Tiger - South Middle East Traverse

One of my longest standing traditions is a hike on Tiger Mountain the last day of each year. This year makes it 27 times in the last 28 years. John joined me for an interesting one way trip over five summits. Most year end hikes are on the more popular north and west side. This time I pieced together a one way trip that went over the tops of both South Tiger summits, Middle Tiger, East Tiger, and Sally's Summit. John had not hiked this side of the mountain so it was all new to him. We met at Tiger Summit off Highway 18 at 7:55 am and made the short drive south to the TMT south trailhead on the Tiger Mountain Road. By 815 am we were on the trail. As expected, there were no other cars at the trailhead.

This trailhead is at about 530' while Tiger Summit is at 1375'. We would have over 800' more uphill than down. Although there was a lot of rain the previous two days the brush was bone dry all day long. No getting soaked as I feared. The Tiger Mountain Trail (TMT) is gently graded making for fast hiking. The first 11/2 miles to Hobart Gap went by in less than 30 minutes. We jogged right then left up a steep road to the power line corridor. From there we continued on the South Tiger Traverse trail.

More easy grade as we climbed up the side of South Tiger Mountain. I recognized the big stump with the face carved in it and we turned uphill on the trail to the summit. Both main and minor trails have all been logged out. We had one or two logs down at most all day. The summit of South Tiger is forested. No views. Boots have stomped out a trail down to the gap between the two South Tiger summits. The other summit has been recently scalped. No trees but some pretty good views from the just over 2000' summit. A trail leads up to the top. There are benches and a big fire pit on top, proof that folks have been getting up there. It was in the 30s most of the day. Freezing on the higher summits and pretty cold everywhere. There was not a drop of rain and even some sunshine. Really great conditions for the last day of the year.

We took the logging road down and crossed some slash to find the trail in the big clear cut. In hindsight, we found the road met up with the trail a little farther along. We soon hit a road and followed it downhill to the junction with the TMT. The TMT goes on the other side of South Tiger making for a nice loop trip. We turned left on the TMT and soon reached the West Side Road. I hiked the TMT to Middle Tiger just a week earlier and saw the new logging I had heard about. There is logging on each side of the TMT. We were soon at the big switchback where the 1925 train wreck occurred. I had contemplated taking the Artifacts Trail to Middle Tiger. The TMT crosses the new logging road and I feared the Artifacts Trail would cross at least once. If we could not pick it up again we would have to retreat and the time it would take might make the one way trip not feasible. Decisions, decisions...

I told John the Artifacts trail was more interesting but there was a chance we might mess up the whole day. He was fine with taking a chance. We headed off on the Artifacts Trail. Not far after crossing the creek we saw the clear cut ahead. We had to climb over a few logs to get into the clearcut. We found that a few trees remained along the trail route. The clear cut spanned both sides but the route was not lost in a sea of slash and debris. On we went. We returned to forest and soon reached the logging road.

We climbed up onto the road and scanned the other side for the route. Nothing to be seen. Darn it! A little way to the right was a short spur heading left and uphill. We walked over to take a look. I spotted a narrow path going out of the corner where the two roads met. That was the old trail. From there it was smooth sailing to the summit of Middle Tiger Mountain. We reached the 2600' summit after 6.5 miles of hiking with 2750' of gain. Our average moving speed was 3.2 mph, a testament to the generally gentle grade of the trails. This turned out to be exactly the mid point of our journey. Half the distance done but 2/3s of the elevation gain. It was still only 10:20 am. We had lots of daylight left.

We took a short food and water break then headed down the north side. At the bottom is a wooden gate/barrier to keep bikes and horses out. It is so narrow I could not fit through. Either I'm really big or that is the narrowest gate I have ever seen. After the short steep descent we followed the logging spur back to the main road. When I first visited Middle Tiger the road was a forest trail. Then more logging turned it into a wide gravel road. Now it is reverting to a grassy road. At the main road we turned right and began to climb. This road goes around the south side of East Tiger Mountain. A left turn takes you around East Tiger and up the north side. That's what I did a week earlier.

For this trip we were going to take the Gary Westerlund Memorial Hubcap Trail. The name refers to the time I touched an old rotted tree and it fell, narrowly missing Gary. We put a hubcap at the top to mark the trail. It's now long gone. The short cut goes right up the southwest side of East Tiger cutting off a lot of road walking. The terrain is steep and there is no underbrush. Near the Preston bike trail we left the road and headed up in a leftward ascent. Part way up John noticed what looked like a road or long bench above us. Son of a gun! There is a new trail under construction. Rather than climb steeply up the slope we chose to follow the gently ascending trail. It brought us up to the road a few hundred feet below the summit. A nice short cut and a heck of a surprise.

A few minutes of road walking and we were on top. The road was a little slick and icy but there was surprisingly little snow at the 3004' summit. Mt. Rainier was barely visible through the distant clouds. It was 32" but there was no wind and lots of sunshine. Not bad at all. We met one hiker on top. He was the first person we had met. We did see two bikers at a distance after starting the climb up East Tiger but they did not see us. We spent nearly half an hour on top. A nice lunch spot. From here most of the rest of the trip was down hill. It would have all been downhill if we just followed the road down. What fun would that be? There was time for one more adventure.

I have hiked up Sallys Summit half a dozen times since discovering it a few years ago. On one trip I saw a boot path heading down the opposite side. There were so many logs down that day that I only went a short way and returned. This day I wanted to find out if it continued down the ridge and met up with the main road. this would cut off at least half a mile and save a lot of road walking. When we reached the bottom of the summit road we went straight ahead rather than right which goes back to Tiger Summit. A few minutes later we left the road and climbed the boot path the short distance to the top of Sallys Summit. The original summit sign disappeared but a new one is in place.

All those jack strawed logs just beyond the summit had been sawed out. In fact, there were no logs across the trail. The boot path was faint in a number of places but we had no problem following it all the way down.  It is steep in places and switchbacks in others. All in all, a good non official trail. It popped us out on the main road near the 1.5 mile marker. Between the Hubcap Trail and Sallys Summit ridge trail we avoided several miles of road walking. Just before reaching the bottom we took the Connector trail over to the summer parking lot. That short detour added 1/3 mile and brought us up to 13 miles for the day. With all the ups and downs of the five summits we ended up with exactly 4000' of gain. We were finished before 2:00 pm.

This was one of the best New Year's Eve Tiger hikes I have done. Great weather, lots of summits, few people, and two new trails in one day, all on a side of Tiger Mountain that does not get a lot of visitors. Few thanks in life are predictable but the chances that I will be on Tiger Mountain next New Year's Eve are awfully good.


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Trips - 2011