Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, February 2012

Though we enjoy the hike to Rattlesnake Ledge from Rattlesnake Lake we enjoy more solitude on the Rattlesnake Mountain Trail. Getting to this trailhead is a shorter drive – a plus with rising gas prices. Let the feet do the work rather than wheels when possible. If you’ve never hiked this end of the Rattlesnake Mountain trail take a side trip to Snoqualmie Point before you hit the trail; the views are worth the few minutes it takes to drive up there. It’s also a lovely setting for an after-hike picnic or sunset photos.

Though this is now a well-established trail and is featured in hiking guidebooks and the media hikers were hiking a network of old roads and boot paths to Rattlesnake Lake long before the trail was constructed. Despite it being an official trail with publicity we have yet to encounter other hikers once we’ve hiked past Stan’s Overlook. Stan’s overlook is about 2.5 miles from the trailhead and a natural turnaround for hikers wanting an easy hike with views of North Bend, Mount Si and Teneriffe.

Once you leave the trailhead the trail climbs at a moderate grade through second- and third-growth forest with clues that this was once majestic forest. You’ll notice a gigantic, hollowed-out stump (left) as you climb, an ideal spot for kids playing hide’ n’ seek. Note the size of the gigantic roots that branch out, still clutching the earth with bare knuckles. In the fall this forested stretch of the trail is a smorgasbord of gold, yellows, reds and brown as vine maple is prevalent.
After the short climb through forest the trail opens out to climb a more-open stretch; more stumps lean out over the trail and note how the bare patches of earth (made when the new trail was created) are filling in with salal and other vegetation. Several stretches of the trail have been logged in the past; note how wild blackberries are wrapping their arms around the stumps and note how in the fall mushrooms seemingly appear seemingly overnight. From this cleared stretch you’ll begin to get glimpses of the Snoqualmie peaks but the best is yet to come.
Stan’s Overlook (2,100 feet) always fools me; it’s further away than I remember. Twice now we’ve almost turned downhill where another logging road comes in from below. It is especially tempting because in the thin layer of snow on the road we could see where others have come and gone. Clue: this may be another approach to Stan’s overlook (stay tuned). We love to explore so next time we hike there; we’ll hike down the road and see where it comes out (if anywhere).

If/when in doubt; you can rely on good signage - after another uphill stint a hard-to-miss sign points the way to Stan’s Overlook and other points of interest beyond. For Stan’s turn left at this junction - an old road leads to a picnic table and a spread of views to please the taste of any hiker. On this last day in February the picnic table was covered with snow; it wasn’t picnic weather. Though the sun was out it was chilly. We opted to continue hiking until we ran out of energy or time, whichever came first.

Once past Stan’s Overlook the trail climbs through mostly second- and third-growth forest. Some hikers get bored hiking through what some might call unremarkable forest but we can always find something to please the eye; a wisp of fern, an animal track, unusual bark on a tree. This stretch of the trail is mostly “up” but at a more modest grade than the beginning and with a few downs to hold one’s interest.
With our lazy start-time we had to push to get to Grand Prospect, about 4 miles from the trailhead (according to the trail signs); other write-ups suggest it is more like 5 miles to Grand Prospect. No matter; once you are there the view is indeed “grand”. A signboard helps identify the sea of peaks across from you; some you’ll recognize. Today the graphics on the sign were covered with snow.
We only lingered long enough for a quick bite to eat, following a patch of sunlight that kept moving further and further away as minutes passed. It was warm in the sun but still cold in the shade. As always, when we gaze upon the Snoqualmie valley peaks and beyond we remember good hikes in the past, peaks we’ll return to when the snow is gone.

We packed up and hurried down; pausing to note that a cougar’s tracks had crossed our path. We’d heard of a “large” cougar that calls this region home and we would love to have seen it from a safe distance; there was also a smattering of bunny tracks that were not there on our way to the overlook. We believe the cougar had spotted us; that gave us a slightly eerie feeling. Friends tell me I have a way with cats but not kitties that size!

On our way down we only met two hikers coming up the trail; at Rattlesnake Lake we would have encountered many more.

To get there from Seattle: drive east on I-90 and get off at Exit 27. From the off-ramp turn right and continue a short distance to the end of the road – go through the gate (right) to the trailhead at 980 feet (straight takes you to the Snoqualmie Point Overlook, always worth a stop before or after a hike).

Additional information: The map is Green Trails No. 205S Rattlesnake Mountain. It is about 5 miles round-trip to Stan’s Overlook, about 8 miles round-trip (per trail signs) to Grand Prospect.

Karen Sykes

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