Thursday, October 22, 2009

Squak Mountain, October 18, 2009

Squeaking By on Squak Mountain

I always wondered about the Old Griz trail, having heard it was an undefined trail, perhaps a challenge to follow. This week I found out more than I needed to know about the Old Griz trail. Squak might be tame as mountains go but Squak has a bag of tricks for unwary hikers or those who don’t hike there on a regular basis. It’s not a dangerous mountain; it can be annoying.

Just about the time you think you’ve got the trail system figured out (or at least your favorite trails) and figure you can hike your favorite loop without the map, Squak Mountain might trick you. No excuses here; guilty as charged. I didn’t take the map; I’d heard there was a new map available - so no worries there. It was a perfect golden day in October so I’d hike my favorite loop (East Ridge Trail, East Side Trail), no problem.

My goal was not only exercise but also photography; namely fall color shots and hopefully, mushrooms. I approached the East Ridge trail from Issaquah; that way I could enjoy the views of Issaquah Creek before hitting the trail proper. Issaquah, by the way, is aflame with fall color now as is Issaquah Creek.

The fall color continues along the East Ridge trail; there’s a grove of vine maple mid-way that is stunning right now. Also, at lower elevations the trail is lined with maidenhair ferns; I have never seen so much maidenhair in one place. There are a couple of small blow downs on the East Ridge trail before the junction with the East Side trail; but not too hard to get over or around.

The East Side trail was familiar; I especially like the stretch where the trail crosses a small creek and weaves between house-sized boulders. I met very hikers on any of the trails; a couple of runners and a young couple with a dog. Most savvy hikers were probably taking advantage of higher country before it shuts down for the winter.

As is so often the case, I dither as I hike and change plans as I go. Planning to hike toward SR 900 I stopped at a spanking new sign for the Old Griz trail. That intrigued me so I changed my plan and decided to follow the Old Griz trail instead of continuing on the East Side trail.

The Old Griz trail is in excellent condition; perhaps it always has been. Either that or someone has been doing a lot of work on the trail because it is easy to follow and junctions are signed. There are also a couple of original signs for the Old Griz trail nailed to trees that have grown high enough over the years that you’d have to be a giant to reach them now.

Since the Old Griz trail was climbing when I came to a signed junction for Central Peak I went that way. I could use the extra elevation gain so I continued on the Old Griz trail, following the signs to Central Peak.

Central Peak is one of my least favorite summits; it doesn’t feel like a summit at all. It’s the site of a microwave tower but that is not the only thing from detracting from summit ambience; it’s the lack of a view. Even minor summits provide a view as a rule (there are exceptions in the Issaquah Alps) so I didn’t linger.

I started down the mountain on Phil’s Creek trail; but somehow became confused by new signage and at one point thought I was descending toward May Creek valley. I continued on the Old Griz trail, relieved to find the junction to the East Side trail. I had been entertaining visions of ending up in May Creek valley and having to climb the mountain again to get back to the trailhead.

No GPS either; by the way. After all, who would need one on a tame mountain like Squak Mountain (well, don’t answer that question). I retraced my route on the East Side trail back to the East Ridge trail, still puzzled by not being able to find what I remembered as Thrush Gap. Oh well.

Soon I was striding beside Issaquah Creek again and I got another surprise; this one special. Right beside the trail was a huge pileated woodpecker, working away at a snag. I stood perfectly still so as not to startle him in hopes of taking a photograph but no dice, he sensed my presence and flew away.

I still can’t locate my old Cougar Mountain-Squak Mountain map but I know I gained about 2,000 feet of elevation and probably hiked about 7 miles round trip.

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