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April 22, 1999

Photo of hikers taking in the view

A lookout of legendary proportions
Vital link in greenway, Rattlesnake Mountain sets stage for stunning views

By GREG JOHNSTON Mail Author  Bio
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

NORTH BEND -- The viper-less ridge known as Rattlesnake Mountain, now protected as a state/county scenic area, is best known for three airy rock ledges that are ideal spots for contemplating matters minor and momentous.

A good 1.3-mile trail that gains 1,300 feet leads to the ledges, where you can sit and ponder a 270-degree panorama.

The view encompasses the jagged, snow-capped western edge of the Cascade Range and the rounded, stony countenance of 4,167-foot Mount Si. It includes the hilly, glacier-sculpted and increasingly suburbanized upper Snoqualmie Valley, the asphalt ribbon of Interstate 90 snaking toward the mountains and tiny cars and trucks far below, zipping to wherever. (See map )

The mountain plays a role in myths of the Snoqualmie Tribe, and sitting up there where birds fly, it's easy to fathom the ledges as a place where young members once went to fast and seek guiding spirits.

Visit on a sunny spring weekend and you'll experience a crowded social atmosphere with moms, dads, kids and canines picnicking on the precipices.

"It's like being in an airplane," said Joe Lamborn of Renton, encountered recently sipping spiced wine on the uppermost ledge with friend Marcia Jordan of Seattle.

"It's very pretty, and it's so nice and warm and clear," Jordan added.

The ledges are the most popular part of Rattlesnake Mountain, which stretches about six miles between the towns of Snoqualmie and North Bend and provides a scenic wall of undeveloped green south of I-90. About 1,800 acres of the mountain were officially protected last year when the King County Council adopted a management plan for the Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area.

Rattlesnake Mountain has two outstanding characteristics: First, incredible views from the ledges and its more remote triple summits. Second, its location as a key trailhead and link in the Mountains-to-Sound Greenway.

Considered the easternmost of the Issaquah Alps, Rattlesnake connects the others -- Tiger, Squak and Cougar mountains -- to the Iron Horse State Park Trail, which begins at Rattlesnake Lake and follows the old Milwaukee Railroad bed over Snoqualmie Pass to the Columbia River.

Photo of Thomsen on ail"It would be hard to overemphasize its importance to the greenway," said Ted Thomsen, a member of the Issaquah Alps Trails Club and one of the original "Rattlesnake Rangers" who charted the two main trails on the mountain.

"It's got spectacular views and good trails. And we're working on trails connecting Tiger and Rattlesnake."

Thomsen was one of a handful of trails club members who scouted and helped clear trails on the mountain for the original Mountains-to-Sound March in 1990. The march, from Snoqualmie Pass to Puget Sound along the I-90 corridor, successfully launched the drive to create the greenway, which has slowly evolved into a corridor of open space from Seattle, east across the Cascades.

Although Rattlesnake Mountain is rattlesnake-less -- the name apparently stems from the sound of dried seed pods rattling in the autumn breeze -- it hosts far more animals than people.

Much of the southeast end of Rattlesnake is inside the City of Seattle's protected watershed, closed to the public except for the trail to the ledges, which begins at a fine trailhead and park at Rattlesnake Lake. Being protected, the watershed supports healthy populations of deer, elk, bear, cougar, fox, hawks, eagles, songbirds, woodpeckers and other critters that freely use Rattlesnake Mountain as well.

For people, access to the mountain is more difficult. The county and the state Department of Natural Resources, the lead managing entity of Rattlesnake, have erected signs marking the two main trails on the mountain: The path to the ledges -- built by well-known local trail-maker Bill Longwell of Fall City -- and another about 11 miles along the top of the ridge, much of it on old logging roads.

The latter crosses all three of Rattlesnake's summits, the tallest being East Peak. At 3,517 feet, it is 500 feet higher than Snoqualmie Pass and provides the pre-eminent view from Rattlesnake, in all directions thanks to the logging that laid it bare several years ago.

"I would call that trail a gem in waiting, or a gem for the future," says Ken Konigsmark, projects director for the Mountain-to-Sound Greenway Trust.

"If you want a pristine, untouched area, it's not going to be there for a long time. But if you want some remote rambling, if you do the Rattlesnake cross-walk, you'll not bump into people after the first mile or so on either side."

One special part of that trail is a forest of huge, burned cedar snags, a couple miles in from the mountain's other trailheads, near the site of the former Snoqualmie Winery.

"It's really incredible. There's gigantic cedar snags everywhere," Konigsmark said. "There must have been a fire up there a hundred years ago, and these old monolithic cedar snags look like pinnacles."

A smaller grove of burned cedar snags is passed by the trail to the ledges, which also serves as the easterly access to the trail across the top. While the ledges suffice for most casual hikers, more avid ramblers continue on from there to the sublime, all-around views of east summit. For a hike of about six miles round trip, with a gain of 2,600 feet, you can see -- on a clear day -- the major Cascades volcanoes, the Olympics, Puget Sound and more.

Photo of view  
Rattlesnake Mountain is also interesting because of the collection of entities involved with it. The scenic area is jointly owned and managed by the state Department of Natural Resources and King County and its Parks and Recreation Department. Seattle's water department owns the south part of the mountain, while the Weyerhaeuser Co. owns a major chunk on the west.

Non-profit groups that have worked for its protection include the Issaquah Alps Trails Club, the Snoqualmie Valley Trails Club and the Mountains-to-Sound Greenway Trust.

Plans by these groups include expanding the scenic area to the mountain's west side, covering key salmon habitat in the headwaters of Raging River and land to its north. That would provide a contiguous green corridor west to Tiger Mountain State Forest and east to parks near the city of Snoqualmie.

Not only do they envision new trails linking Rattlesnake to Tiger Mountain and the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, they'd also like to improve the cross-mountain trail by rerouting it away from logging roads.

However, logging is a legacy likely to remain for some time. The lower flanks of the northeast side of the mountain are pockmarked by clearcuts, although most of the east side is intact, with green forest, including pockets of old-growth fir, on steep southeast slopes.

Another concern is a plan for eight office buildings at the site of the winery building, which burned and is no longer a winery. "The winery site is zoned industrial," noted Konigsmark.

At the same time, much of Rattlesnake is already protected and managed for wildlife habitat and low-impact recreation. While hiking is the most popular activity by far, mountain biking and horseback riding are allowed on logging roads.

"The Mountains-to-Sound Greenway has been amazingly successful," said Thomsen. "You can take a different hike every day of the year between Cougar, Squak and Tiger mountains, and Rattlesnake adds to that. Now we're looking toward the next decade, sort of a decade of stewardship."

Rattlesnake notes

The Rattlesnake ledges are steep and potentially dangerous. Visitors should use extreme caution and keep children well away from the edges.

Dogs are allowed on trails but must be on leashes at all times -- Perhaps the most violated rule on the mountain.

The trail to the ledges passes through the City of Seattle's closed watershed; hikers must stay on the trail.

Trails on Rattlesnake are for day-use only. Camping is

not allowed.

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