I had dreams of finally tagging Preacher Mountain. Preacher has been on my mind forever. Not for any good reason except it was just out of reach.
The trail only goes as far as Rainy Lake, four miles and 3,800 feet of elevation gain, and then it's an off-trail bushwhack/scramble the remaining 1,400 feet of gain. The SummitPost entry indicates 2.5 hours to Rainy Lake and then 3.25 hours to the summit.
Since I was lacking both a partner (other than Treen) and a full day to go for the peak I settled on just going to the lake. It's been years since I've been there, but little has changed on the trail. It winds through the mature forest full of ferns and moss. There were plenty of flowers along the way (including my top three favorites), but there were no long views. This is a classic Western Washington valley hike that lets you appreciate why we're the Evergreen State.
We arrived at the lake right on target at 2.5 hours. Somewhere along the way I had convinced myself the gain was only 2,000 feet. Two and a half hours was way too long for that paltry an effort so I was relieved when I checked the actual stats. I even considered knocking off the peak since it was only another 1,400 feet. Then I came back to my senses.
Instead of doing stupid things, I took Treen's pack off and threw a stick into the lake for her. Repeatedly. She's so much more a dog than Tokul was. Tokul would have looked at the stick as it floated in the lake, then at me, back at the stick, and then she'd have wandered off to look at flowers. Treen, though, will chase a stick until she can't walk. It's actually a bit of a problem when she misses the stick. She'll swim in circles expecting to find it until she's so tired she needs rescuing. (Don't worry. "Rescue" is done by throwing another stick near the shore.)
Our trip back felt long, but really wasn't bad. The sun broke through the trees in places and lit up the flowers. Although much of the area had been logged long ago there were a few monster trees left standing. (The next valley over is rumored to have even bigger trees hiding in it's depths and from my limited experience there I don't doubt it.)
We saw only three others on the Rainy Lake trail. There were a handful more on the Pratt Connector trail that runs along the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie, but it's doubtful they were going to the lake based on their appearance. At the Mailbox Peak trailhead the cars were backed up on both sides of the road.
Speaking of the road, it's in great shape. We've been trained by years of bone-jarring potholes to avoid the Middle Fork Road, but as it's being paved this year and next it's amazingly smooth. I'll grant you, when you hit the pavement it feels really, really weird, but in a good kind of way.
Rainy Lake is a great trip whether it's rainy or sunny, but if you want the kind of solitude and moss-covered trails you can't find anywhere closer to the freeway, go before the road is completely paved.