Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rattlesnake Ledge: Great Workout, Gorgeous Views

With vine maples turning crimson in the Cascade foothills, October is just about my favorite month to be out hiking in the mountains here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s also a good time to train the legs for the ski season ahead.

I used to be all about dashing up and down Mt. Si due east of Seattle for a good sweat-inducing quad, glute, and cardio workout (my record: 84 minutes from the base to the summit). These days I never seem to have enough time to do it all, so instead I often head to Rattlesnake Ridge directly south across the valley for a shorter hike but still a great workout.

I was out there a few days ago with the crowds on a weekend. I generally go earlier in the day so I can park in the small lot on the right side of the road before the main Rattlesnake Lake parking lot.

I follow the dirt road around the end of the lake for about a quarter mile to the trailhead on the right, where the trail starts climbing up mellow switchbacks through lush second-growth forest.

About 5 or 6 years ago, part of the trail up to Rattlesnake Ledge was altered to a gentler grade. So now instead of ascending over 1,000 feet to the ledge in a little over a mile, the trail covers the same distance in about 2 miles. I see a lot more people hiking up to the ledge since the trail regrade, but the trail is in much better shape and less prone to erosion.

When I reach the fork in the trail just below Rattlesnake Ledge, I turn right and scramble up to the ledge for the awesome panorama. Most people stop here.

Straight ahead from the prow of the ledge is Chester Morse Lake in the protected and off-limits Cedar River Watershed, which supplies the City of Seattle with the bulk of its water. To keep the water relatively clean, this watershed has been spared much of the brutal clearcutting that occurred along the I-90 corridor in the latter twentieth century.


Down below, Rattlesnake Lake is more full than normal. I watch for peregrine falcons flying by since they like to nest on the cliffs. I saw one a few years ago, but not today.

I don’t linger too long on the ledge and scoot back down to the fork in the trail and continue up the ridge trail through the forest. Not that many people continue upward, so it’s much quieter up here.

About a quarter mile farther, I duck through an opening in the brush and walk carefully (I repeat—carefully) out to some more rock ledges. Every year it seems at least one person falls to their death off the cliffs (hopefully the recent fatality is the last one for this year.)

In hikes past I’ve continued a few miles farther up the ridge, which you can hike for 11 miles end to end, but not today. I’ve run out of time but got what I wanted – I’m sweating, my legs feel more toned and strong, and I feel great.

When You Go
To get to the Rattlesnake Ledge end of Rattlesnake Ridge, take I-90 about 35 miles east from the Seattle area to exit 32 (436th Ave S.E- Cedar Falls Road.). Go south (right) on Cedar Falls Road for 3.5 miles. (If you continue another ¾ mile, you’ll eventually reach the Cedar River Watershed Education Center.) Dogs are allowed but please have them leashed.


Sasha said...

This is absolutely beautiful! I'm putting this on my wishlist of hikes. I've been hiking closer to home lately, mostly Forest Park in Portland. I'm sort of dreading the La Nina because we get the snow where I live. I'm going to enjoy autumn while I can!

jill said...

Hey Sasha,
Yes, enjoy autumn! It's my favorite time of year. I actually do more hiking in Carkeek Park near my north Seattle home. Overdue for a trip to Portland though! And I guess we'll see what the La Nina brings.

Linds said...

Whenever I need to see some pretty local pics for my computer background I always go to your blog. more great ones! And inspires me to get out to a good hike before all the sun is gone!

Jennifer said...

Love your latest blog post (your pictures are fantastic!) and wanted to let you know that though the City no longer logs (or only very selectively) they did log the ENTIRE watershed (96% of it, I believe) until they created their HCP in prep for Chinook listing. Now they manage primarily for water quality, but also for chinook habitat (less so for sockeye, which they still prevent from going too far upstream because too many carcasses might negatively affect water quality - that's the claim, anyway). Great pictures, great description of the hike - very cool posting!