Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mount Si, May 26, 2009

Mount Si, May 26, 2009

Whether you love it or hate it, most hikers are familiar with Mount Si. The fleet of foot and the toiling 60-plus hiker all pay admission to bask or shiver on the summit overlooking North Bend. The thin-hipped runner, the unprepared, the over-prepared, the young and the old find their way to Mount Si sooner or later. Most come back – to train or to stay in condition in during short, dark winter days or after work on a long, summer evening.

How long ago that first visit was in my mid-30s when Mount Si seemed “wild” and a hard-earned summit. A friend and I planned the hike though we were not certain we could finish the hike. We knew it would be tough. And that first time is usually tough. It was for us. When we got to the base of the Haystack, (the summit of Mount Si), it was still wild enough that bear grass, phlox, and yellow violets blossomed near the base of the peak – the flowers had not yet been beaten into the ground by years of hikers trampling their way to the rocky perches overlooking North Bend and foothills beyond.

You could even camp on the summit if you had a mind to. There were fewer hikers, rules and regulations. There were other trails that wound their way to the summit including the Old Si Trail, the Old Old Si Trail and even the Middle Aged Trail. There were “secret” connections between the Old Si trail and the Mount Si trail. And more. What is the Boulder Garden route today was Harvey Manning’s “Moss Vista” in the old Footsore series hiking books.

The Little Si trailhead (and the somewhat secretive Old Si trail) started on a residential street near the bridge, not in the parking lot today along Mount Si Road with a toilet and kiosk. There was even Robert Degraw’s “The Secrets of Mount Si”, which was loved or hated but sadly ignored. There were still parcels of private property; perhaps there still are. The mountain is still wrapped in fading roads and trails of years gone by and land-management agencies are doing their best to keep hikers on maintained trails, at times a losing battle.

Sometime in the 1980s the Seattle Mountaineers thought it was a good idea for Alpine Scramble students to hike up Mount Si with an instructor to see if they were in shape to take the class. I was one of the instructors. We expected a high turn-out but as it turned out, the only students that turned up for the practice hike didn’t need a practice hike – they were faster than we were. Then, it was considered “good” to do Mount Si in 2 hours. 2-1/2 hours was considered “OK”, 3 hours wasn’t so good. There were some, of course, that could do it in less than 1.5 hours (we hated them).

Since the 1980s, the recipe has changed. An hour and a half is considered good, two hours is considered “OK”, anything longer not so good. Packs have grown smaller (except for those training to climb Mount Rainier), sturdy boots have been replaced with trail-runners, GU for heavy but delicious lunches. Now there are runners on the trail with fanny packs bouncing up and down on their small fannies or even just carrying a water bottle. We met one today who ran up the trail in an hour - “Well, he was young” we grumbled. Envious? Perhaps. I’d like to start running and probably could if not for spindly, sprain-prone ankles that necessitate the same sturdy boots I needed in the 1980s and deteriorating vision.

Back in the 1990s I trained regularly on the trail and managed some good times (though never 1.5 hours no matter what I did). I even passed other hikers on the trail and as I got stronger, I passed more hikers. Still, there were always other hikers passing me. One day I grumbled as I heard footsteps gaining behind me, “Go ahead, pass me. Everyone else does.” It wasn’t a good day.

Now in my mid 60s I go up Si a couple times in the winter to check out the “condition of my condition”. Today friends and I went up again for the same reason, to find out how much more work we needed to do before we could work harder in the mountains and attain those summits that were so accessible in the 1980s.

Bob was sure he couldn’t keep up with Charlie and me on the Old Si trail so he said he’d meet us at the top by way of the regular trail (the top for us, meaning the base of the Haystack). Last time I did the Old Si trail, a few weeks ago, it took me an embarrassingly long time to complete the hike. Today was better, well under 2.5 hours. Charlie did fine too, he was only a few feet behind me. Bob, of course, got there much faster on the regular trail than he thought he would and had turned blue from the cold by the time we got there.

Though it took all of us longer than we would have liked to reach Mount Si on this cold, gloomy day we felt good, we weren’t “trashed”, we never hit the wall and still had a few miles in us. The three of us hiked down the regular trail, checked out the Talus Loop as well and a little bit of a “sekrit” trail before returning to the Mount Si trailhead, sweaty, tired and pleased with ourselves.

Mount Si is good for you, no matter how you feel about it. It won’t lie to you. It will let you know in no uncertain terms how much “work” you need to do in order to seek those elusive summits later in the season.

Chances are good, you’ll run into someone you know and/or if you are young perhaps someone you’d like to know.

It’s a damned popular trail and that’s just as it should be.

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