Bandera Mountain

     Even though Bandera is one of the closest hikes to Seattle I had only done it one time before. Gary suggested it as an after work trip and even though it was forecast to be in the 80's I agreed to go along. The old Bandera "trail" is a rocky trench that goes nearly straight up the mountain. The last 1000'+ is in the open on the southern facing slope. The new trail is near completion and I was hoping to be able to use some or all of it to save my legs from the pounding. Since I am not very good on an exposed slope during the heat of the day I took off earlier than Gary. We planned to meet on top. By 3:30 I was on the trail. The trail begins as an old road gaining elevation at a steady but moderate grade. I passed the Mason Lake junction and continued up. I was surprised at the distance from the junction to the old Bandera trail. It was farther than I remembered. The old road ends and turns up on a steeper road. Soon I found the old trail junction. The old trail is blocked off and traffic continues on the new trail. Gary took the old trail all the way up but I opted for the new one.

     The new trail is built at near a steady 10% grade. It is wide and gently graded. So far there are no gravel stretches or water bars. It is very pleasant to walk on. I hope it stays this way. Rather than short switchbacks the new trail makes very long ones. This will substantially lengthen the distance. After a few of these long switchbacks the trail is blocked by tape and hikers are rerouted back to the old trail. This was the Bandera trail I remembered. It was well over 80 degrees and I made slow progress on this section. Thankfully a breeze was blowing which helped a great deal. After about 10 minutes of straight up hiking I reached the new trail again. The old trail hits the new one at a left turning switchback. There was tape across the new trail but it was on the ground. I expected this trail to traverse over to the ridge then split with one trail dropping to Mason Lake and another continuing up Bandera. I took this trail to find out. At the ridge the trail switchbacks down. No trail goes higher. I followed it down several switchbacks and it leveled off. I still thought it might climb back up to the ridge. When it turned left and down again I gave up. This trail must just go to Mason Lake. I retraced my steps up to the ridge then down to the old trail intersection. From here it was straight up to the ridge top.

     The sky was clear and Mt. Rainier was looming above the ridge to the south. From the ridge top I could see Kaleetan and Chair peaks. In fact the whole scramble route from Melakwa Lake was visible. I want to finally do that scramble this year. The trail more or less follows the ridge higher. There is one section of forest that provided a nice break from the heat. With my detour and general slow pace in the heat I arrived at the false summit at about 5:45. I knew I had a good lead on Gary and I wanted to see if I could make it to the real summit without making him wait too long. The route is not very distinct from the false summit on. I saw trail then lost it then found it again. The lack of a good route made for slower progress than planned. I followed the ridge and dropped down to a low pass about half way to the summit. There was not enough time to get to the summit and back so I turned around. Next time I will make it to the summit. By the time I made it back to the false summit Gary was already there. The mosquitos were fairly thick so after a quick dinner we began to descend. The way down was made dramatically easier via the new trail. I was surprised to see that in several places where the trail was blasted across a rock field the builders carried dirt up to pour over the rocks. I don't know if this will survive a few months of rain but it does make it easy on the legs. At a leisurely pace we arrived back at our cars at 8:40, still well before dark. Paintbrush, tiger lilies, lupine, beargrass, and others are blooming. I saw one group just before the Mason Lake junction coming down and nobody else but Gary all evening.

     It looks like there may not be a new trail to the top of Bandera. If they are building one it will be some time before it is completed. The trail to Mason Lake must be very near completion. The new trail gets two thumbs way up from me. It is the most "non overbuilt" trail I have seen in quite a while. I wish all new trails would just stick to smooth dirt and forget about steps, waterbars every 25', huge bridges, and gravel.

Mt. Rainier
Mt. Defiance
Pete's Putrid Peak
McClellan Butte
Looking West
Tiger Lily
Kaleetan & Chair
Kaleetan & Chair II
Granite Mountain
Mt. Rainier
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

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