The Siren call of the Issaquah Alps

When I was going through a divorce and living in downtown Bellevue, I went driving one night on Somerset, the Big Hill to the SE.  I didn’t really know why, but just felt called. Maybe getting up and above the city, or getting out of it. Then I moved to a townhome at the feet of Somerset a few months later. And two years later a roommate and I moved out into a house across the high valley to the east of Somerset, at the apex of Cougar “Mountain.”  The first morning I woke up in our new home, a cold and sunny November day, I decided I’d take a walk. Up about a block and across the street was the start of a trail, Coyote Creek. But I didn’t take that one. I went further down the road, which became the gravel entrance to Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. I looked at the hand-drawn (those were the good old days) map, and selected the most interesting sounding destination: “The Clay Pit.”  Within three years later I would be the official Advocate for Cougar Mountain on the Issaquah Alps Trails Club list of officers. My life has been so colored by the Issaquah Alps since that cold 1995 November that I have no idea how much or how little I knew about the “Issaquah Alps” that fateful morning. I do know that I’d lived in the shadow of these low but marvelous mountains for several years without ever hiking them (even though I’d done a fair amount of less convenient hiking in the Cascades). I knew the name Cougar Mountain, but I don’t know if I really knew there was a park, despite it having renown as the largest urban wildland park in the nation. My first choice of trail was fortuitous. The Clay Pit was about 2 miles in, and it WAS interesting. It had fabulous views of much taller mountains to the north and east, capped with early snow. It had mounds of clay and dirt left over from digging and mining activities. Sitting quiet and still for about a half hour at the north end of the Pit–surprised how well soaking up the direct sunlight was compensating for the chill of the day–I watched a coyote pass by a couple hundred feet away.  To this day, hundreds if not thousands of hiking hours later, that is the only coyote I have seen in the Alps. It felt like an omen. I immediately felt like I was reconnected with my elementary school age romps in the Pennsylvania woods, at a time when I desperately needed that feeling. I felt like the call of Somerset two years before had been in fact a siren call from the East, toward mountains I needed to discover but whose identities were then but a distant name in my mind. From 1996 to 2002 or so I was deeply involved in the business of mapping, documenting, building–and advocating for–trails. I gave up those official activities for fatherhood and the expansion of my music business. But the spirit connection stays, because it predated all those activities. It began one fateful November day.

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