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South Tiger Mountain/Otter Lake, Issaquah — November 2003

By Fred Weinmann

By now the weather is starting to push us down slope to our backyards. For me this means the Issaquah Alps, and this month's hike will take you to a little-used and botanically diverse trail on the least visited of the five main peaks of Tiger Mountain. An excellent place to renew our acquaintance with plants of lower elevations and in different condition-many in edible and/or aesthetic fruit. Because the loop trail has a few intersections and options, I have expended a long paragraph to describe the route.

Directions to the trailhead: From I-90 exit 17 at Issaquah drive south on Front Street through town and continue south and east on the Issaquah/Hobart Road for about 8 miles; turn left on Tiger Mountain Road SE; in about .25 miles note the Tiger Mountain Trail (TMT) on the right and wide areas for parking on the left.

The loop trail: This is the southern terminus of the Tiger Mountain Trail at an elevation of 560 ft. (The TMT extends 16 miles over several peaks of Tiger Mountain to the High Point Trailhead outside Issaquah.) Follow the TMT 1.3 miles to Hobart Gap where there is a sign and trail map, keeping right on the TMT per the sign. Continue 2 more miles and notice a road/trail turning sharply left and uphill; don?t take this yet. Instead, continue straight ahead 100 yards and notice a trail to the left (if you come to the wide, gravel West Side Road you have gone to far); follow this trail 0.1 miles to the wetlands of Otter Lake. Return and take the road/trail uphill that you passed 100 yards back. This is the start of the South Tiger Traverse, which will take you back to Hobart Gap. Follow the road/trail for about a mile, watching for a trail dropping down to the left and marked by a cairn partially obscured by bushes (there is sometimes a flag here also). If you miss this trail the road/trail you are on will soon turn into a dense stand of young alder. Don't go here! Go back and look for the trail. Follow this for less than a mile to an overlook with wide views to the west under crackling power lines; continue on the trail to Hobart Gap (requires a 30 foot jog to the left where the trail meets an old road) and return to where you started via the TMT, the way you came. See Green Trails Tiger Mountain Map 204S for a good depiction of the route. The hike is about 7 miles with 1000 feet elevation gain.

What to see: This walk offers a fine example of mature second growth forest. Look for Douglas fir, western redcedar, and black cottonwood trees, many of them in the 3-4 foot diameter range; magnificent old-growth lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) approaching 1.5 meters tall; and lush growth on the trailside featuring maidenhair fern (Adiantum aleuticum [pedatum]) and the bright red bunches of baneberry (Actea rubra). Four lilies that tend to cause identification confusion all occur within short distances of one another in the first 2 miles of trail?wild Solomon?s seal (Smilacina [Maianthemum] racemosa), star-flowered Solomon?s seal, (S. [M.] stellata), Hooker?s fairy bells (Disporum hookeri), and clasping-leaved twisted stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius). In mid-September, all had berries in Technicolor.

At Otter Lake, which may or may not have water in it depending on the intensity of our fall rains, you can find the uncommon native forget-me-not Myosotis laxa (only recorded in the Issaquah Alps), a bed of simple-stem burreed (Sparganium emersum), beautiful examples of the lens-fruited sedge (Carex lenticularis), and several other species in the sedge family.

Stop for lunch along the South Tiger Traverse where the views of the Cascades are best, or on a cloudy day continue to the overlook under power lines where the views west across Whulge country are excellent even on cloudy days. Essentially all of the botanical highlights on the first 3 miles of trail are repeated on the back side of the loop on the South Tiger Traverse. In fall conditions I have tallied 134 species of vascular plants on this hike: 34 were in flower and 94 were native, seven were listed as noxious by King County and three as obnoxious. I can provide a plant list in Microsoft Word format via email, at fredwcrx@aol.com.

Updated: July 3, 2016
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