Sunday, January 17, 2010

Squak Mountain, January 16, 2010

Central Peak Loop, Squak Mountain (January 16, 2010)

It was just like a Mountaineer hike; 12 of us were desperate enough for a hike to venture out to Squak Mountain despite the likely chance of rain. Of the 12, only Silverback was not a Mountaineer; the rest were members of that hoary organization.

Every time I hike in the Issaquah Alps – whether it be Cougar, Tiger or Squak – I always claim that particular peak as being my favorite. So I guess you could say that Squak Mountain was my favorite peak yesterday. Next week it could be Cougar, Tiger or perhaps another “summit” along the I-90 corridor. Just call me fickle.

We parked in Issaquah, hiking up the Squak Access trail to the East Side trail, checking out Issaquah Creek on our way. The water was running pretty high in the stream though far from flooding (thank goodness). Starting out that way always feels odd as the trail weaves around townhouses and apartments before becoming genuine “trail”. As always, I envy the folks that live so close to a “real” trail!!

The trail begins in a forested blend of evergreens and deciduous trees; it is an especially pretty hike in the fall when the leaves of deciduous trees turn from green to red, orange and yellow. The trail crosses Crystal Creek and small tributaries; all waterways spanned by bridges (all slippery given the recent rain). Part way up the trail is one of my favorite stretches through a boulevard of vine maples where the ground is shad-carpet thick with moss.

Once past the vine maple the trail climbs more steeply to intersect the East Side trail. Here you can access Central Peak by continuing (straight) on the East Ridge Trail, following signs to Central Peak, or turn right on the East Side trail, then take a left (uphill) on the Old Griz trail, following signs for Central Peak. It makes a nice loop; we did it in reverse.

By the time we reached the junction with the East Side trail the nature of the terrain had changed; now we were mostly in evergreens, salal, Oregon grape, bracken and sword ferns. This area has been logged in the past; therefore, most of the trees are second or third-growth trees, there is little – if any – ancient forest.

The last stretch along the East Ridge trail is steep as it switchbacks through sword ferns, finally emerging onto the service road that makes a quick climb to the summit of Squak with it’s array of microwave towers (one of the hikers mentioned that the towers were 20th century old growth). There’s no view here but it is a “summit” and deservedly makes a good spot for lunch. If the summit is too bleak it is only a short distance from here to the Bullitt chimney where there is a picnic table or two.

After lunch we began our descent, following the well-signed trail system to the “Old Griz” trail. The Old Griz trail is an old trail and here and there you will find old signs here and there designating the trail as such. As trees have grown over the years the aging signs are now out of reach unless you are Jack and the Bean Stalk.
Since the Old Griz trail has not been as heavily traveled as other trails on Squak, this stretch has more of a wilderness feel to it. Here we found more lichen, fungi and a larger variety of vegetation than on the other trails. We met only one other person on this trail.

The trail descends steeply in places then intersects the East Side trail (the East Side trail goes all the way out to State Route 900) where we turned right in order to intersect the East Ridge trail again, hence making a loop. We saw no one on the East Side trail and hardly anyone else on the other trails.

The East Side stretch provides a slippery bench where there is no view; perhaps there was a view once-upon-a-time. Still, if it’s not raining, it provides a good spot for a break or lunch or simply to enjoy being surrounded by recovering forest lands. Here is the most dramatic scenery (thus far that I’ve discovered on Squak) where the trail weaves between big boulders before crossing a tributary.

After crossing the stream the trail climbs a bit before reaching the East Ridge trail and our return to Issaquah via the Squak Access trail. This hike was new to most everyone in our group; those who had never hiked on Squak Mountain were pleased with this loop that can easily be hiked year-round.

Our loop was about 8 miles with roughly 2,000 feet of gain according to the GPS. That’s good enough to help us stay in shape for more mountainous trails in the near future. If you’ve got the Green Trails map No. 203S (Cougar Mountain, Squak Mountain) you’ll see there are other ways to approach Central Peak as well.

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