Rattlesnake Mountain

It can be risky jumping back into a hobby with both feet first, but it was with overflowing enthusiasm that my friend CM and I found ourselves traversing from the Snoqualmie Point Trailhead to Rattlesnake Lake on the last day of March. Doing a point-to-point hike has always been a goal, but the logistics of an adventure like that can be tricky as a solo adventurer. The break in the very unpredictable early spring weather on this day provided the perfect opportunity to go for it.

Hikes along the I-90 corridor during shoulder season are tricky. Many of the higher elevation areas still have snow and the avalanche forecast is often in the red. In addition, the area tends to have false starts to spring, which means you’re tempted to forgo winter equipment. Luckily for us, this route is relatively lower than most snowy areas and has minimal steep slopes where danger could be present. However, after having done this route, it’s wise to assume that in these conditions you’re likely to encounter detours that may extend your trip (damaged trail, blow downs, and other winter storm related hazards).

After dropping one of the cars off at the lake, we took off to start from the opposite trailhead. The trail from this direction gradually climbs upward with minimal switchbacks up towards Stan’s Overlook, where we paused to eat a snack, visit with some local birds, and try to identify some nearby peaks. Past the overlook, you begin to ascend into thicker new growth forest, though signs of logging are obvious still. The switchbacks begin, though they are manageable today with good conversation.

After a while, we arrive at another overlook before Grand Prospect where the snow became fairly deep. Last year around the same time, I’d made an attempt to hike up this way and ended up turning around from snowy conditions and was familiar with the obstacle ahead I’d have to overcome. Just beyond the buried picnic bench at the overlook is a very narrow stretch of trail along a steep drop off where the thin trees that without a doubt contain wells. We tried to proceed forward with just our spikes, but after I slid “gracefully” onto my backside a few yards in, we turned back and strapped on our snowshoes.  And so we had passed into new-to-me trail and the farthest I’d ever been!

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Storm debris littered the trail and it began to detour up to an open field of downed trees buried under snow. We carefully navigated with our snowshoes over these, though occasionally catching a branch in the gaps of our shoes. I have no recollection of what Grand Prospect actually looked like because it was near impossible to tell quite where we were. After about 45 minutes of being rerouted onto a logging road, we came an expansive view near East Peak, where I’m sure on any other day we’d be able to spot Mt Rainier, and established our lunch spot next to a large convenient stump. Full up on jerky, cheese, and nuts, we trudged back into the forest.

At this point I was grateful for having had full cell signal for 95% of the detour. There were spots where it wasn't clear whether we were headed the right way, especially as the logging road meets back up with unmarked trail that seemed to fork off with no discernible pattern. The area past East Peak was remarkably quiet, even though we knew that the busy freeway was slow close by. The sound of our crunching snowshoes and labored hiking breathing was only interrupted by common nature sounds and momentary check-in’s to ensure we were both doing alright. 

Just as the snow began to thin out on our descent, the sun burst through the thin canopy of trees. How lucky were we?! Our pace quickened and soon we hit patches of mud that warranted switching up our gear. I glanced at my phone and was shocked to see how far we’d gone. These detours seemed to add much more than a half mile as advertised on recent reports. Though we were tired, I picked up the hiker adage of “it’s just another mile or so” and we pushed to make it to the ledges before sunset. 

Eventually we made it down to the lower ledge past the upper and middle areas which were cramped and occupied by couples. At this time of day, it seemed remarkable that there were still so many people present. We were unable to keep from smiling. The sunset cast the perfect glow over the lake below, out into the surrounding forested mountains, and over ourselves and the other hikers up on the ledge.

Powered by some great snapshots and a few handfuls of M&Ms (peanut butter, obviously) we began our true descent. After a long day, these switchbacks were especially hard on our tired feet. Although it seemed that we were flying downward, we continued to move over for faster hikers and catch our breath. Surprisingly, we saw the other folks we met at the top of the mountain coming up from behind us too! Knowing that we weren’t alone in looking so ragged and tired on this popular footpath was somewhat of a relief. 

It took us 9 hours to travel from our originating trailhead to Rattlesnake Lake. A rough estimate from our mapped route and interrupted GPS data from my fitness tracker indicated that we’d ended up traveling close to 13 miles. After this weekend adventure, we agreed that even though we were completely beat, that we should definitely do it again. For me, this was an amazing benchmark in my progress post-injury and a breakthrough moment in recognizing my own capabilities, and it was made all the better on an awesome trail with great company.