Recap: Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park hike

King County does not allow headless horsemen on the trail. Good to know, because a headless horseman would scare the SHIT out of me.

King County does not allow headless horsemen on the trail. Good to know, because a headless horseman would scare the SHIT out of me.

I should have taken it as a sign when I got lost on the drive to my hike and proceeded to park at the wrong trailhead: My shaky sense of direction failed me before I ever stepped out of the car. But, once I found the right trailhead, I thoroughly enjoyed my first hike as a Seattle resident — even if I got lost again on the trail.

I set off Sunday morning for Cougar Mountain Anti-Aircraft Peak, part of the 3,000-acre Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park near Issaquah. The jewel of the King County park system includes 36 miles of interconnected trails and four trailheads from which to access those treks. It gets its name from a bit of Cold War history: The military built a missile launch and missile-command radar station atop Cougar Mountain in the 1950s and 1960s, but those were decommissioned in the late ’60s, paving the way for King County to reclaim the land and make it available to the general public. Even today, chain-link fences and warnings about mine shafts serve as reminders of the not-so-distant past.

The relaxing hike featured only intermittent and gentle slopes through a quiet wooded area. I listened to nature as I tromped through the mud. Wind breezed through treetops like ocean waves, woodpeckers drilled deep into tree trunks, and branches snapped off in the distance, sounding suspiciously like the crackle of campfire. Noticeably (and thankfully) absent? The sounds of cars clogging the Interstate, cell phone ring tones, and piercing ambulance sirens.

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The plan was to hike to the Cougar Mountain peak and enjoy views of Bellevue and the Seattle skyline along the way. But to know me is to know that my sense of direction will never be considered “solid,” much less “passable.” With more than 50 trails criss-crossing the park, it’s a miracle I made it out in only two hours.

I eventually took a wrong turn or missed a turn, I’m not sure which. I would like to blame bad directions, but deep down, I know better. I asked two nice women if I was still on the Lost Beagle Trail, to which one of them replied “I think it’s over that way” while motioning to my left. I looked at my map — why? I do not know; a lot of good it did to that point — and kept walking, confident that a familiar trail was nearby.

I didn’t mind being lost once I realized I wasn’t on the right trail, and I enjoyed not knowing what lurked around the bend. If nothing else, I knew that I could find my way back by turning around, but plowing ahead would make for the more interesting adventure. I may not know where I’m going, but I always arrive where I need to be.

I eventually hit an intersection and found my way to a trail that led to my car. I shaved about 40% from my original distance target and missed whatever breathtaking sites the park might offer, but it felt good to hike again after such a long layoff. Besides, I’ll return one day to more fully explore the park’s maze of trails — this time with a compass, GPS, bread-crumb trail, three maps, and two-day food supply. Just in case.

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