Length: 8 miles, roundtrip
Elevation: 3400 feet
Summit: 5240 feet
NW Forest Pass required
With the threat of summer weather in early spring, I decided a midweek trek was in order. Taking advantage of a Tuesday and the thought of thinner crowds, I planned on tackling a peak that’s been on my to-do list forever: Mailbox. Now, I’ve purposely avoided this hike due to the stadium-sized crowds that are reported to perch atop Mailbox each weekend. Call me snooty or whatever, but the thought of making the 4 mile climb and then fighting for a small slice of summit amongst a million other people just doesn’t sound appealing in the least bit. A midweek trip would provide me with a little more solitude so the plan was set in motion. A savvy reader can surmise by this post’s title that my plan was not to be.
I headed out at a leisurely 9:30am and made my way to the trailhead on Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road. Now, I knew they had been working on the road (for those not in the know, the Middle Fork road is notoriously and perpetually in terrible condition) and that closures were very common. In fact, last year, the road was completely closed midweek. Silly me figured they had finished by now.
I arrived about 1/3 of a mile from the trailhead and was greeted by a gate and a lovely older woman in construction garb. She informed me that the road was closed again and would remain closed from noon on Monday to noon on Friday every week until September. She even gave me a handy flier! According to the flier, construction closures had begun again as of … the day before. Of course.
We chatted a little bit and then I departed to weigh my options. With Mailbox off the agenda, I set my sights on snagging another of the I-90 peaks. McClellan still had a bit of snow in a few of its chutes and I knew that would make for terrible crossings. Granite was still getting skiers and snowboarders hiking up to earn their turns. Bandera … hey, Bandera looks bare and sunny! Bandera it is.
I pulled into the trailhead around 10:45 and was delighted to see only a few cars already there. The Ira Spring trail is the starting point for a few hikes: Mt. Defiance, Mason Lake, and Bandera Mountain.
The trail starts off on an old logging road and is wide and easy to navigate. Shortly after leaving the parking lot, the spur trail to Mt. Defiance meanders off into the woods to the left while the trail to Mason and Bandera switches back to the right and begins the long, steady climb up the ridge.
I quickly made my way up the trail with the roar of traffic flying up and down I-90 filling the air. Soon, a much louder roar greeted my eardrums and drowned out the freeway.
After a cool break ogling the waterfall, I resumed my climb. The trail eventually leaves the roadbed and increases in steepness. There’s not a lot to look at, although the trees provided a nice shady trek and kept the sun at bay.
At about 3500 feet, I hit the first patch of snow.
I quickly skirted it, wandered around a corner, and was presented with a much larger patch of snow. Picking my way across, I found myself wondering how I’d left my gaiters and trekking pole snow baskets at home. The snow was soft enough I didn’t need my (also at home) microspikes.
At just under 3 miles from the trailhead, the path splits; Mason Lake heads off to the left while the much steeper climb up to Bandera goes right.
I made the last push to the top of Bandera navigating a few more large patches of snow and reached the “false” summit. The true summit of Bandera is another half mile or so from the first high point, but is decked in trees and doesn’t offer much in the way of views. There was also a LOT of snow corniced on the ridgeline from the false summit. Since I didn’t have my snow gear, I chose to eat lunch and chill on the false summit.
After relaxing up top, I headed back to the Jeep, running most of the way. It took me a little less than an hour to get from the summit to the trailhead, including a short break to cool down at the waterfall.