Total Ascent: 3100ft
Highest Point: 5241ft
Total Distance: 7.8 miles
Location: N 47° 24.9240, W 121° 32.2860
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
Bandera Mountain. Words that often are followed by “brutal,” “intense,” and “dry”. While we knew this as we were mapping out our hike this week, we focused on another word often associated with Bandera: “breathtaking.”
Bandera has long been a name entwined with the history of Snoqualmie Pass. Though officially recognized by the US Geographic Board as Bandera Mountain only in 1920, a nearby train station along the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad named “Bandera,” had been in operation since 1909 and would continue service up until 1980. In 1948 the Bandera Airstrip was dedicated, marking the first emergency air field in the pass, which is still actively used today. The original trail up the mountain was first blazed to provide access for crews fighting a large fire around Mason Lake in the summer of 1958, and was later popularized by Harvey Manning.
Beginning at the Ira Spring Memorial Trail #1038, the path starts casually, following a repurposed logging road through a forest still recovering from fires that ravaged the mountain sometime in the nineteenth century and 1958 blaze. At times you can still catch the faint smell of charred wood mixed with the heavy aromas of pollen and dust. Leisurely weaving uphill, you come across Mason Creek early on before leaving the last of the water behind and starting the long ascent up to the summit.
At just over a mile you leave the gentle logging road and the hike begins in earnest, the grade sharpening and the trail beginning to switchback. In 2003 and 2004, a knee-friendly trail was blasted into the side of Bandera in an effort to blunt the hallmark steepness of the older route. While we began our ascent on the new route, that trail succumbed to the snow and we began following the steps of those who came before us. Reverting, perhaps, to the now decommissioned route, we headed straight up snow-covered fields, bypassing patches of exposed rock and bear grass to opt instead for a direct path up the side of the mountain, kicking steps into the melting snow. Not the most leisurely route, but definitely efficient and offered a front row seat to the ever-expanding mountainous panorama, courtesy of the fires that have kept much of the mountainside free of trees.
Once you reach the ridgeline, peek over the edge at Mason Lake tucked in a bowl beneath Mt. Defiance, then follow the rocky path to the false summit to take in the view. Mt. Rainier presides over a sprawling landscape of lesser peaks. McClellan Butte and Mt. Gardner are just across the snaking ribbon of concrete that is I-90. You can make out the rocky outcroppings of Dirty Harry’s Balcony just above I-90 to the west, before marveling at the tiny skyscrapers of the Seattle skyline almost 50 miles away. Glacier Peak and Mt. Baker can be seen to the north on clear days, with Pratt Mountain immediately to the northeast. From here you can climb off the first summit and continue on to the true summit to get better views of Granite Mountain and Snoqualmie Pass.
To get there, take I-90 to Exit 45, going under the freeway to Forest Road 9030. Follow FR 9030 for about a mile until the road splits. Veer left onto FR 9031 and follow it for two more miles until the road terminates in a parking lot. Put out your Northwest Forest Pass and hit the trail. -Nathan
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