Yet another late season storm was battering the mountains and almost two feet of snow was promised on Mailbox Peak, the first real climb of the TNAB season. So instead of tempting fate, we substituted the West Tiger Trio trip for Mailbox with a promise that Mailbox would be fit in later in the year. (Oh joy! Mailbox is one of those, "Oh yeah, that's why I haven't been up here lately," kind of trips.)
Last year we had great weather when we set out to tag the three summits of West Tiger just outside Issaquah. This year was definitely going to be different. It was pouring rain in the parking lot and the National Weather Service had already issued a Winter Storm Warning for the Cascades. I suppose that, technically, Tiger Mountain wasn't part of the Cascades (it's usually referred to as part of the Issaquah Alps), but there was still likely to be a dusting of snow at the top.
We started climbing up the Cable Line trail like some deranged conga line. Each step splashed in the muddy stream running down the rocks. Where there were steps there were little muddy waterfalls. The dogs were coated in brown goo and it was wet. I was working hard to stay with the leaders and saw Tokul was hiking with someone ahead of us. I called out to her once and she looked back as if to say, "Yeah, I know you're there, see you at the top, Chump," and then continued climbing. As fast as we were the one in front of us (not part of TNAB as far as I know) was faster. Tokul was soon out of sight.
After about a mile and 1,000 feet of gain the steady rain changed to steady snow. Big heavy flakes that splattered on the brim of my hat and did little to change the muddy footing. Until suddenly we surrounded by snow. Pretty, sure, but a sign of the chill that was sure to set in when we stopped at the summit. I was still with the leaders (truly a shocker) when we got to the top and found Tokul again. Silly puppy.
More and more TNAB hikers arrived and the usually large summit (#3 of the West Tiger Trio) felt small. Dogs were everywhere and packs were strewn at our feet. It was one of the torch bearer's birthdays so we made him give a speech (not really) and after photos headed for the second summit only 10 minutes away. West Tiger 2 is populated with radio towers so we didn't linger and instead headed down the road to West Tiger 1 and yet more towers.
I had been worrying about Tokul over the last few weeks since she'd seemed to be really showing her age. On the trail, however, she was back to her old self and had no issue keeping up with whoever was in the front of the pack and wading through snow wasn't even a concern for her. At West Tiger 1 we gathered for another summit shot (those of that had continued for the Trio) and then entered the woods for the long, slow descent.
The snow was at least two feet deep and perhaps as much as three feet in places. I'd left my gaiters at home because, after all, Tiger isn't really much of a mountain and there would only be a touch of snow, if any, at the top, right? Right... so with every posthole the mountain got smugger and I got more snow in my boots.
When the snow finally petered out we were back to the rain and the mud, but now it was dark. Headlamps were clouded by the steam coming off our bodies and the very light tailwind seemed to keep us forever in a fog. From the Tiger Mountain Trail we dropped along the KM3 trail, across a damaged bridge, and then finally onto pavement at I-90. It was only about three and a half hours since leaving the cars, but the descent was so gradual it felt like far longer. Tokul was hanging with Chris in the parking lot (I hadn't seen her since West Tiger 1) and seemed relieved to see I had survived. She wasn't so thrilled when I toweled her off, but was definitely grateful when she got out of the rain in the passenger side of the car.
Since it was Steve's birthday (and we'll find any excuse we can) we went to the bar in Issaquah after. I had changed into dry clothes in the parking lot (yeah, I got a few whistles), but a few were still shivering in the drafty pub. We were joined by our injured brethren (Josie) who laughed at us, but secretly longed to be suffering at our sides.
When I got home (at almost midnight) Amy was sound asleep and Tokul struggled to get into her bed. All the next day she hardly moved and Amy said she had to put a spoon under Tokul's nose just to make sure she was still breathing. Still, as wiped out as Tokul was the day after she had a great time on the trail so I feel good taking her on most of the rest of the TNAB trips this season... as long as there's no talus. Tokul doesn't do talus.
Total distance was about seven and a third miles and 3,200 feet of gain. Next up... well... we'll see. Mother Nature is calling the shots now.