I went on my first hike of the season yesterday and it was a doozy. The motto for the summer is “less gym time, more outdoors time” because we have fantastic outdoors here in the Pacific Northwest.
I went to bed on Friday night with no intention of hiking and then I woke up at 7:47am on Saturday morning feeling fresh-faced and decided to hike to Rattlesnake Ledge. I was out the door by 8:30am with a minimum set of supplies because the hike is only 4 miles roundtrip and it’s heavily trafficked so I figured if anything went terribly wrong, there’d be hundreds (thousands?) of people around to assist me.
I arrived at the car park at 9am. Cars were already parked along the road leading into the car park but I took my chances with the car park and drove immediately to the Discover Pass only car park and it was empty.
I was at the trailhead by 9:10am having drunk no water or consumed no food. There were a lot of people standing around but I did take a quick look around and noticed some improvements had been made over the past two years – new signage, the construction of a permanent compostable toilet shed and a row of port-o-potties.
My only plan was to reach the lower ledge in 30 minutes. This is an achievable goal when the trail is empty but the trail was packed so I knew it was likely not possible to meet the time goal. The first mile is a gradual incline and I powered through it but was feeling thirsty. It was at the first feeling of thirst when I realized that my 16oz bottle of water was only about two-thirds full and that I had forgotten to top it off with the gallon of water in the car. This was not enough water for a 4 mile hike so I knew I had to conserve.
I’d hiked to Rattlesnake ledge two years prior with my friends Jill and Nikki and with a severe hangover and almost no sleep. I don’t remember much of that hike other than having to stop about three-quarters of the way up due to the sudden change in incline. I’ve always thought that I had to stop and take a moment because I was hungover but I realized yesterday that the change in grade is an eye-opener for even non-hungover people and I again had to stop and take a moment about three-quarters up.
Whilst at my rest stop, I pretended to be enthralled in photography but really my heart was beating 190 beats per minute which is way too high for a 39.9999999-year-old fit gal like myself.
Once my heart rate came down to an acceptable level, I began walking and a few seconds later, I saw someone coming down the trail who I knew. I can count on two hands how many people I know in Seattle and this person happened to be a person who goes to my gym. We talked about starting an adventure club and all I could think was that I did not have time to organize an adventure club with all the travel lined up this year but nodded my head in agreement anyway.
A short time later I arrived at Rattlesnake Ledge, specifically the lowest of the three ledges and the most popular. The “ledge” is a rocky outcrop comprised of two large boulders separated by a largish crevice and tiny bridge connecting the two boulders. It’s very dangerous to venture out on the ledge even in the best conditions and it is incredibly dangerous to venture out on days like yesterday when the ledge was literally crawling with people.
Deaths from Rattlesnake Ledge are rare but no unheard of. The most recent death was in March 2018 when a young chap fell off the ledge. One wrong step and you will die.
When I did this hike in June 2016, there were only a few people on the ledge and I was able to climb down to the spot where the people closest to the lake are in the above photo. It was terrifying and I’d never have done it with 50 other “hikers” all vying for the photo opportunity. You know, people wearing the latest fashion trend footwear like Chacos, Toms and flip-flops (seriously!) and pushing their way to the front of the ledge for a view of the turquoise lake below.
It is difficult to understand my thinking when I reached the lower ledge yesterday but at the time I remembered someone told me there was a second ledge and I decided to seek it out in hopes of less people and a better view.
Well, the second “middle” ledge did have fewer people but that is only because the ledge was smaller (and also more work to get to). I was immediately disappointed in the view from the middle ledge because it was not as good as the view from the lower ledge. I decided at that moment to eat half of an energy bar and soak in the vitamin d.
As I turned around to head back down to the lake, I noticed that the trail continued up the ridge. Curiosity got the best of me and this is when my plan for the day took a serious detour. I decided to follow the trail up the ridge and expected that I would soon run into the third “upper” ledge and the end of the trail within 5-10 minutes or so.
Twenty minutes later and I started to wonder when and if this trail ever ended and also wondered if I had missed the upper ledge (I had). I was now more than a mile further up the ridge from the lower ledge – 3 miles in total which meant 6 miles roundtrip. I thought, “How much longer could it be?” and kept walking because I’m stubborn and determined like that.
Another mile later I reached snow and I knew I was likely 3,000+ ft above sea level. It is always weird to be in shorts and a tank top and walking through snow. I was thankful for the snow as I could use it as water if needed.
I pressed on because the trees were starting to thin and I could not visibly see higher points on the mountain so I felt like I was close to the upper ledge. I then saw a sign to East Peak. “What’s that?” I wondered. I followed the sign and the trail.
A short time later I arrived at East Peak. You’d think there would be a spectacular view from the peak of a mountain but not this peak! A shed and radio tower sits on the literal peak and there is zero view because the of the trees. And the shed is protected by ADT?
A few feet down the mountain from the shed is a bench and a somewhat good view. It’s said that on a clear day you can see Mount Rainier from that bench but I could not see him. This statement of seeing Mount Rainier from various hikes has never proven true for me and I’m starting to think it’s fake news.
As I was resting, a group of six guys showed up with a boom box blasting country music and then they all started smoking cigarettes basically ruining everything about being in nature.
Overall, everything about East Peak was disappointing. There are better hikes of that length and difficulty level that are much more rewarding. I think most people who arrive at East Peak do so in the same manner I did – stubbornness and a curiosity of never having been there. Every review I have read since my hike yesterday says the same thing – that the hike to East Peak is not worth the time or effort.
I did learn one thing whilst at East Peak though… there are two trails that connect to East Peak. The first is from Rattlesnake Lake where I started and the second is from an entirely different parking lot in Snoqualmie Park.
Not wanting to smell cigarette smoke, I started to descend.
It took twice as long to hike down from the lower ledge to the trailhead than it did from the peak to the lower ledge even though the latter was a longer distance. The trail from the lower ledge to the trailhead was absolutely packed with wall-to-wall people. People who had no trail etiquette such as having their dogs on retractable leashes that are not “frozen” into a short length and people walking two abreast.
I got so frustrated with the situation (plus it had been nearly six hours since I drank, ate or peed) that I ran the last three-quarters of a mile to the trailhead. I did not intend to run down the trail but I found myself in the position of having to jog by a few people in order to pass them and then I heard heavy footsteps behind me and realized people were jogging behind me so I turned it into a full-on run.
I did not know how many people were running behind me until we reached the trailhead. The four guys who were running behind me high-fived me and I was like, “What the hell just happened?” and they said, “You had a good pace and we needed to get down so we joined you on your run”.
Not including the distance from the parking lot to the trailhead, my roundtrip mileage was 10.6 miles. This was not bad for a first hike of the season and a hike I did not intend on doing. My phone mileage is higher than what is stated online by two miles and I cannot explain the discrepancy. All I know is that it feels like I hiked 10.6 miles yesterday and I hope to be able to move a bit more fluidly by Monday.