"How many cars do you think will be in the lot this early?" I ask my hiking buddies John and Julie. Even at 6 a.m. when we arrive at the trailhead, there are at least 10. Some overnight backpackers no doubt.
These days the hikes from the Ira Spring Trail trailhead to either Mason Lake, Mt. Defiance, or Bandera Mountain are among the most popular in the region. Easy access from the interstate, well-graded and maintained trails, and stunning mountain views make this trailhead a target destination for Puget Sound area hikers.
Although it's going to be in the 80s today and the sun rose almost an hour ago, we start out in the cool of early morning. For the first mile and a half we hike in solitude along the mellow old road grade through regenerating forest.
Today the stream about 3/4 mile along is low enough that crossing is easy. (A bridge is being constructed there now).
When the trail leaves the road grade, it gets steeper and switchbacks gradually get shorter as we ascend. A solo man passes us on his way down (he caught the sunrise), and soon thereafter a solo woman and her two dogs (she summited just after sunrise). And we thought we were earlybirds!
While we hike in the shadow of Bandera, the ridges south of I-90, and Rainier peaking above, are bathed in morning sun. It's a bluebird day all right.
As we loop up switchbacks into more alpine terrain, the trail opens up more with views south and sprinkles of wildflowers. I'm not a plant geek, but I do recognize the "greatest hits": brilliant scarlet-orange paintbrush, purple lupine, and an occasional stately beargrass.
|Beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax)|
|Scarlet Indian paintbrush (Castilleja)|
Thankfully the sun hasn't crested the mountain ridge and it's still shady and relatively cool as we scramble upwards, using our hands on the ohmygosh it's steep trail.
|Julie's gloves were helpful for the scramble over rocks.|
|Here comes the sun...|
Up here it's a scramble upwards to the right (east) along the ridge. While the views are fantastic, I'm attacked by vicious, bloodthirsty...mosquitos? Whatever they are, I'm bitten multiple times on my arms, abdomen, face, and ears when stopping to find the trail. Note to self and anyone: Remember to bring insect repellent this time of year!
|View north into Alpine Lakes Wilderness after cresting ridge.|
When I arrive a few minutes behind Julie and John at the false summit, I'm surprised by the dusty, small spot where we, too, will turn around. But that view!
By the time we arrive back at the car, the parking is overflowing at least a quarter of a mile down the dirt road. But this trail, these views, are worth every drop of sweat.
Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!
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When You Go
Round-trip to the false summit (the real summit doesn't have a view) is about 7 miles, with an elevation gain of just under 3,000 feet. It took us just an hour to drive to the trailhead from Seattle. Take exit 45 off of I-90 and turn north onto Forest Service Road (FR) 9030. A little over 3/4 mile from the exit, stay left onto FR 9031 (dirt and gravel) and follow it to its end at the trailhead for the Ira Spring Trail #1038. You do need a Northwest Forest Pass to park here. There's a decent outhouse at the trailhead, but bring your own TP just in case and hand sanitizer.