I delayed my hike by a day because Friday was rainy and Saturday carried the promise of warmth and sunshine. As I headed out around 5:30 AM Saturday morning, I was disappointed to see very low clouds hugging the hills around I-90. It stayed cloudy as I drove up the forest road to the Bandera Mountain trail head. I did, however, catch a couple of deer by surprise on the forest road before finding the parking lot completely empty. Wanting to take advantage of the early start to get to the top alone, I hit the trail a few minutes before 7AM.
The first mile (really don't know how far) or so of trail is really easy and it was a nice change of pace from other recent hikes. The views come quickly as there are several spots to get looks at McClellan Butte and Mt. Kent across the interstate. I was teased by a bit of blue sky over the low clouds and hoped that would be an indication of the views from the top. This section of trail ends at a split between what looks like a new trail and an overgrown old trail. Stay to the left.
After the split to the left the hill starts climbing sharply and becomes more difficult. There are more views to be had though today the clouds just refused to go away. I was fascinated by the very large boulder fields - literally thousands of big rocks on the slope of the mountain. I encountered just a bit of snow in the section up to the intersection between the Bandera and Mason Lake trails.
Beyond the intersection the climb becomes even more tough. This section of snow reminded me of the last bit of climbing on Mailbox Peak last weekend. There was considerable snow higher up today though their was only one place that I felt particularly nervous. The snow is getting very soft in areas and twice I post holed all the way up to my waist. I really regretted leaving my gaiters in the car. There are more huge boulders that I had to scramble over to get to the viewpoint.
It took me about 2 hours and 10 minutes to get to the viewpoint, which was cloudy and then after a few minutes was very cloudy. The viewpoint I speak of is the summit at about 5160 feet elevation (about 3000 feet higher than the trail head). I believe this is what people refer to as Little Bandera. From the viewpoint my map indicates you can hike continue down along the ridge and back up to a higher peak at about 5240 feet (the true summit of Bandera which has no views due to trees). I could not see the trail down that ridge as trees and snow and clouds obscured the path so I didn't attempt to go farther. I did hike out on the snow far enough to get some shots of Mason Lake which appears to still be mostly frozen over (thought I didn't go too far on this snow due to fear of cornices). I ended up staying for a while hoping that the clouds would clear but after 30 minutes it became very cold. Not wanting to pull all my cold gear out of my pack I opted to head back down. Time back to parking lot was about 1 hour 20 minutes. I'm unsure of the exact distance hiked (maybe 6 miles).