Hiking is one of my sanctuary activities. Whenever I have a lot on my mind and just need to get away into the mountains I head. There is just something about the smell and sounds of nature. The distractions just seem to melt away. As you disappear into the forest and become one with the trail, you just feel all your struggles melt away. Gazing through the forest at the variety of trees, flowers and berries you become a small part of the forest. You don’t think about it or make an intentional action to relax or cleanse your mind. It just happens.
This trail, named Ira Spring, is the lead in to several options. One can go to Mason Lake, Bandera Mountain, Mt Defiance and a number of other spots. With that being the case, we arrived early, but the parking lot was not only full, it was overflowing and we ended up parking about 1/2 mile down the road. It was a nice gently warmup walk for what was to come! The trail winds its way through the forest on an unrelenting incline. I’m pretty sure I read somewhere a description of this trail as “meandering” through the forest. In my mind I envision “meandering” as a relaxed pace similar to a saunter that requires no much effort or sweat. This trail definitely did not line up with that description! Although the path is generally wide, flat is nowhere to be found on it! My legs were feeling good. My heart was pumping and sweat was pouring! You kind of always look ahead a bit to see the top of an incline so you can give the thighs a break, but not on this trail. I could hear Todd behind me and he was breathing hard so I knew it wasn’t just me!
As we headed up it was becoming obvious that we would be socked in with a huge cloud layer. No views for the day! That is a bit defeating when you are working hard, but it’s okay. We passed a few people on the way down who said Bandera was totally clouded over and that there was a huge tourist group (about 30 people) headed up there so they suggested Mason Lake as it is in a valley so it was clear. One of those hikers is named Kristen and she has Largent, the famous hiking wonder dog! I had my first Largent, the hiking wonder dog encounter! At 3 miles in, there is a Y in the trail. You can go to the left for about .9 miles to Mason Lake, or you can go to the right for about .9 miles to Bandera Mountain. We chose Mason Lake. The trail only continued the incline for about .4 miles, before we descended into the valley to the lake. Mason Lake is one of the many alpine lakes in the Alpine Wilderness. Each lake has its own unique characteristics. From the lake we would see the top of Bandera Mountain and a few hikers up there. At first they looked like little trees. Until they moved! There are some nice tent or hammock spots at the lake and lots of water bugs and jumping fish. This would be a great place to backpack too and use as a base camp to hike up Mt. Defiance. Bring your fly fishing rod! We stayed at the lake for about an hour, eating some lunch. I changed up my lunch routine this time and brought fresh pineapple, cherries, RX bar and my go to plantain chips! It was a much lighter lunch that was refreshing and filling. It recharged my body for the hike out.
On the way out, you feel good because after the initial .5 mile hike out of the valley, it’s all down hill! My legs were feeling really good. We could see the clouds were dissipating and we could start to see the mountains around us. At points we were below the clouds and at other points above the clouds. I told Todd let’s see how we are feeling when we get back to the Y for back to the car or head up to Bandera. I was feeling good when we reached this point so I told Todd let’s check it out. I regretted that decision when I saw the incline. You know an incline is steep when you actually can’t see the top of where you are going. You could only see about 40 feet in front of you and the view never changed! It’s .9 miles to the top and it is straight up hill! Trekking poles helped at first, but they just got in the way as you needed to use your hands to scramble up parts of the trail. The trail is not very wide and you need to concentrate on where you place your hands and feet. It makes passing hikers who are coming down challenging at times. If you make a wrong step it can be disastrous. We stopped a few times on the way up to slow the heart rate down and take in the massive amount of bear grass growing on the hillside. At times portions of Mt Rainier would poke out through the clouds. At one point it appears you are reaching the summit, but instead you duck back into a large grove of trees and disappear for about 15 minutes. Once you come out of the trees you quickly realize there is more climbing to do! Finally the summit does appear. We were able to see back down to Mason Lake. We were above the clouds so it looked like we were sitting in thin air. The clouds looked like a huge bowl of meringue that went on as far as you could see. I love that! A light crisp breeze blowing by. The high clouds turning with the wind patterns in the sky. You close your eyes and just breathe in the fresh air and feel the sun on your face. Your body is tired but it feels so good. Relaxed. Then a bug flies in your mouth and tries to fly down your throat! Apparently I had sweat so much I must have appeared like a large salt lick!
After sitting at the top for a half hour or so we decided to head back. You could see the low clouds coming back in and getting down that trail in little visibility would not be a good idea. No poles on the way down. Hand grabs were definitely needed! We safely made it down to the main trail and started the 3 miles “meander” back to the car. Not sure what it is, but sometimes the trail down goes so fast and other times it seems to drag on forever. This trail seems to drag on but the forest was pretty. Portions were in the clear and other portions were shrouded in fog. We finally made it back to the car. The body was tired, but it was a good tired. The mind and soul were cleansed and ready to appreciate another day!
Altogether we logged around 11 miles. Mason Lake is 6.5 miles and about 2,400 feet elevation gain. Bandera Mountain is 8 miles and 3,400 feet elevation. Since these trails start on the same trail the first and last 3 miles are the same.