Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Rattlesnake Lake to Lake Washington through the Issaquah Alps


Rattlesnake Lake to Lake Washington via Rattlesnake Ridge, Tiger Mountain, Squak Mountain, and Cougar Mountain. March 6, 2010

7,300 ft elevation gain and 8,500 ft of elevation drop. 38.5 miles. 11.5 hours. See below for route description.

I could not keep up with Peteris, Christi or Gena going up Cougar Mountain. My energy levels were marginal, and my left knee was not bending fully. When I walked, my energy levels rose and my knee felt better, but every time I tried to run, no matter how slow, aching pain expanded through the knee joint. We had been on our route for 9 hours, and despite passing hikers along the ascending trail, I was cursing my fitness level while wondering if I could/should get to our goal. Psychologically, it is very tough to think of holding the others back, and not finishing. The negative thoughts permeated through my body causing even greater drops in energy. How can I get through the next 8 miles?

These outings start with an idea. Sitting in the comfort of my reading chair, running a pleasant trail or during a moment of quiet there is a flash of inspiration: "it would be classic, possibly epic". Whatever the outing, I only need to look as far as my adventure racing teammates (Peteris and Christi from Team Verve) to find enthusiastic companions. In reality, Rattlesnake Lake to Lake Washington is not as far, or as much elevation change, compared to many other things I have already done. The route seemed like good early-season training. Unfortunately, having two sequential injuries, first a broken rib and then a dislocated thumb, put the physical demands/physical fitness ratio up two notches.

Team Verve, with the late edition of Gena, started as dawn brightened on Rattlesnake Lake. Our first stop was for photos at sunrise at the edge of a precipice overlooking the valley.
Two hours later, Peteris was remarking about the blood on my legs from Blackberries, Devil's club, and other thorny bushes that slashed bare flesh. We had taken a "short cut" to the power line trail on the north side of Rattlesnake Ridge. Despite the old trail sign that was driven into the ground at the end of an abandoned logging road, there wasn't a trace of any path through the thick brush. With an attitude that befits adventure racers, and other stubborn types, we just followed the terrain, looking for weakness in the thorny barriers.

Sorry for jumping ahead in quantum leaps. The trend these days is to keep stories short.

"Can I help you?" "This is all private land" "Didn't you see the no trespassing signs?" said the elderly man from the pickup truck.

Oops! Bad navigation choice. Maybe we should be on the OTHER side of the river.

Further down the road, on Tiger Mountain.It wouldn't be an adventure run if we didn't make some off-trail route choices. Ferns, big trees and yellow Douglas violets were close up and personal when we stepped off roads. The old growth forest floor was easy to wander through. One off-trail choice started and finished on an unmarked, unmapped trail. I always said that when you take an intuitive route, it has probably been used many times before. Christi and Peteris are accustomed to my penchant for wandering. Gena, new to the group, was an accomplished adventure racer, climber and mountain runner who just naturally followed any route put in front of him.

Trying to keep up to the group coming down from West Tiger 3 was hard work. Going up Squak hurt. Coming down the other side of Squak hurt more.

"That's Scott" Christi shouted.

A random single-engine plane flew overhead.

Scott, Christi’s husband had promised to fly his light plane over our route as a sign of support for his wife and our group's outing. On this beautiful spring day, there were as many single engine planes flying over us as there were boats on Lake Washington I'm sure. Christi was sure that one of those planes was Scott's, and it was very cool to think he was up in the sky above us, enjoying the view far beyond what we could see.

Gena motored up the Cougar Wilderness Cliffs Trail, and I got dropped from the pack. On top of Cougar Mountain, I told the others to go ahead without me. I telephoned Lisa to pick me up at Redtown parking lot, 6 miles short of our original goal. This seemed like the end of a tough but fun day.

But I didn't want to quit. Telling the others to go ahead was the best thing for me. I just settled in to a slow, knee-saving rhythm. The micromiles just ticked away. The miles down Coal Creek were very long miles that day, but I kept telling myself to enjoy the mulch covered trail as it paralleled the creek, threading through residential areas towards the lake. I had run the trail before when I was fresh, and it went by in a flash compared to this day.

I re-phoned Lisa to pick me up at Newcastle Beach on Lake Washington.

The last 400 meters was along the paved bike path, where I felt a little out-of-place and grubby compared with families strolling along in the afternoon sun.

A happy reunion with teammates, a picture, and we were done.

Route description
We started at Rattlesnake Lake off highway I-90, exit 32. The sign says Ironhorse trail. Go south on 436 avenue which becomes Cedar Falls. The gate closes at dusk so use the parking lot outside.

There are many other points of entry or exit to this route depending on your goals and needs. There are bailout points if necessary. Cell phone coverage is good. Most of the trail intersections are well signed but I would recommend the Green Trails maps.

Travel up past Rattlesnake Point, but make sure you stop at the viewpoints for photos. Continue along the Rattlesnake Ridge trail until the power lines on the northwest side. I would not recommend the unmaintained trail marked on the Green Trails map. It is truly unmaintained. Follow the power line southwest towards highway 18. Don’t be concerned about the loosing the short trail detour from the power line at a steep section. It is really tough to find. Just go to the left (south) into the old growth forest and bushwhack down.

Continue down the power line under highway 18 where you reach Raging River and cross at the logs. Follow the power line to Deep creek and cross on logs. Follow the power lines to forest road 1000 and go north.

Just north of Trout Hatchery creek where the road hooks to the northeast, we bushwhacked due east to Silent Swamp trail through old growth forest (no need to get into logged areas). Go north on road 5500 until Spring Fork Creek and then there is an old trail that goes to the second switchback of the Preston Railroad trail. Then East Tiger Trail to Upper Bootleg trail followed by West Tiger 1,2 and 3. Getting tired yet. Steeply descend Section trail to High School trail (where we had a water cache). On a hot day, you would want to have water earlier. Turn left at the berm and left at the parking lot.

Cross at the light and go left (South) to the Sycamore residential area and turn into it. Follow Sycamore Drive and Hillside drive upwards. Look for the trail on the right. Follow Sycamore entry trail towards Central Pk. of Squak. There is a short right-left on Phil’s trail, and a short right on the road to the peak (ugly view). Continue past the towers and you will see a trail to the right. Take this portion of the Central Peak trail to the West Connector trail and down to highway 900.

Squak Connector trail - Cougar Wilderness Cliffs to Wilderness Peak - Wilderness peak trail to Shy Bear Trail - Fred’s Railroad trail - Quarry trail - Coal Creek Falls trail - Cave Hole trail – Red Town Trail

At Red Town Parking Lot, cross the highway to Coal Creek Trail. Parallel Coal Creek for the 2.3 miles to the trailhead parking lot. At Coal Creek Parkway go right up the road for about 0.25 miles. Cross at the light then get on the next trail. Follow the trail down to the I-405. Go right to the light and cross the road so that you go under the I-405. Turn onto the bike pathway, go right for about ¼ mile. You will see Newcastle Beach Park on the right. Put your feet into the water of Lake Washington.

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