I became acquainted with Tiger Mountain in the first year I moved to Washington State and have had a long enduring love affair, now entering its 15th year. That love has not been without its ups and downs.
I think my first visit was the summer after I’d moved here. I recall my ex and I were looking for something to do and somehow we stumbled across a description of a trail called the bus trial, Back then, there was actually an old decrepit rotting bus just off the trial, hence the name. Not sure if it’s still there as it’s been many years since I walked along that trail. The last time I was there, I don’t recall seeing it.
The second time I can recall going to Tiger Mountain was in the winter, a year after I moved to the area. I think I was taking some vacation time around Christmas and took my husky mix Sylvie to explore. It was that trip that I became hooked. I became a regular with Sylvie, exploring the trails and letting my feet carry me in whatever direction seemed interesting. I became bold and randomly took trails, wondering where they went and eventually discovered how they intersected and looped up with other trails.
To this day, I’ve never looked at a map of the trail system at Tiger Mountain.
Tiger Mountain is where I saw my first bear in the wild, as well as my first cougar. I’ve seen coyotes, raccoons, possums, rats, owls, hawks, deer and various assortments of smaller critters. Notably, Tiger Mountain is also where I first learned that bears possess enormous paws with frighteningly long and powerful claws. I know this because I could not help by notice the bear’s gigantic paws and claws as it ran downhill by me 20 feet from the trail I was ascending with two of my dogs on a lovely mid-June late afternoon several years ago. That got my heart pumping.
I spent a lot of time exploring trails on Tiger when Jasmine was a crazy adolescent and followed suit with Youke as a puppy and as a less crazy adolescent than his sister had been. We hiked the infamous West Tiger 3 trail nearly every year, in heat and in sloppy rain that turned the trail in a slushy chute on the way down. But that trail is too well trekked and becomes especially obnoxious on weekends. So I prefer to wander the lesser, often overlooked routes.
That’s become more and more difficult in the last few years. I noticed more people on the trails around the time I got Brady. Due to his need for space from other dogs, I started going back to the lesser traveled paths, including trails that were so overgrown I had to crawl between brambles and try to secure my footing between puddles of mud and rocks. It was an area where I rarely saw another soul. But then something started happening. A new trail was built to bypass one of the twisty, steep animal tracks I was used to taking. I’d drive to Tiger Mountain with the intent of a short hike, but would see a handful of cars parked where before I’d see none or only one or two.
Eventually, I stopped frequenting Tiger as much. I’d still take an occasional romp usually close to dusk, and there were many times where I was out after dark, but the growing popularity made it not as much fun for me.
Don’t get me wrong. I love that people are into exploring the trails. But I cringed as I saw more trash and as I witnessed rude behavior, among people and their dogs. And, it simply became unpleasant. I freely admit that part of that lack of pleasure was the management that was required regarding my own dogs.
It was also around this time when Brady became seduced by the pleasures of the forest and would take off, only to show up well past my worrying point, panting exuberantly and tail wagging low, as if to say, “What’s wrong? I wasn’t gone that long and it was so fun!”
A hike on Tiger Mountain is also the one and only time Youke became lost. I blame Brady. We were on some lonely trail and I should’ve paid attention to my gut as soon as I saw Jasmine, Youke and Brady furiously air scenting. Suddenly, they were all off. Their usual reliable recalls were of no use and I found myself in a near panic when about 15 minutes later Brady came crashing through the brush to come sitting at my feet, tongue lolling to the side. About five minutes later, Jasmine came up the trail behind me. But where was Youke?
Long story short, and after yelling for him until my voice was hoarse and attempting to find him by turning not only back down the trail we came but also down an alternate trail that looped back up with the original, I headed back to my vehicle with the intent of putting Brady in the jeep and grabbing a flashlight and going back up with Jasmine. However, when I returned to the jeep, there was a slightly panicky Youke, waiting for us and clearly exhausted. I wasn’t crying when I thought he was lost. Panic never does any good in those situations. But I cried with relief when I saw him.
That day made a large impression. Youke may now occasionally charge off into the brush, but he never goes far and gives up the chase within short seconds, eagerly looking for me. Needless to say, I stepped up the recall training and rewarded heartily for some time after that. To this day, I also usually carry the highest reward on earth for three of the dogs – a ball.
Still, despite the many adventures and lovely times, Tiger was no longer a refuge. It was too crowded.
I pretty much abandoned going to Tiger for the past couple of years. The only time I’d go was in the winter, and even then maybe on one of the days that are infamous here in the Pacific Northwest – when the skies are dark grey and the mist is so heavy that it soaks you through within 10 minutes.
But although I left Tiger for a while, I still drove by often, shaking my head at the amount of cars parked on the road, especially on weekends, a clear indicator that the parking lot – not a small one – was full.
Today, I grabbed Jasmine and Youke, determined to explore again a favorite place. I opted to try for the option that is usually less traveled, thinking as well that a recently set-up homeless encampment might be a deterrent for many, despite it being a picture-perfect warm June Friday.
I felt marginally bad striding through the camp with Jasmine and Youke leashed to my sides, but wondering – not for the first time – why they chose there and justifying in my mind that i was far from trespassing as it’s state land and I own a state park pass (which i did not see on any of the vehicles which appear to belong to some of the members of the camp). Once we cleared the camp and where on the trail, I let the dogs off leash and off we went.
It was gorgeous. Sun dappled through the trees. The ferns are huge, lush and very green. The salmonberries are just starting to ripen, but as the area is well-shaded, it’ll be another week or so for them. The trail is well-worn, but due to the time of year, and probably less foot traffic in recent months due to the camp, is hedged in by the grasses and bushes that comprises the undergrowth of the forest. It was also incredibly peaceful. The only sounds were the sometimes jingle of Youke’s dog tag, Jasmine’s panting right on my heels and the occasional sound of my own footsteps. Of course there were birds singing and the gentle rustling of the forest, but that was more like quiet background music.
Both Jaz and Youke followed the trail, sandwiching me between them – Youke in front and Jasmine behind, as is the usual pattern – both of them relaxed and smiling. I don’t know if they felt it – I suspect they did – but it was akin to visiting an old friend. A friend that you know well and can be yourself with and that welcomes you with a smile no matter what your state of mind.
I was glad to be back. The walk today was short as it was more of an exploratory feel, but I vowed that I’ll come back more often to my old friend.