My Extended Family
By Joe Toynbee
(Note: This article is reprinted from the winter 2005 Alpiner issue.)
As readers of the Alpiner know, the IATC publication has a schedule of hikes conduced in the Alps by various leaders. Years ago I stated going on these hikes, and after I learned the terrain started leading some of them myself. At his time, I have participated in about 650 club-sponsored hikes, and have gone on perhaps 450 more with friends or alone. The three primary peaks have over 200 miles of trails: I have been on them all, some countless times.
After spending so much time in the Issaquah Alps, I have come to think of them almost as family. Tiger Mountain, the biggest and wildest, seems to me like a brawny big brother. Squak Muntain, much smaller and harder to access, seems like a shy retiring kid sister. Cougar Mountain, which has seen much development in recent years, seems to me like an elderly aunt who has fallen on hard financial times, and has been compelled to take in boarders.
Following are the character sketches of my family members:
My big brother Tiger has impressive dimensions: he looms over Issaquah. His head bumps against I-90 at High Point: he broadens out to six miles wide at his waist, and his feet are planted some six miles south of his head. Tiger’s right shoulder is a relatively flat area known as the Tradition Lake Plateau; around his right hip are some housing developments. Most of Tiger is covered by the Tiger Mountain State Forest, managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. This forest is 12,000 acres, or some 19 square miles in size.
Getting to know a hulking fellow like my brother Tiger is not easy. Perhaps the best way to become acquainted is to explore his right shoulder. The Tradition Lake Plateau is best accessed from the High Point exit off I-90. For the more energetic, a great way to meet Tiger is to hike the Tiger Mountain Trail. This trail takes 16 miles to cover a linear distance of six miles, north to south.
My brother Tiger has many moods, depending on the time of year. In the winter, he tends to be chilly, somber and austere, sometimes hiding for days behind clouds, at other times glittering in a blanket of white. In the spring he pulses with life, frisking about in a cloak of bright green leaves and flowers. In the summer, he dozes through long lazy days, occasionally coming to life after a shower. In the fall, he dresses in a coat of bright colors, having a last fling before winter calms him down.
My little sister Squak sits demurely to the south of Issaquah. She is much smaller than big brother Tiger, measuring four miles from north to south and two miles across the waist. About 40 percent of Squak’s 5600 acres are in public ownership.
Squak has a reputation for shyness because access to her wild and beautiful center is difficult; her extremities are on private land. At her heart is Squak Mountain State Park some 590 acres in size. Another 700 acres are King County land.
Getting to know sister Squak requires persistence and tact. Most people arrive at her doorstep by driving up Mountain Park Boulevard out of Issaquah, parking at an unmarked spot, and traversing a trail through private land to reach the park boundary. Squak can also be visited from east, south and west, but parking is difficult and trails are hard to find, though the east can be accessed now on foot from town or by parking on Sunrise Place.
Those who make the effort to know Squak are richly rewarded. She has a charming personality. Because of difficult access, much of her is seldom visited and very wild. Her basic trail system is a system of old logging roads, connected with several primitive trails. Across Squak’s waist there are three peaks, West Peak, Central Peak and Southeast Peak. Views from these peaks are very limited: Squak is indeed a shy thing.
Like Tiger, Squak is at her most charming in the spring, with a garland of flowers in her hair. Because her maximum height is only about 2000 feet Squak is generally home to visitors even in the middle of winter. Those who love her have mixed emotions about her remoteness: easier access would allow more visitors, but could destroy some of her charm.
My elderly aunt Cougar completes the roster of my extended family. Cougar lies closest too Seattle, rising from the shores of Lake Washington. She has a stocky figure, measuring five miles from north to south and six miles across at the waist. Compared to Squak, Cougar is easy to visit; trailheads are well marked and trails easy to follow. The sad part of visiting Cougar is passing through all the housing developments; poor aunt Cougar has been compelled take in many boarders. When a visitor finally penetrates to the attic of her house, in which Cougar lives, there is much charm.
Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, my aunt’s room, covers about 3000 acres. The terrain is quite varied with no prominent peaks and many ridges and valleys. Like her nephew Tiger and niece Squak, Cougar puts on her brightest clothing in the spring. Because of her lower elevation (1590 feet at the highest point), snow is minimal. Also, because of the greater number of softwood trees on Cougar (maple, alder, cottonwood), aunt Cougar puts the family’s brightest colors in the fall.
You have met my extended family. On several occasions, I have managed to visit all three of them in one day. The Issaquah Alps Trails Club each year conducts at least one such traverse. Experiencing each of these varied personalities all within one day is a richly rewarding activity.