Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Hiking Mt. Si: Lose the Crowds on the Talus Loop

If you're seeking solitude in nature, heading to Mt. Si in the Mountains to Sound Greenway (Interstate 90 corridor) east of Seattle can be risky business on a weekend day. Often the parking lot is full and overflowing, and you'll be hiking with a steady stream of humanity (and canines). Si draws up to 50,000 visitors a year, making it the most heavily used trail in the state.

Still, Mt. Si is heavily used for good reason, with a well-maintained trail grinding up 4 miles of switchbacks over 3,700 feet in elevation gain through often lush forest.

On a hazy Sunday, the air is thick with smoke from forest fires throughout the region hovering in the valleys like a gauzy gray curtain. Itching for a hike, I reason that being in the woods would be safer for my lungs. At the last minute and on impulse I head to Mt. Si, where I haven't been for about 8 years.

When I arrive a little before 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, the parking lot is less than a third full. Perhaps the smoke is keeping people away? 

A beauty of the otherwise nasty smoke is how it filters the sunlight. As I start up the trail, the sun through the smoke and trees back-lights the forest in a golden-pinkish glow.

And surprisingly, I don't encounter that many other hikers as I head upward. The trail winds through primarily second-growth forest, with few openings in the trees for views. It's mostly Douglas fir and hemlock, with an understory of sword ferns, vine maples, and other native plants and shrubs.

By the time I reach the upper junction to the 1.3-mile Talus Loop trail, I know I can't make the summit and get home in time. What the heck, I decide, and take the cut-off.

Immediately the trail becomes narrower and obviously less traveled, and, if you have a touch of the romantic like me, feels a bit enchanted. (Of course, given the right conditions, like a misty day, I'd say any trail through a forest is enchanting.)

After losing elevation and heading away from the main trail eastward for about 10 minutes or so, I reach the open talus slide portion of the loop.  

This massive rockslide opens up an impressive panorama on an otherwise heavily forested trail. Today the views are muted and obscured by smoke.

The stretch of trail across the talus is only about...50 yards?

After pausing to take pictures at the talus field, I continue down the trail into increasingly lush vegetation. A trail runner dashes past me like a gazelle leaping down the trail. He's the only other person I see during my 30 minutes or so on the loop trail.

I almost miss the switchback that loops back to the main Si trail.  The trail appears to continue, and when I stop to take a picture, I happen to glance to my right and notice the switchback, which is more well-worn. Pay attention!

Just below the bottom edge of the talus slide, the trail passes an especially verdant area rich with moss and ferns. In this drought year, it's a very welcome sight.

Maidenhair fern
As I'm tramping happily through the forest, enjoying the solitude and beautiful scenery, suddenly I feel a familiar sharp pain on the back side of my bare upper arm and let out a loud, high-pitched yelp. Quickly I spin around, arms flailing, and see the yellow jacket that stung me. Ouch! 

Then I'm running down the trail as fast as I can because those angry little suckers can sting more than once. Within 100 yards, I've reached the main trail.

Needless to say, I trot down the rest of the trail quickly, with my arm swelling and sore. Lots more hikers are coming up the trail as I'm descending. 

Despite the stinging finale, I quite enjoyed the talus loop trail. It's a nice variation if you're short on time or want an easier hike than the slog to the top of Si. According to the Washington Trails Association website, it's a 3.7-mile roundtrip from the main trailhead via the Talus Loop Trail, with an elevation gain of 1,750 feet.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

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When You Go
Here is a link to a map and directions to the Mt. Si trailhead from Seattle. It's about 30 miles east, just off I-90 in North Bend, Washington. I highly recommend getting there by 8 a.m. or earlier on summer/fall/nice weather weekends, although many people start later. The Talus Loop junction is well-marked at both the lower and upper juctions, just to the right off the main trail. A Washington State Parks Discover Pass is required for parking at the trailhead (although there are free parking days a few times a year for day-use; the remaining dates for 2015 are August 25, September 26, and November 11).



Lainey Piland said...

All that green sure is a sight for sore eyes! Thanks for sharing your lovely adventure, and hope that yellowjacket sting is all healed up! :)

And despite how awful the wildfires are, I've also been intrigued by the way the sunlight filters through the smoke and illuminates everything in that pinkish/orange light. Its beauty really came through in your photos!

Laura said...

I was stung by a yellow jacket twice last summer on the Chirico Trail to Poo Poo Point. Those guys are so mean!

The photos you captured are magical. There's nothing like fog- or smoke- to add some wonderful depth to the woods.

jill said...

Lainey, thanks the sting is healing nicely, turned the corner today. Yes, the fire light is indeed intriguing, thanks for your feedback on the photos!

Laura, dang, getting stung twice sounds awful! Thanks for the comment on the photos, yea, the smoke is great from a photographer's perspective, but still...:)