Cougar Mountain Loop

I seldom write a report for Tiger or Cougar Mountain. They are usually not that interesting. This is an exception. I started hiking on Cougar in the early 1980s. There were few people, no park, and lots of open mine and air shafts. That has all changed. There also have been a number of trails that have been abandoned. One trail I hiked often was the Blackwater Trail between the Clay Pit and Wilderness Peak. It went right by a seemingly botttomless shaft of the old Newcastle Queen mine. That has been plugged. It was abandoned about a dozen years ago. Another trail was built largely parallel to it but that one was abandoned after only a few years. Now the route from the Clay Pit to Wilderness Peak is via Fred's Railroad to Shy Bear Pass. The old route was much shorter.

I last hiked this trail a few years after it was abandoned. It was in good shape except for near the bottom of the hill below Blackwater Pond. A large fir tree fell across the slope and it was a battle to get over or under it. After that I switched to the new parallel trail until it too was closed.

This weekend was going to turn into a deluge and I figured if I made it to the Clay Pit before the rain came I'd give the old trail a go. Fighting through thick wet brush did not appeal to me. I arrived at the Red Town Trailhead late at about 10:15. The lot was full. Cars were parked all the way out to the main road. I found a spot at the far north end. I chose to head straight up the Military Road. Part way up I breezed through a junction and quickly found I made a wrong turn. I was heading too far north and no longer uphill. I continued on to a neighborhood. That is one trail I had not been on. A quick 4/10s of a mile later I was back on the Military Road.

I soon reached the road to the Clay Pit. I turned right and followed the road past the new trailhead lot to the gate and beyond. I saw a group heading off the road onto a trail. Although the parking lot was full I did not expect to see many folks up here. Other than that one group I did not. The road led on to the Clay Pit. No views this day as the clouds were dark and low. No rain either so far. A boot path of sorts led up along the edge of the Clay Pit and disappeared. Although the hill had been bulldozed I had enough old memories to beat a little brush and find the old trail. I turned right on the trail and followed it to the mostly flat top of Clay Pit Peak.

The route was very sketchy but I knew it dropped to the left and I soon found the old route again. I saw the metal vent over the old air shaft. From here to Backwater Pond the route was on a bulldozed cut. Long ago parts filled up with water making it very wet to traverse. In response short reroutes climbed a few feet to the ridge on the left side. All three reroutes were still visible after a dozen years with no maintenance. Rain began to fall and I began to get soaked but there was no point turning around now. At Backwater Pond the route became faint but knowing roughly where it used to be I was able to stay on route.

The big tree I recalled from my last visit is still there and still big. I could not get over it. I could lay down and crawl under it. Not easy but not a deal breaker either. The trail disappeared on the other side but a few steps to my right and it picked up again. The old narrow switchbacking trail up the steep slope was just as good as a decade before. Up on the Penultimate Plateau I guess a few times as ferns have grown over the route. I was a little surprised when I reached the trail from Shy Bear Pass right at the old junction. A minute or so later I was on top of Wilderness Peak. A group was already there so I just signed the register and headed down.

Rain was on and off but the ons were getting longer. I chose a short route back. From Shy Bear Pass I hiked back to Fred's Railroad and the top of the Quarry Trail. I recall when the Quarry Trail followed Coal Creek all the way down and ended at the Quarry. The lower half of that trail is now just a memory. A little more than a mile later I reached the Indian Trail and had just about a mile to go. When I reached the trailhead I found 12 other cars and three times that many open spaces. It looked like the crowd came early to miss the rain and left early. My umbrella came in handy the last few miles. Considering all the cars I saw very few folks this day.

My loop trip, including nearly a mile of unplanned detour, came to 7 miles with 1300' of gain. Using the old trail cut out more than a mile. Some of the old trails on Cougar went away when houses encroached. Some were shut down for no apparent reason. It's fun to do a hike on old trails I remember and that will be lost entirely in the near future. A little rain, a little adventure, and a whole lot of fun.

Trips - 2010