I chose Bandera Mountain for a Saturday hike based on the reviews I read and heard from other hikers. They all indicated that if the weather is good, the views are breathtaking. Saturday was going to be a clear day, and the trailhead is for the Ira Spring trail to Mason Lake and Bandera Mountain, making it one of the popular trailheads in the area. So I figured the trail would be busy and the parking lot full, but I figured that setting off at 7 AM to get a good spot at the trailhead parking lot would do the trick. Nope. When I arrived at 8 AM I found just one parking spot and a line for the single toilet.
Loading up my gear I started up the trail which starts off along the old logging road many of our trails around here are based on. The grade is easy, the trail well maintained, and mostly free of rocks and roots. You will get to a juncture where the trail goes to the left and transitions from easy to moderate. It was at this point that I entered the cloud cover. Some folks don’t like the grey and dark green colours we enjoy here on the western slopes of the Cascades, but I love them. Something beautiful about being surrounded by the forest and mist that speaks to me in a language I can’t translate.
The trail was very well populated by a variety of hikers of many different levels of experience. Some were heading to Mason Lake to camp for the night, others to just enjoy the day. Others were heading up to Bandera Mountain and those folks were generally more experienced. The trail takes you to a T intersection, left for Mason Lake, and right up the mountain to Little Bandera and Bandera Mountain. I followed the path up to the right and immediately felt the difference between moderate and hard. For much of the trail, you are gaining a foot for every two feet forward. The cloud density was thicker too, and it was a little cooler because of it but I was still sweating a good deal from exertion.
Finally breaking free of the clouds, I first saw the peaks of mountains across the valley that I-90 runs through, and shortly after, the clouds revealed Mt. Rainier in all its magnificent glory. Fully into the sunshine now I quickly regretted forgetting my sunblock. That higher alpine sunshine is ruthless on us redheads. My hiking poles were getting a serious workout, which may explain their breaking later.
Arriving at Little Bandera (false peak) I found it crowded with lots of folks enjoying the view of Mt. Rainier and eating lunch. It seemed a little too crowded for me, so I decided to press on to the true peak of Bandera Mountain. This was difficult as the trail isn’t as frequently traveled and thus easy to lose. I was able to align my path and the trail using the GPS on my phone and finally arrived at Bandera Mountain. The view was stunning. Mt. Rainier to the south of me seemed to be floating on a sea of clouds and stood out against the blue sky brilliantly. I settled down to have lunch, (Instant ramen noodles, some left of chicken tossed in and water) and take in the view. I don’t care how good a restaurant may be, none can compare to lunch atop a mountain with a view like that.
After a while, I felt my skin starting to burn a little and decided to pack everything up and head home. About thirty feet from the summit, as I traversed a narrow path with a long drop down a ravine on my left, both hiking poles broke. Stumbling to my left I slide a few feet down the ravine before catching a small tree and stopping my slide. It’s a good thing no one was around because the swear words were flying as bad as when I was in the Navy. Clambering up the slope I regained the trail assessed my condition and finding nothing too badly damaged I trudged on.
I made my way back to Little Bandera and offered to trade my camera tripod for a pair of hiking poles or perhaps borrow a pair until I made it down the mountain. Trail folks are some of the nicest people you will ever meet and two guys, Eric and Pat, offered to loan me a pair of poles and walk back down the mountain with me. The three of us, and Eric’s dog Barley, had a great time chatting about hikes, dogs, politics and various subjects as we returned to the trailhead. Definitely one of the best hikes I’ve enjoyed in a long time thanks to those too.
If you want to see the hike, you can find it on YouTube at https://youtu.be/ghvr0eCeuiU