3 peak trail run | snoqualmie-alpine lakes

5415 ft gain . 5515 ft peak . 9.5 miles

One of the best things to do when you can’t find a hiking buddy is to go on a solo trail run. Or hike, in my case. I’m really not much of a runner and have disliked running since being required to do it in middle school PE. My friends keep on telling me that I’d be great at running since I have good endurance for hikes. But do they really equate?

I decide to give it a try and see how far I could get. I was suggest by a friend to do a loop between peaks rather than the typical out-and-back you find on most standard trails in the I-90 corridor/Snoqualmie region of the Washington Cascade range. Although I wanted to push myself, I also wanted to enjoy the loop and take it one step at a time. My planned route was to start at the Ira Springs Trailhead and take the climber’s trail up to Petrid Pete’s Peak, pass Mt. Defiance, and finish off with Bandera Mountain. Each of these had bail opportunities if I perchance felt uncomfortable with anything. And each was an awesome destination with views of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

With the large influx Seattleite-transplants from an increasing hiring rate by tech companies, the most popular trails are always crowded on summer weekends. Everyone knows the best hikes and recommends them to their friends and shares it on Instagram, which continues to gather more and more people on trails. As much as I love sharing my outdoor photography with others, I am sometimes conflicted by the over-crowding of trails. There are many other trails out there to try!

Alpine flowers
Rainier to the south

Anyway, I got to the trailhead around 6:45am, with plenty of parking at the trailhead. I started with a brisk walk to warm up and quickly turned up my pace as I headed off the side trail into the dark forests. This first peak is only 2 miles long, but gains over 3000 ft in elevation. It really is a climber’s trail, so I could only muster up a speedy walk/high step. There were points on the trail where I would not see the continuation of the trail, but look uphill, the trail would continue directly up the slope. No switchbacks!

Since the climb was steep, I quickly started to peer over the trees and gaining ground on the boulder fields. I kept on climbing and kept on getting better views of Rainier. Oh, how beautiful she is! It wasn’t until I saw the summit of Petrid Pete’s that I realized there were people above me. I wasn’t alone after all! 2 people were on their way down and I met 3 others at the peak. They then went to scramble the nearby Web Mountain, but I decided to give them space and not attempt it this time.

Looking back at Petrid Pete’s
Towards Mt Defiance
Looking back at Petrid Pete’s
Beautiful wildflowers with Bandera in background

Soaking in all the views (all 5 volcanoes were in view! – Rainier, Adams, Helens, Baker, and Glacier Peak), I started my traverse to Mt. Defiance. I knew this would mostly be off-trail, but I did find a nice boot path. That is, until I lost it trying to go around a slab. I wasn’t confident in my running shoes – they served me well, but were losing traction. So to play it safe to what I thought was another boot path, but really, it was just empty space where shrubs weren’t growing. Really did lose the trail until I decided to gain the ridge again. And behold, the boot path reappeared! From then on, it was much easier to walk in and out of boulders all the way to the base of Defiance.

But, it was not without another challenge. The trail I took was supposed to lead to the Defiance trail, but I was 50 feet under and a sizable snowfield lay before me. Do I continue on the snow, or go around the top? I’m terribly sorry about trampling the heather, but the only way around was to go up next to snow. And you guessed it, I found the true trail above the snow. A good reminder to keep up my route-finding skills.

Mt. Defiance was a short hike up from the main trail. And I had it all to myself! I can’t say when I’ve had a peak all to myself before, so this was pretty awesome. I didn’t stay long because I wanted to continue pushing forth to the next peak, or at least down to Mason Lake and then decide if I had energy to continue.

Snow on trail

As I was headed down Defiance, I met a couple people who had warned me about the imminent snow near Mason Lake. I was a bit nervous, not having the right shoes or poles of any sort. I continued to pass more and more snow patches and down a slope, where the trail was easy to lose. Good thing I had GPS and a map of the trail. As I continued walking/running, I would ask people about snow, and eventually realized that I had passed the “sketchy” snow. Interesting what people think are difficult to pass.

I quickly sped through the ridge towards Mason Lake. It’s a beautiful alpine lake and I first approached campers, then one group, then more and more and more people. Yikes. Those were the masses that come to nature hike on the rare sunny Seattle day. These are often people who seem ill- or over-prepared for the hike. Like people in city shoes, or people wearing gaiters even though it’s 80F outside. But I am grateful that people are taking time to come out and enjoy the beauty.

However, I will say, it is important to remember good trail etiquette. There were groups that blocked the trail entirely, or those who didn’t stop to let the uphill people pass first. But, many people were nice to let me pass when they realized I was running behind them. I felt quite refreshed after the passing the lake and quickly decided I could make another push to the western summit of Bandera.

I-90 corridor
Looking back at Petrid Pete’s (left) and Mt Defiance (right) from Bandera

This was the only peak I’ve hiked before, and as I remembered, the first section starting from the split-off was extremely steep and slippery due to dry soil. But I continued to push up another 1000 ft. It was so rewarding to look back and see the 2 other mountains I had summited earlier that day.

After taking a long water break, I started heading down, careful not to head too fast over the steep, rocky sections, but let myself go at a run the rest of the downhill. Oddly, I realized that running felt nicer on my knees than the impact from walking. And within 5 hours, I was back at my car, extremely dusty and ready to stretch everything out. It was a wonderful way to start the weekend, appreciating nature all by myself and being able to go my own pace the whole time. I can foresee more solo trail runs in the near future!

Other hikers admiring Rainier and the Cascades
Trail map starting from Ira Springs TH, west to Petrid Pete’s then Mt. Defiance and West Bandera Mountain (created via Caltopo)

Photos shot on Canon Rebel T6

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