This past Friday I returned to Issaquah to make another attempt at hiking Tiger Mountain. This time everything went according to plan. For the full story and more pictures…
After the disasters of my first aborted attempt in May I was itching to take another crack at the three West Tiger summits. Unfortunately the National Weather Service forecast promised less than perfect conditions this time: after some light overnight rain, overcast skies with a solid layer of marine stratus starting at 2200 feet, with temps reaching the low 60s. And sure enough, looking up at West Tiger as I rode the Metro bus from Issaquah Transit Center I could see the mountaintops disappearing into the cloud-base.
This time around I had no intention of letting equipment problems get in my way; to make sure I visited my local REI store and bought some new hiking shoes – Keen Voyageur – ideal for summer conditions. Now only a physical failure on my part, or the weather would stop me. After wearing the shoes all week, I was ready to put them to the test on the mountain. As before, I got off the bus at the I-90 exit 20 stop (elevation 500 ft) and started up the High Point trail – section 1 in my first post.
Section 1 – High Point Trailhead to Tiger Mountain Trail “TMT” (elevation 1150 ft)
Compared to my experience three weeks ago I was surprised to find the going quite muddy in places; more than you would expect from some light rain. It’s June for Christ’s sake – it should not be this wet. Nevertheless my new shoes performed well through the boggy parts and I made much quicker work of High Point trail this time. In 30 minutes I was at the TMT: 1.1 miles, 650 ft of elevation gain, average grade 11.2%.
Section 2 – TMT to Fred’s Corner (elevation 1800 ft)
During my aborted attempt in May this was the section where I gave up on reaching the highest summit: West Tiger #1, but not before I had missed a critical intersection and unknowingly left the TMT.
The TMT approaches the intersection curving gently to the left on a fairly flat grade when suddenly it does a 180 and turns sharply in the opposite direction. If, as happened to me the first time, you miss this turn, you will unwittingly continue along the trail curving to the left – now the Lingering trail – and be heading down the mountain.
I had no such trouble with the trail signage this time: aided as I was by a considerate hiker who had hung a ball-cap at the intersection – on the sign I missed before. It was so out of place it made the sign almost impossible to miss even though you approach it from the unmarked side. Now, for the first time on this hike, I was in unfamiliar territory.
This section of the TMT begins with a steep ascent – rising 360 ft in less than half a mile (17% grade) – to “Ruth’s Cove” – where I crossed the east fork of High Point Creek. The trail then levels out along the 1600 ft contour awhile before rising again to a second bridge at 1680 ft elevation. This bridge, which crosses the middle fork of High Point Creek, is my favorite of the entire hike.
The TMT reaches West Tiger Railroad Grade at “Fred’s Corner” – look for the sign nailed on a tree. This section, from the top of High Point trail to Fred’s Corner, took me around 55 minutes: 1.2 miles, 650 ft of elevation gain, average grade 10.3%.
Section 3 – Fred’s Corner to West Tiger #1 (summit elevation 2948 ft)
At Fred’s Corner the hike leaves the TMT and heads left (east) towards the Preston trail. From here to the summit there are three distinct parts:
- West Tiger RR Grade to Preston/West Tiger #1 trail (0.5 miles, elevation 2100 ft)
- Preston/West Tiger #1 trail to Bootleg Trail (0.5 miles, elevation 2720 ft)
- Bootleg/Poo Top Trail to West Tiger #1 summit (0.4 miles, elevation 2948 ft)
The West Tiger RR Grade from Fred’s Corner to Preston/West Tiger #1 is noticeably different to my previous experience (between K3 and West Tiger #3). Whereas that section hardly deviates from 1960 ft elevation, this most easterly end of the RR grade stays level for a while at 1800 ft, but then it makes a short steep ascent to 2000 ft, and a second, less steep ascent to 2100 ft.
The Preston trail is the steepest part of this hike, climbing straight up the West Tiger #1 main ridge to the Bootleg trail just below the summit. We’re talking 600 ft of elevation gain in a short half mile: a 23.5% grade; so save some energy for this part.
It was on this section that I entered cloud at around 2200 ft, just as the Weather Service forecast predicted. By the time I made it up to Bootleg at 2720 ft it was an eerily spooky scene – a ghostly fog muffled all sound as I looked back down the trail and up through the trees towards the summit just a couple hundred feet above.
The Bootleg trail traverses the north side of West Tiger #1 just below the summit, and continues as the Bypass trail to the Hikers Hut. Even if you experience conditions like mine you should be able to see the first of several communications towers looming above you as you make your way along the trail. Watch out for the Poo Top trail off to the left: it climbs the remaining 150 ft to the West Tiger #1 summit at 2948 ft via a steep series of switchbacks.
I took pretty much 90 minutes to reach the West Tiger #1 summit from Fred’s Corner: 1.4 miles, 1148 ft of elevation gain, average grade 15.5%.
Section 4 – West Tiger #1 to West Tiger #2 (summit elevation 2757 ft)
My primary goal for this hike was to make it to West Tiger #1 and stop at the Hikers Hut viewpoint for a rest & refueling break (elevation 2800 ft). There are two ways to reach Hikers Hut from West Tiger #1 summit: back down the way you came, then along the Bypass trail; I went the other (easier) way. If you choose my route just don’t hang around between the yellow signs 😉
Definitely stay awhile at the Hikers Hut viewpoint – it’s the best viewing spot on West Tiger – and the ideal place for a rest break. Also keep in mind that there’s still more miles ahead than behind – although the toughest part is now done.
There’s not much to say about this section of the hike – just follow the dirt road down from Hikers Hut and you’ll arrive at West Tiger #2 summit in 0.7 miles. It is worth mentioning though that the road descends around 300 ft to around 2500 ft before rising again to West Tiger #2 summit at 2757 ft. In other words, it isn’t a gentle stroll, although it took me only 20 minutes.
Section 5 – West Tiger #2 to West Tiger #3 (summit elevation 2522 ft)
During my previous hike, when I reached West Tiger #3 and looked across to West Tiger #2, it seemed like the two summits are some distance from one another. So I was quite surprised this time around to find they are quite close – less than half a mile apart. Just like between West Tigers 1 & 2, the trail between West Tigers 2 & 3 descends around 300 ft before rising again to West Tiger #3 summit at 2522 ft. However, unlike between West Tigers 1 & 2, the connector between West Tigers 2 & 3 is much nicer; a woodland trail rather than a dirt road. About halfway between the two summits the TMT crosses the summit connector at 2500 ft elevation on its way to the south side of the mountain.
On this particular day, my view from West Tiger #3 summit back to West Tiger #2 was completely obscured by cloud; I would never know it existed if I hadn’t just come from there. My view to the west was a little better – still cloudy but I could make out Lake Washington and the Sound in the distance. Unfortunately my camera wasn’t able to see through the gloom quite as well as my eyes, but I’ve included a shot or two in the gallery below.
Section 6 – West Tiger #3 to East Sunset Trailhead (elevation 200 ft)
The West Tiger #3 trail is the most developed and most used trail on the mountain. In my experience, it has been the only place, besides the West Tiger #3 summit itself, where I have encountered other people. On every other trail I have been completely alone (both times were on a Friday, a weekend might prove different).
The trail mixes long straight gently descending grades with wide sweeping switchbacks in areas where elevation falls away more steeply. It is generally as wide as a typical sidewalk with a surface varying between packed gravel to larger rocks pressed into the trail-bed.
While I understand the need to protect the trail from erosion, particularly given the impact of hundreds of hiking boots stomping up and down every day, I have to say that this results in a pretty uncomfortable surface particularly when descending. Despite being ‘unmaintained’ – and lacking the switchbacks that level out the steeper parts of the descent – I much prefer the Section Line trail’s softer natural forest floor surface as a way down from West Tiger #3.
After 3 miles the West Tiger #3 trail reaches Issaquah’s Tradition Plateau trail network at 500 ft elevation. From here I took the Bus trail link to Puget Power Road, leading me west to the Issaquah Overlook above the East Sunset Way trailhead. Walk half a mile along Sunset Way to catch buses outside City Hall, or around the corner on Front Street. I emerged onto East Sunset Way 2 1/2 hours after leaving the West Tiger #3 summit:
- West Tiger #3 to Bus trail: 3 miles, elevation loss 2022 ft, 12.8% grade
- Bus trail to Puget Power Road: 0.9 miles, elevation loss 0 ft, grade 0.0%
- Puget Power Road to Issaquah Overlook: 0.7 miles, elevation loss 80 ft, 2.2% grade
- East Sunset trail to trailhead: 0.2 miles, elevation loss 220 ft, 20.8% grade
Adding each section together my total hike (from trailhead to trailhead) was approximately 9.6 miles and took me 6:50 (which includes roughly 20 minutes rest at Hikers Hut).
Now here is my photo gallery from this hike. Captions tell the story – click on a thumbnail to open the gallery and view full size…