Faced with the daunting idea of my upcoming 2-night backpacking trip in the Olympic mountain range, I am committed to training my body (and mind) in preparation. The idea being that when the trip comes, I will be able to confidently haul my 40lb pack up through the mountains instead of slog along in staggering exhaustion.
For this training excursion, I hiked up to the false summit of Bandera Mountain along the I-90 corridor in the Cascades. I did not choose this hike but was given the base stats: 3,400’ gain in 8 miles roundtrip. I am atrocious at mental math, so I accepted these values as easily achievable. That was a mistake.
I should have taken note that the trail is an out and back to a peak, which means it is not actually 3,400’ divided into 8 miles, but 3,400’ divided into 4 miles - oof. Also, most trails are not one consistent incline so the elevation gain can be primarily in, say, the last half mile…
Fighting the Crowds
For those unfamiliar, there are numerous accessible hikes along Interstate 90 just East of Seattle. Most offer great views as a reward for a short drive from the city. This means that on sunny Summer weekends the trailheads are packed. I ended up parking my car half a mile down the road from the trailhead, adding an extra mile to my hike (something else to keep in mind when planning your hikes!).
In general, these forest service roads are passable by most vehicles. If you have a little car like I do, take your time and maneuver around potholes as needed - just make sure to politely move to the side of the road so those capable Subarus can sneak past and continue at their own speed.
An Uphill Battle
The trail leading up to Bandera Mountain, along with Mason Lake and Mt Defiance, immediately begins climbing. In the first mile, you gain 400’. The second mile is 700’. At mile three you have added on another 800’.
The real fun begins at mile 3 when the trail splits. I noticed most of the other hikers were continuing on toward Mason Lake and Mt Defiance and was pleased with the idea of having a bit more privacy and quiet on the trail. This should have been an indicator of the intensity to come.
The next half mile contained almost 1,000’ of gain.
To add to the fun meter, this half mile is not what the casual hiker (aka me) would consider a trail. It is a rocky ascent of talus amidst a meadow of alpine flowers. (Merriam-Webster defines talus as “a slope formed especially by an accumulation of rock debris”) Occasionally hoisting myself over the slabs triggered a childlike glee reminiscent of scampering precariously over rocks in my youth. But mostly I was out of breath, hot and tired.
The Reward and the Lesson
At the top I easily found a peaceful piece of shade and enjoyed a diverse salad I prepared in the morning. A note on bringing food, I used plastic tupperware to keep my pack weight low, but the bulky containers dug into my back. In the future, I will consider using ziplocs or some sort of soft container to carry my food.
The hike certainly tested my endurance, hopefully leaving my body better-prepared for the upcoming haul.
For that plus the wildflowers and sweeping views, I rank it a solid 4/5.
Either way, I enjoyed a beautiful day in the mountains!