Squak Mountain stomp

Squak Mountain is one of the ancient Issaquah Alps, a range of mountains that ran east to west in what over time became the Puget Sound basin. They are now only big hills, mere timbered hillocks compared to the grand and ice-covered Cascades, but that’s because they are older. Worn over time, Tiger, Squak and Cougar mountains are the elders of the mountain community around here, and it is these granddads, fittingly, that get the foot traffic of young children, precisely because they are less steep and rugged than Washington’s spectacular north-south ranges. 

We took Mara on a hike up Squak Mountain yesterday in search of the old fireplace that marks the remains of the Bullitt family’s summer residence on the mountaintop. The Bullitts own [UPDATE: used to own] KING TV, the local Channel 5 television station, and have been active in the region’s public life for many decades. Apparently they had a house up there at one time, but it was abandoned or burned (I can find surprisingly little about it online) and the family donated some 600 acres of the mountain as a state park with the stipulation that it remain undeveloped and in wilderness condition.

The trail never once dipped downward, which in my book makes it a serious hike.

The trail never once dipped downward, which in my book makes it a serious hike.

Red huckleberries. Pucker up

Red huckleberries. Pucker up!

I don’t usually go on hikes without knowing what I’m getting into, but I’ve gotten lazy. Angela heard about the trail and wanted to try it. I used to hike all the I-90 hikes in the Cascades, but I never paid much attention to Tiger or Squak (Cougar is now thoroughly developed — virtually a suburb of Newcastle). I’d heard that Tiger’s trails are popular with people pushing strollers, so I assumed that those on Squak, which is smaller and even closer in, would be extremely kid friendly. This was not the case.

So when I say that “we took Mara on a hike”, I could just as truthfully say, and I do, with great pride, that “my four-year-old daughter hiked a two-mile mountain trail” that never once stopped going up. She only needed help with four or five particularly steep stretches near the top, of less than 75 yards each, over which I carried her piggy-back. Other than that, she made the trek under her own steam, and largely without complaining.

One of my favorite colors -- the underside of sunlit leaves.

One of my favorite colors -- the underside of sunlit leaves.

A moment of rest puts smiles on weary mugs.

A moment of rest puts smiles on weary mugs.

We were driven because we hoped to see this old fireplace, which we started calling the Magic Fireplace. A few hundred yards up the trail, which we were foolish enough to assay with Tevas instead of real shoes, Angela and I realized that there was no way we could expect Mara to hold up for the entire journey to the chimney, which would mean a round trip total of four miles. The trail had once been a rough road, but the woods had reclaimed all but a wide trail’s worth in most places. We parents agreed we’d only do as much as she could do, then turn back without disappointment. But when that time came and she started whining that she was tired, and we made to turn around, it was Mara who insisted that she wanted to see the Magic Fireplace. Tears were brought forth in support of her testimony that it was her sincere wish to continue on.

We were glad of her gamesome spirit, because when we rounded the final turn and realized that the large shape that loomed above us through the trees was a fireplace, and a magical one, we knew that the moment would create an impression of success and achievement in her little psyche that would stay with her as one of those foundational experiences. We ran toward it whooping and hollering. We had picked a bunch of nearby Oregon grape to lay on the hearth as a gift to the faeries that we figured must live there, and we left a cashew for a squirrel who seemed to be some sort of sentinel or guardian of the place. It was utterly quiet up here except for a little breeze playing at the tops of the trees and the occasional chirrup of birds. I don’t know when the place was built, but I wondered at the thought of some member of the Bullitt family reaching this spot of tranquility on the tippy top of an alp back in the 1950s or whenever in might have been. Sure, million dollar homes lie just outside the park boundary now, but how much space would a person of the middle of the last century have needed to have hiked all the way up here, when this summit was absolutely isolated, and said “Yep, this should be far enough from the madding crowd. We’ll build here.” ?

A magic moment worth the effort.

A magic moment worth the effort.

Legends say that if you tarry too long in this enchanted wood, you begin to age...

Legends say that if you tarry too long in this enchanted wood, you begin to age more rapidly...

We had just enough time to snack and water up before descending the way we’d come, though the mountain has a network of trails that go to other points of interest that we may explore some other time. Mara pooped out a little near the bottom, and this time Angela hoisted our little woodchuck onto her back for the final paces at the bottom. On the way home we detoured through Issaquah and went looking for big plates of pasta.

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17 Responses to “Squak Mountain stomp”


  1. 1 Louis August 24, 2009 at 04:37

    What a magnificent adventure! And what a find! Of course, it was what you were searching for, but a most impressive hearth! And that it once belonged in the home of the Bullitt family makes it even that much more special.

    When I was in Portland, I found a book at Powell’s about the history of KING-TV and the Bullitt family. Unfortunately I never got around to reading it before I moved, and it’s sadly sitting in storage. But I wonder if it makes mention of this house on Squak Mountain…

    Do you know how many mountains are named in this range? I always knew of Cougar Mountain as my oldest brother and my father used to hike it years ago. And I once hiked up Tiger (the day I encountered the behemoth XXX burger that almost ate me..). But I’ve never heard of Squak..

    Thanks for sharing this adventure. Now go take a shave, Matt.

  2. 2 jstwndrng August 24, 2009 at 10:11

    Squak is between Tige and Coog. If you started driving south out of Issaquah on Issaquah-Hobart Road and then realized you should be driving south out of Issaquah on the Renton-Issaquah Road (Hwy 900) instead and wanted to rectify the situation, Squak Mountain would be in your way. Basically, it sits right behind Issaqah town if you’re looking from I-90. I don’t know if any other of the Issaquah Alps are named (I think Harvey Manning is your man on this point), but I can imagine that Mercer Island might be the remains of one. A glacier came through here a while back and created some hills, too, so it gets kinda jumpled the closer you get to the Sound.

    I would sure love to get ahold of your Bullitt book. Remember, books in storage soon turn to porridge. I just made that up, actually.

  3. 3 jstwndrng August 24, 2009 at 10:16

    Oh, here we go:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Issaquah_Alps

    Apparently Rattlesnake is one of them, further east (and a favorite scramble of mine). And Taylor Mountain and Grand Ridge. I know about where Grand Ridge is, but I have no idea where Taylor is. Maybe a smaller one across the freeway from Tiger, up by Preston or so? I’ll investigate further later.

  4. 4 Louis August 24, 2009 at 14:51

    Wikipedia – is there anything it doesn’t know? My brother lives out that way. I’ll have to ask him if he’s ever been to Squak. I laughed out loud at your words of wisdom. I wonder if folks laughed out loud at Ben Franklin’s: “To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.’ Ha ha! Outrageous!!”

  5. 5 jstwndrng August 24, 2009 at 15:42

    Well, Wikipedia doesn’t know about Mitchell Hill, which the following website lists among the others (although separately, with Grand Ridge, probably because these two don’t have “mountain” in their names”): http://www.issaquahalps.org/

    I’ve looked a little, and I can’t find Mitchell Hill marked on any map, nor Grand Ridge, for that matter, which is just NE of Issaquah old town. It makes me want to find it and climb it (and Grand Ridge), if it hasn’t been fenced around and gated already, just so I can say I’ve climbed all the Issaquah Alps. Hmmm…

  6. 6 Kip August 24, 2009 at 16:18

    Issaquah Alps. I picture lederhosen and Oktoberfest! I miss huckleberries. And I was born and raised in Seattle and had no idea there were such things as Issaquah Alps. I would have thought we would have learned that somewhere in a Bellevue school, unless there was an incident long forgotten that removed all learnings of the neighboring town from the school system.

  7. 7 Jeni August 24, 2009 at 19:15

    I love your depiction of getting to Squak if you thought you were going on Issaquah Hobart Rd. Katie’s significant other lives on Squak MT. The south side of it leans over May Valley Rd. out of which rises an older neighborhood that was designed for horse owners. Funny, I’m just now discovering places in Seattle that I had never had any knowledge of and here you are back in my old ‘hood playing in my backyard 🙂

  8. 8 Ben August 24, 2009 at 23:53

    In the picture of you with your new found facial hair, I am reminded of photos showing General Custer’s entourage, Capt. Kellogg I believe the mans name was. Mother says you look like the gent on the Fairbanks locomotive we saw the other day, he stokes the fire on the 110 year old steam engine at the Park. Of course that fellow smells a bit.

  9. 9 jstwndrng August 25, 2009 at 09:19

    Kip, from recent research (like yesterday), I am developing a notion that the name Issaquah Alps was coined by Harvey Manning, a grouchy old nature-lover who lives/lived on Cougar Mtn and fiercely lobbied to preserve the region’s natural resources. Something I read suggested the name Alps was a tongue-in-cheek way of saying, “hey, these hills are important.” My understanding, however, is that it is true that at one time they were real mountains, and that they are much older than the Cascades and Olympics.

    Jeni, yes, surprise! We’re cavorting on your hilltops, hope you don’t mind. Interesting about the old equine neighborhood…we might have to take a drive through there and gawk a little. They don’t shoot at lookie-lou’s do they?

    Ben, yes, you’ve pegged it. I was doing my Kellogg bit there. Kidding. I smelled a bit that afternoon, too, I’m sure, but until I install the scratch-n-sniff widget on my blog, readers will not be able to avail themselves of that part of the sensory experience.

  10. 10 Louis August 25, 2009 at 16:51

    Wasn’t “Squak Mountain Stomp” a Zeppelin tune?

    • 11 Ben August 25, 2009 at 21:09

      No, no. I believe “Squak Mountain Stomp” was first done by the Eastside Radiators, a 1950’s hold over from the “clogging” descendents of a group of Tennessee’ns that migrated West in the 1920’s.

  11. 12 Louis August 26, 2009 at 08:52

    I think I still have their 8-track tape!


  1. 1 Island treasure « Just Wondering Trackback on January 10, 2010 at 18:26
  2. 2 The happy repercussions of a walk in the woods « Just Wondering Trackback on April 7, 2010 at 09:52
  3. 3 To the bat cave(s)! « Just Wondering Trackback on March 22, 2011 at 19:27

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