Peak 13: Little Bandera

Elevation: 5157’

Total Mileage: 9.2 miles

Total Elevation Gain: 3213’

Date: 2 June 2019

When my dear friends, Kara and Joey, told me that they would be passing through Tacoma for a visit, I jumped on the opportunity to share the mountains with them. I’d been longing for a chance to take friends from the Midwest out to explore my new home, and I couldn’t have found two better people to venture into the wild with. Bandera was my top choice; it doesn’t have the crowds of more popular peaks in the Issy Alps, and it feels like a real mountain adventure. It was my first hike of that nature, so it seemed like a perfect fit for the occasion. I tossed out this option with a brief description, but, knowing my tendency to underestimate how challenging a hike might be for folks who don’t do these sorts of things on the regular, I added Rattlesnake Ledges as a less rugged route that still offered great views. I loved Kara’s simple reply: “We want to do the longer hike.”

The best friends are those you can go years without seeing, and then just pick right up where you left off. We burned the midnight oil, catching up over vegan cupcakes and local IPAs. Unable to ignore our yawns any longer, we turned in and rested up for our big adventure in the morning.

We were treated to a shorts-and-t-shirts-day of sunshine and blue skies, which June doesn’t always grant us. The Ira Spring Trail gives peek-a-boo views of McClellan Butte and other easy-to-identify peaks along the I-90 corridor.

Peek-a-boo view of McClellan Butte.

The trail is rather unassuming until it splits to go down to Mason Lake, or up to Bandera. Here, it gets steep, quick. Vertigo nagged at Joey, and I completely understood the challenge that posed. I’d had the same experience when I first climbed this route a couple of summers earlier. The WTA website notes that in this section, you gain one vertical foot for every two feet of trail. While there are some nice boulders to offer balance, there’s also a lot of loose, sandy rock that can be slick. Worrying that I had overcommitted us, I offered to turn back. Playfully alluding to our earlier discussion about Everest, Kara replied, “I have summit fever, I can’t stop now!” There’s no arguing with someone suffering from summit fever, so upward we went.

Gorgeous day to climb a mountain. Here, you can see Mount Defiance and Putrid Pete Peak , with my favorite ridge to traverse between them.

We arrived at the west summit, also known as Little Bandera. Technically a false summit, most hikers call it good here. We stopped to admire the views, and I pointed out some peaks by name, Tahoma being the most dramatic in view. It was fun to see Klickitat poking up to the southeast and to know I’d been standing on top of it not long ago.

Little Bandera summit views.
Looking down at Mason Lake, with Defiance and PPP beyond.
Summit smiles, with Tahoma in background.

Hopeful for the true summit, we scrambled a bit to the east. From what I understand, it takes some work to get there, and there’s not the same clear view that Little Bandera provides. I suggested that we head back to west summit and claim a nice spot for a summit beer and lunch. You don’t find many better picnic spots than this. After lingering for a while, we made our way back down the steep slope and through the meadows of bear grass.

Making our descent.
Wildflowers, mountains, volcanoes, and good friends: what more could you ask for?

While this might have been more like Type 2 fun for one member of our party, overall, I think that my friends enjoyed our adventure. I beamed with pride at the mountains that rise out of my backyard and was joyful to be able to share them with Midwestern friends. Of course, no Cascade adventure is complete without some Hurry Curry, so we capped the day at Aardvark and reflected on the highlights of the day. You really can’t ask for more.