Note to self: Always check the topo lines carefully.
This had been a lousy hiking month as I had only been able to get out
two times. I wanted to make the most of my final trip. Gary was free and
he also wanted to get in a good workout. The forecast was for sunny and
cold weather. We wanted a good long trip with enough elevation gain to reach
a good viewpoint. Gary suggested Polallie Ridge. We did a loop trip over
Polallie Ridge, to the lookout, down Tired Creek, and back via the Cooper
River Trail about half a dozen years ago. I have been to the lookout site
via Tired Creek numerous times but that loop trip was the only time I had
been on the rest of the ridge. The trailhead near Salmon La Sac is at 2400'.
The lookout site is some 6 1/4 miles away at 5482". A gain of 3100' sounded
good. The views from the
are outstanding. Even with a little recent snow we were confident we
would be able to drive to the trailhead on bare road. We were also hoping
to climb a mile or more before hitting snow.
The days are short at the end of November so we arranged to meet in Issaquah
at 6:30 am. It was still dark until we neared Snoqualmie Pass. We were not
surprised to see no other cars at the trailhead. By 8:15 we were on our way.
The trailhead was snow free. We quickly passed the Cooper River and Waptus
Lake trails and began to head up the ridge. This trail has few switchbacks
as it ascends the ridge. It is not steep but is very consistent as it quickly
gains elevation. Snow patches began very soon but the trail was largely bare
up to about 3600'. We saw two sets of fresh footprints in the snow, likely
from the day before. We had a few short views of Red Mountain to the south
through the trees.
The trail did not seem steep but we gained 950' in the first mile. The
second mile gained another 850'. Just beyond there at about 4300' we had
a view out to Davis Peak. At 5150' the trail began to drop. We had a view
of Mt. Daniel from there. This drop turned out to be the first of many roller
coaster sections. We carried snowshoes but hoped to keep them on our backs
as long as possible. The trail was completely covered after the first few
miles but not difficult to follow. We also had those footprints guiding the
way. Shortly after beginning I took a temperature reading and it showed about
32 degrees. As we rose it grew colder and most of the rest of the day was
in the mid 20s. The trail continued to make short gains and drops until we
dropped down to a big snow covered meadow at 3 miles. This is where our trail
makers turned around. For the rest of the trip we would have to do our own
On my only previous time there I vaguely remembered angling right then
crossing the meadow. There was a rock cairn marking the trail on the other
side. Gary thought he saw a blaze on a tree so we headed that way. In fact,
he was correct as we found a snowy rock pile and large blaze on a tree. Our
route again climbed several hundred feet then dropped down again. At 3.8 miles
we reached Diamond Lake. The lake was frozen and covered with a coat of blazing
white snow. The sunshine on the snow was very bright. We lost the trail after
crossing the inlet stream. When the route along the shore reached uncut logs
we were almost positive we were off route. We stopped to pull out both my
GPS and map. I had previously entered 7 waypoints and Diamond Lake was one.
Trusting the map we could see we were off track and turned left. After a
short slog we reached the route again, now under a few feet of snow.
The route climbed yet again then took another descent. Although the snow
was never deep enough to require snowshoes we were making ridiculously slow
progress. Calculating our pace and the distance remaining to the lookout
site it was becoming obvious we could not make it and get back before dark.
We set 1:00 as a turn around time and continued on. We also calculated that
this trip was going to be over 4000' gained, not 3100'. Another up and down
brought us to another meadow which we crossed without losing the route. Gary
did a great job of keeping us on the summer trail even when the snow covered
all traces. Soon we would find another blaze confirming we were on track.
A final descent brought us to another snowy meadow. It was now noon and we
needed to take a lunch break. The GPS confirmed that we were at waypoint 6
and that the lookout site was still just over a mile away in a straight line.
On dirt we would be there in 20+ minutes. On this snow it would be more like
Above the meadow was a mostly bare spot on the crest of the ridge. It
was about 600' above us. A check showed that the trail climbed up to the
crest. We decided to follow the route and then make a bee line for the crest.
It looked to have a mostly clear view. We left the trail a few hundred feet
below the top and scrambled up to the crest. We were disappointed to see that
clouds had come in to the south and west. The ridge had hid this fact from
us. Mt. Stuart, The Cradle, and Davis Peak were clear to the east and northeast.
Trees blocked straight north hiding Mt. Daniel and Hinman. Bears Breast was
in the clear along with Dutch Miller Gap. Just south of them the Chiefs were
in the clouds. I could see the lower half of Little Big Chief but not the
top. For a very brief second Three Queens Mountain appeared while completely
surrounded by clouds. The views were good but a few hours earlier they would
have been outstanding.
We spent half an hour on top at 5540'. Our viewpoint was actually about
50' higher than the lookout site down the ridge. It was 1:10 when we headed
down. It was clear that we would not be back before sunset but we hoped
to be off the snow. On the way back we used altimeters to measure all those
gains. With our own footprints to follow we did not have any route finding
slowdowns. The going still was slower than we usually manage. By sunset we
were only 600' above the trailhead. We held off on headlamps and finally
made it back at 5:00 pm in total darkness. We saw no other footprints coming
back. It was not too surprising that nobody else was on this trail this day.
The total distance was 11 miles and after adding up all the ups and downs
our 3100' planned gain ended up being 5300'. That's a pretty hefty gain in
This is a seldom visited trail any time of year. It has a lake and a great
viewpoint at the old lookout site. The trailhead is less than a mile from
pavement. It proved to be a great workout in the snow. I really like the
long loop via Cooper Lake but out and back on Polallie Ridge turned out to
be a great place to be for a sunny hike in the snow.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Snow Covered Trail
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2004