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.
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.
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.” ?
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.