Cougar Mountain Loop

After a Friday hike on New Year's Eve and bad weather I did not hike the weekend of the first two days of the year. I was ready to get out the second Saturday. The snow was so heavy this week that all the mountain passes were closed. I-90 was closed from North Bend to Ellensburg. Everyone was looking for hikes on the west side. I needed to get out but not get run over by the crowds. The week long rain was supposed to be just a shower or two on Saturday then clearing for Sunday. I chose to head to Cougar Mountain. With an early start I hoped to avoid the later crowds It was cool at the start but nothing like the sub 20 degrees we faced a week earlier. I hoped all the rain washed out all the previous lowland snow. I also figured the creeks would be running high. The snow weight and high winds had also brought a lot of branches and trees down on other trails this week. I hoped the lower elevation and heavy use would help to have the trails passable. I was mostly right on my guesses.

Procrastination kept me from getting out really early as I had a hard time finally deciding on Cougar Mountain. I arrived at Red Town about 8:30 am. The main lot as a bit more than half full. The lot at far left was empty. That is where I started. I was on the trail at 8:37 am. I figured on a big lollipop route with a clockwise loop. I seldom go to Coal Creek Falls as the water level is usually not that great and it is crowded. This time I figured I'd brave the crowds to see of all the snow and rain had it raging. I headed up the Military Road and then on to the Sky Country Trailhead. There, at about 1220' I found a bit of snow. Only a few short stretches of it covered the trail.

I went out to the Cave Hole Road and turned left. So far I had seen a few logs down on the trail that I could carry off the route. I moved a few more on the Cave Hole Road. At Fred's Railroad I turned left and started up the Klondike Swamp Trail. I went over a couple small logs and then someone called out asking if I was Jim. I did not think I was that easy to spot from the back. It was Leslie whom I know from website. I have run into her on several occasions on Cougar Mountain. More than I would expect to run into anyone there. We talked while hiking for a few minutes then she continued on her run. I few minutes later I came to a 20'+ log across the trail. It was too  high to go over and to low to easily go under. I brought a folding saw for just his type of occurrence. It was almost as wide as my saw. It was also a beginning to rot. That helped. I cut off the left side and then cut it again at the right edge of the trail. I was able to drag the middle piece of the trail. Mission accomplished.

I took the Lost Beagle Trail up to the top of Anti-Aircraft Peak. I cut out two more hanging branches here. The top was covered with a couple inches of snow. It will soon be gone. I stopped at the covered picnic building for a food and water break. I arrived at 10:03 am. About 3.5 miles done in 1:26 including trail maintenance time. Heading out I went over to the Million Dollar View. Not great but I cold clearly see Lake Sammamish. A little blue but still almost entirely cloudy sky. I was very surprised to see zero cars in the lot at the trailhead here. The road was covered n a thin coating of packed snow/ice. I guess folks did not want to try the last bit of road to the lot. I can't recall ever seeing no cars at 10:15 am on a Saturday. So far I had seen a few runners but that was it. Mission Solitude was working well.

I headed over to the Clay Pit next. Most of the snow disappeared as I descended. It reappeared as I climbed to the Clay Pit. Just before the bridge over Tibbetts Creek a tree fell right on the trail. It had many small branches that made for a mess to push through to get by. I did get by and then I stopped, turned around, and went back. Out came the saw and I took off about 6 or 7 branches to create an open space to walk through. The tree is still there but it no longer blocks the way.  Up at the Clay Pit I went over to the eastward view. The top of Tiger Mountain was in clouds. At least for the morning I made the right choice. Much bigger crowds over there and no views. Next I headed over to the East Fork Trail out of the Clay Pit. In places it was a creek. I bought high top waterproof boots so I kept dry feet. I don't think anyone in trail runners did so. There were a number of branches hanging over the trail. I cut them out in three places. One encompassed 4 or 5 branches. Major improvements to the trail.

I reached Fred's Railroad and turned left. In a short distance I reached the Quarry Trail. I started to run into people now. Not a lot but a person or two every 10-15 minutes. I turned off onto the trail down to Coal Creek Falls. I had two groups ahead of me. They were hiking slow and I went by them. I reached the falls during a lull. I had a chance to take photos and a few video clips before the next bunch of hikers arrived. Coal Creek Falls is not a huge drop but it had enough water this day to be pretty impressive. I have seen it with more flow but only a time or two.  Well worth the crowds. It was 12:00 pm when I left the falls. The trail back to the Cave Hole Road had a steady stream of hikers coming up. No surprise there.  I did see a pileated woodpecker not far from the trail. My phone camera only has a 2x optical zoom so the photos were not so great.

When I reached the Cave Hole Road I had two choices. Left downhill back to the trailhead or right uphill back to my route up. I chose right. It added a little elevation gain and would put me just over 8 miles hiked. I planned a much longer hike the next day so 8 miles would be plenty for this day. I turned left onto the trail back to the Sky Country Trailhead and encountered a little more snow. I saw some folks coming up the Military Road but it was much less crowded than the Cave Hole Road would have been. I arrived back at the trailhead at 12:49 pm. The lot was now jammed with cars. Exactly as I expected. My route avoided most of the crowd except at and below Coal Creek Falls. For the day I hiked just over 8 miles with 1200' of elevation gain. I carried and umbrella but never used it.

This trip was almost perfect. On a day when all the trails and skiing in the mountains were closed due to too much snow and avalanches, I missed the masses that were in close in trails. Cougar had crowds as the day went on but my early start and route avoided much of it. I cut out more than half a dozen logs and branches and moved several dozen logs off the trails. All that and I as on my way home before 1:00 pm. A very good warm up hike for the trip on Sunday.

First Snow
Klondike Swamp Trail
Log Across Trail
Log Cut Out
AA  Peak Summit
Picnic Shelters
Million Dollar View
More Sawing
Tibbetts Creek Bridge
Clay Pit Viewpoint
Clay Pit Road
Mine Shaft Vent
Jerry's Duck Pond
Branches Down
Branches Cut
Lon In The Way
Log Is Gone
Coal Creek Falls
Falls Again
Military Road
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2022