirt where it met my backpack!
When I got to the site of the Talus Waterfall I came across a small group having a picnic lunch on the very rock pile that *I* was hoping to eat lunch on. Harrumph! The trail got kinda wiggy at this point, shooting off in a variety of directions, so I inquired with the group which direction would take me to the West Tiger #3 Trail. They pointed in a direction across the creek where the waterfall was, well, falling, but there didn’t seem to be any way to get down there… oh wait, you mean I need to climb down those exposed tree roots, cross the creek, and then jump over a natural rock “V” blocking what might be a trail across the way??? Ooooooh-kayyyy….
Yeah, at this point the trail got a little more “technical” than I was prepared for. I asked for “easy to moderate”, and to me that doesn’t include scrambling! But I couldn’t very well turn back at this point, so I did my best to traverse the sketchy terrain without falling to an early (and embarrassing) death. If you had put a trail like this in front of me six months ago I would have backed away, laughing. Adding to that, I have a fear of heights that’s sort of ridiculous. I get a little vertiginous being only a few feet off any precipice, and having to get from one level to another that’s at least my height is very intimidating. Especially alone!
In any case, I managed the terrain with no damage and meandered through the remaining stretch of Talus Rocks until I arrived at the next major junction – which is where I *thought* I would turn left and head down the trail, but the signage was… open to interpretation. A family was descending nearby from the eastern upper slope so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask for direction. I explained what I was looking for, and the father indicated that there was signage above us that pointed out the trail I was looking for heading up to the top of the mountain, with a junction to the left that was likely the route I was looking for. Fair enough.
I ascended to the signage, there just as he had promised, and cut to the left onto a surprisingly smaller trail. Hmmmm. Not what I was expecting, but I’ll go with it. This section of the trail was far more “wild” than most of what I had encountered previously. And then any semblance of a maintained trail went completely out the window and I was climbing down a steep, rutted GASH in the mountain. I always avoid steep downhill descents because I a) am clumsy, b) don’t have what I would call great knee strength, and c) am sure I’m going to lose my footing and tumble down, suffering mortal injury. SURE OF IT.
As I slowly descended, finding footholds and occasional handholds wherever I could, I lost hope that the steepness would ever let up. Those hopes were dashed when I encountered a couple of serious-looking hikers trekking up the trail with HIKING POLES. I asked them to help me figure out my location and lo and behold, I was on the COMPLETELY WRONG TRAIL. Not only was I on the wrong trail, but this trail is known to be one of the most treacherous in the system, the Cable Line Trail. This trail is almost exclusively used by serious hikers training for serious ascents like Mount Rainier as a local conditioning trail. The Washington Trails Association describes it as:
“What a workout! The Cable Line Trail on Tiger Mountain is not for the weak of heart, nor the weak of knees. A steep, slippery incline awaits you here, climbing over 2,000 feet in just 1.5 miles to the summit of West Tiger 3.”
And Trail WIKI describes it thusly:
“The Cableline Trail is steep, loose, rocky, wet, and muddy. This is a very difficult trail to reach the West Tiger 3 summit. The Cableline Trail was originally not even a trail it was a straight shot to the top of the peak for running cable back when the mountain was being actively logged. The trail is used today by hikings (sic) and climbers to work on strengthening your muscles used on steep terrain.”
Yeahhh. This was so not the hike I was looking for! After the two serious dudes dashed my hopes for any flattening out below, I decided to start ascending to get back to the original junction and go with the trail I originally thought to travel. The two were outta sight within two minutes and I was left heaving myself up the unforgiving climb. My knees were stinging, my calves were sad, my ego was bruised.
I think I may have been hallucinating at one point, because I’m pretty sure I saw a bizarre trio of ten-year-old blonde girls giggling, squealing, and RUNNING down the steep trail just ahead of me. As I looked up one of them fell and skidded about ten feet down the trail – sounding delighted the entire time. She dusted herself off, shouted “No blood!” and continued to laugh hysterically as they galloped down the tricky terrain. Forest sprites? Apart from another serious-looking solo hiker with poles who came into view behind them and didn’t seem to pay them any attention as he passed, they appeared to have no chaperone… where they even REAL?!?
After what felt to my legs like forever I reached the top of that unmaintained “trail” and made my way down the mountain via a better-maintained trail. My legs were shot, though. The trail just went down, down, down. Unrelentingly. Even though it wasn’t nearly as steep, it was still steep ENOUGH to cause my knees to feel like they were gonna cave in at any moment. I think I walked roughly double the actual length of the descent because I made tight switchbacks to alleviate some of the stress on my knees. By the time I got back to the bottom, I was ready to be DONE hiking.
Once I settled into bed that night, I looked up the Cable Line and found out the true nature of the trail. And while I felt a little dumb for getting myself onto that forsaken trail in the first place, what I felt even more of was PRIDE. I made it down at least a half mile of that desperately difficult trail and I survived it. I didn’t fall to my death, I didn’t freeze in fear and call for help. I was smart enough to know my limitations and made the wise decision to head back up instead of risk injury. And I did it WITHOUT POLES!
Sure, my knees and calves hate me now, and likely will for the next week or so, but I feel kinda badass. My legs didn’t crumple beneath me, I didn’t slide to injury or death, and that was because I’ve worked my butt off these past 8 months getting myself into better physical shape. My strength shone through on Sunday and I’m embracing that as the lesson. Well, that plus the importance of a functioning GPS with maps, and to not always trust the advice of a stranger on a trail. Can’t wait for the next adventure – next time I’m getting to the top of that mountain!
I’ll leave you with video from my day – this is a slightly new format, taking on the theme of “Day in the Life” – it’s a cut of my day from start to end. Hope you enjoy, as I hope to make it a new feature.