SQUAK MOUNTAIN STATE PARK — Their knees are a bit cranky, and a couple wore knee braces as they hiked the trail. Another had had a hip replacement. And the number of hikers on this trip with arthritis? Too many to count.
A sprightly bunch though, this group of retired doctors, teachers and nurses who are part of the Snoqualmie Valley Trails Club. Recently, they hiked five miles around Squak Mountain, taking the trails less traveled. They took a left when the sign pointed right. They took an unmarked trail here; a secret trail there.
The group came upon a sign that said “Old Griz Trail,” but hike leader Pete Girard said, “I’m going to show you the real, old, old Griz Trail.” Up to the top of Squak Mountain we went, where Girard pointed to a steep trail no longer on the map. That’s “original Old Griz Trail,” he said, indicating a dirt path in the shade of hemlocks. You would only know that if you hiked here decades ago, the 72-year-old Girard said.
The graying of the Snoqualmie Valley Trails Club, in which many members are around 70, presents a problem. They aren’t getting younger; and they aren’t drawing the young blood that could ensure this 24-year-old hiking club will live on to pass along knowledge about lost trails to the next generation of hikers.
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This nonprofit hiking group, an offshoot of the Issaquah Alps Trails Club, offers free, year-round hikes to the public around Teanaway, Mount Rainier, Stevens Pass, Mountain Loop Highway and the Issaquah Alps.
Know all the secrets
They lead traditional hikes but they can also take you on hidden trails where you can enjoy the serenity of birds chirping while the weekend hikers with their iPhones and dogs flood the main trails.
If the Snow Lake trail off Snoqualmie Pass gets crowded on a sunny, picturesque summer day? No problem. They know a back way.
The popular West Tiger 3 trail is too crowded for a Saturday hike? They suggest taking the shorter, steeper Section Line Trail, which gets you to the top without the crowd.
But in this Internet age, younger hikers are finding or forming their own hiking trips through social-networking sites such as Facebook and Meet Up, making groups such as the Snoqualmie Valley Trails Club seem anachronistic, members said. The group didn’t start posting its hike schedule on the Web until last year.
Members didn’t grow up in the Internet age and most aren’t Web-savvy, said hike leader Peter Stevens, 69.
This group of about 140 members are mostly retirees, some of whom aren’t active anymore, much less taking on hikes with 4,000-feet elevation gain, Girard said. But they still have an institutional knowledge of the trail system — those trails lost due to poor maintenance and hidden routes passed on through word-of-mouth.
Trailwise and experienced
Most members such as Girard have hiked for more than 40 years. It’s hard to stump them with a trail around the Cascades and the Olympic Mountains they haven’t hiked on.
The 1,545-acre Squak Mountain State Park features fewer trails than its bigger brethren Tiger and Cougar mountains. But your trail options increase twofold when you hike with Girard, who has hiked on Squak Mountain more than 200 times, exploring deep into the forest with his compass.
The oldest club member on our recent trip was 80-year-old Dick Barden, who despite a hip replacement, still takes 17-mile hikes around Tiger Mountain. Members of the group hike at a pace on par with folks half their age.
We started on the main Bullitt Access Trail. A mile up, Girard motioned to detour left on a narrow dirt trail, rimmed with swordferns. It’s a shortcut to the popular Central Peak Trail.
“Years ago, the older members showed me this trail. They’re too old to hike anymore. They passed it on to me,” Girard said. “I hope to pass it on. That’s why I take people on these trails.”
After taking the shortcut back to an old coal-mining trail, he showed us the view of Seattle, where even on a cloudy day we could glimpse the Columbia Center tower.
Then we veered left to another unmarked trail toward the popular Bullitt Chimney site, the only remnant of the Bullitt summer home. In 1972, the Bullitt family donated 590 acres around the top of the mountain on the condition it remained undeveloped. The stone chimney site is now the most popular destination on Squak Mountain.
To get there, Girard guided us through a dirt path hidden among the lush alders and Western hemlocks. Hikers don’t know the trail is here because “it was overgrown with ferns and blackberries and downed trees. And no one was around to clear it,” Girard said, brushing back the branches with his hands.
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle